Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Training for Success

In my school career I only ever attended full-uniform schools.

Some of those schools were more enthusiastic about what constituted necessary adherence to the prescribed standard, but nonetheless there was always a uniform, and there were always consequences for breaching them.

The question of whether we should wear uniforms was always a favourite for lazy English teachers trying to pick debate topics. If you were on the side arguing in favour of uniforms you always blathered on about how being dressed appropriately makes a difference to your mindset and, consequently, the quality of your work.

These days, when I no longer wear a uniform but rather have to keep to no less oppressive standards of dress (being able to choose the colour of your suit, shirt and tie doesn't change the fact that you are forced to wear a suit, shirt and tie). I believe that it's not so much that the standard of work rises when one is dressed - what happens is that ones attitude to the workplace is different when it is a workplace that imposes some standards on how one is presented.

There are workplaces where it is important to instill some sort of respect for the workplace itself - if the employer couldn't care less about how I present myself to my colleagues and the customers, why should I care about the quality of my work?

I'm sure there is research on this, but it's late, I've been at work all day, I've just spent half an hour reading about organisational management in preparation for writing this blog (the sacrifices I make for you people!) and I still need to make and eat dinner before the Tour de France starts, so I'm going to let you do your own reading.

Suffice to say that workplaces enforcing dress codes can be an important step.

It's all got to do with the Bureaucratic Organisation. In short, there is a management theory that prescribes, amongst other things:

- Clear jurisdiction of roles
- Heirarchial management
- Strict rules and procedures for employees
Max Weber, bureaucratic enthusiast. From here
As I stretch my memory back to second year accounting, a bureaucratic structure is well used in organisations that benefit from tight control of the responsibilities and roles that employees have. It is great for large government bodies and the like, and awful for any organisation that needs to respond quickly to change. It stifles creativity and innovation, but it provides predictability and reliability.

Obviously a poor fit for most organisations.  But for CityRail, it seems about right.

My theory is that this is the context that this announcement from CityRail should be viewed in:
Full story here
As should be expected, twitter had it's fun with the topic:
But joking aside, this focus on neatness may well be part of a move towards a more bureaucratic structure at CityRail.

It's hard to imagine a structure more suited to bureaucracy. Everyone below management (so, the people who actually get stuff done) have pretty clearly defined roles and rigidly enforced rules for performing those roles. The last thing I want my train driver doing is using his bloody initiative, that's for sure.

And if you want to instill a culture of following the rules, abiding by procedure and doing things by the book, what better place to start with than appearance?

Sure, it seems petty, and in fairness it probably is. But what it does is start instilling a culture of doing things by the book. It doesn't make sense to have tightly controlled boundaries in one area, but then have a slovenly attitude (pun intended) to another.

No one really cares about how the train driver dresses. But I, for one, care very much about his attitude to the rules - and if making him wear his cap properly or not at all is the best way to make it happen, then I'm all for it.

Having said that, the people telling us about how great this organisational structure is are the same people who make you fill out those blasted personality tests so that you know that the reason you can't stand that person you work with is because you have fundamentally different ways of approaching conflict in the workplace when really you know that it is just because they are a twat.

So maybe it's all rubbish and you just wasted 5 minutes of your life. But maybe not.

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