I was at a football game last fall, sitting behind a man who was wearing a t-shirt with this
article's title on the back. Very funny, I thought. Sounds like a few workplaces I have work at or visited.
Several years ago, a company I worked for put employees through seminars that included videos
of Ed Deming, the quality guru who helped to turn around certain industries in Japan. He was truly a man after
my own heart in the matters of employee morale: how to build it, how we tend to tear it down, and how it affects
the quality of the products and services employees produce.
One area that Deming wanted to see changed in corporate America is the concept of "cost centers",
especially in how they negatively affect morale and cohesiveness throughout an entire organization. He believed
that cost centers tended to pit departments against each other, thereby eroding the organization's effectiveness as a whole.
I have been at offices where a photocopier has a note on it that reads, "This copier belongs
to Cost Center #12345", or a printer or office supply cabinet with the same type of note taped to it.
In the last year, I was at a client site using a desk/cubicle they told me to work at for the day
(and I had worked at this particular cubicle before). When I returned to the desk after being away for a short time,
the chair I was sitting in was gone. There were several empty cubicles in the area, so I brought another chair
to the cube. Again, later I was away for about 20 minutes, and when I returned, the second chair was gone.
To whoever took the chair, it should have been obvious that someone was working at the desk. Also, it was obvious
that a woman was sitting there because a woman's coat was there.
Ten minutes later, I saw a man in the area and I light- heartedly asked him, "Are you the man
who has been taking away my chairs?" He replied, "They're OUR chairs!"
(So besides a cost center issue, there was also a civility issue. Could he at least have
swapped the chair with one of the crumby little chairs in the area?... That's a whole different subject!)
I have also been at companies that had cost centers, but there were not such overt signs displayed
in the building. Nevertheless, Deming wanted to see more congruency among departments in an organization, to the
point of abolishing cost centers altogether. In the companies where he implemented his ideas, the result was
improved morale and improved quality.
Most of us are not in a position to change the organizational structure at large companies.
But what about small and medium-sized companies? Are you a leader who can bring about change in the way internal
departments are costed and, more importantly, in the way that internal departments act competitively toward one another?
What are some ideas you can implement to eliminate competition among departments and to restore
congruency to the organization as a whole, without compromising financial integrity?
I appreciate your thoughts in response.
Glory Borgeson, President
2002 Borgeson Consulting, Inc.