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Brass monkey weather

Publishing Date : 05 August, 2019

I found myself awake at 3 am this morning ruminating about my feelings of anger and injustice towards a company which is ignoring me.

Yes, it feels like the whole company! Many people may relate to this feeling – if you don’t, ask yourself the question how many times have you sent an email message and heard nothing back or submitted a proposal and all you heard was nocturnal crickets in the early hours, just like me?  What about raising a customer complaint to a digital answering mechanism when you are in the endless ping-pong world of press number 1, 2, 3 for assistance then back to 1 without speaking to a real-live human being?  How did you feel when being ignored - insignificant and ineffectual – an all too common feeling in business today?  As somebody remarked the other day, it may be the new norm.

I totally get it that we are flooded with emails every day and it is fair to say that we cannot possibly read, respond to, or return every message. I face this challenge constantly and if I add in the management of business networks like LinkedIn,  it’s daunting. What I know is that people, myself included, will respond to mails they are interested in, want something from or there are consequences if they don’t.  So what makes people not respond or simply ignore you?

In my annoying tale that’s keeping me up in the wee small hours, it’s about a consulting job I did and have not received payment for. To add some colour it was a difficult task with low margins (so no easy money) but we did an excellent job and the result was valuable to the client. When it comes to payment however there has been none and a year later we are still awaiting our dues and being ignored.

The company’s behaviour has been unprofessional, and I am not taking about a small organisation here – this is a multi-national! When following up, nicely and gently at first, we are sent from pillar to post (when there is a response), starting with the country CEO who says“I will look into this and revert”and doesn’t and further emails are ignored. Country Head of HR says “We are on it and will revert”.  

She eventually loses interest and also goes into silent mode. Our emails demanding payment are sent sometimes to all 5 people who are connected with the project, know we delivered on time and on spec, know we are due payment and who, at some time or other have also committed in some way to ‘revert’ – their standard lie which people in this organisation blatantly and unashamedly use, as if their word is nothing more than a series of letters strung together for the purposes of deflection, much like a skilled tennis player lobs the ball back over the net before you are ready and know you are down a point and have to serve again.

Tactic one - fob me off, followed by ignore. What’s amazing is that 5 people will read the mail and collectively ignore it. My last attempt was to include the Group MD in the mail and guess what? Yep, no response.  I have this image in my mind of the mail recipients putting their hands over their eyes and impersonating the three brass monkeys going,  'la la la, hear no evil, see no evil and speak no evil.'  Me, on the other hand, can be heard saying to anyone who will listen ‘xxx are absolutely useless’, referring to the organisation, of course!

But organizations are made up of people and it is the people’s behaviours that makes the organization what it is. It doesn’t matter the type - it can be a club a corporation, a church or a family business -  its identity is determined by the people in it.  Whether that means it is efficient, corrupt, inept, carless, irresponsible – the group doesn’t have an identity on its own - that identity is made up of the people within it. And the identity changes as and when the people’s behaviour changes and sometimes this happens virtually overnight, as appears to be the case here.

I have worked closely with this organisation for many years, so I know (knew) the culture pretty well; I have known the type of people they recruit; who they fire; I have been close to their vision and values. Were they perfect? No.  Did they try?  Yes! Did I want to work with them, oh yes! Today it’s a different picture and all of this has changed in exactly 12 months. There is a new set of behaviours and attitudes to match the new order or, from where I sit, disorder. Included is not taking responsibility, ignoring suppliers and a lack of integrity (ironically these are listed as their values!).

Viewing this from a non-emotional and academic view point because my emotional self feels anger frustration and as a positive psychologist I know that acceptance comes from understanding, I realise that corporations are not people. Governments are not people, unions are not people, companies etc., because they do not define their own identities. They do not think; therefore, they aren’t, to parody Descartes.  It makes no sense to vilify an organization because of the kind of organization it is. Whether you are talking about a corporation, a government, or a football team, they are only as good or bad as the people within them.

At this moment this organisation is not looking too good. From my perspective gone is the can-do attitude, a willingness to listen to and respond to customers/stakeholders/suppliers and distributed decision making (in this instance I don’t even know where the decision to pay is to be made, such is the avoidance of responsibility). Organizational culture grows over time and for people to consider culture change, usually a significant event must occur.

An event that rocks their world such as flirting with bankruptcy, a significant loss of sales and customers, a new CEO with a different outlook and agenda or losing a million dollars – any or all of these might get peoples' attention, and a few were definitively played out in this company.

There is also another factor at play here. According to scholars of behavioural science, ignoring is devastatingly and inevitably becoming the new norm.  As Alex J. Packer, author of the manners guide How Rude!’ points out, so inured by technology are we, that if a query comes via text or Facebook, it's much easier to ignore than a human voice; your smartphone isn't going to burst into tears if you don't respond.  Email is the same.

There is a decrease in empathy and social desirability (how much we care about what other people think) in business today means that we're more prone to take the route of avoidance. And herein is I suspect is part of the problem – alongside the shocking decline in company culture.

My e-mail strategy has completely failed - it’s too easy to ignore me that way. The second error might be believing that collective responsibility is working each time I send an email message to 5 people, presuming someone will care and with a further expectation they will care enough to do something, not just promise to revert and don’t.  I am left thinking what happened to the good old days when you would simply get in your car, go to an office, sit in reception, wait till you see the manager then demand your cheque? Perhaps that won’t work as it’s a long drive to Tanzania – but I might just pick up the phone!



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