If we just stick a smiley face on that, maybe no one will notice…
There was an amusing little article in The Economist a few weeks back about South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley’s ordering state employees to answer the phone “It’s a great day in South Carolina. How may I help you?”
Ms. Haley says the new greeting will boost the morale of state workers and help her to sell the state. “It’s part of who I am,” she declares. “As hokey as some people may think it is, I’m selling South Carolina as this great, new, positive state that everybody needs to look at.”
Needless to say the blogosphere went bonkers. One wag suggested this alternative:
“Thank you for calling South Carolina where unemployment is high, morale is low and political leaders are very busy wasting your resources. How may I direct your call?”
First off, it never ceases to amaze me just what senior executives think will boost morale.
I worked one year over Christmas at State Mutual Insurance. My job, as I recall, was typing the letter “B” onto forms all day. I worked in a pod of “girls”, overseen by a mom-aged woman named Ginny.
A few days before the holiday, we were given the approximate time slot when the company’s president would be on our floor to issue his annual Christmas greeting. A few minutes before Mr. Big arrived, one of his lackeys stuck his head into our area and told us to be on the alert. Ginny told us all to sit up straight and look at the entrance (a space between two giant file cabinets – the ones that held all those forms I was typing the letter “B” onto).
Mr. Big came into sight, raised his hand in a quasi-wave, and, without making eye contact with anyone, called out, “Merry Christmas girls.”
And we all, quite naturally, responded, “Merry Christmas to you, too, Mr. Big.”
But we didn’t quite get the words out before he had disappeared, moving on to the next pod on our aisle.
All the “girls” started to snigger, which peeved Ginny a bit.
“He doesn’t have to do that, you know,” she told us.
Too bad we didn’t have the expression ‘like, duh” back in the day.
Now, I’m sure it wasn’t much fun for Mr. Big to have to trek around a very large office building that probably housed over a thousand workers, but wouldn’t it have been better to do something like hold floor meetings, where we could all crowd around and get a little canned speech about what a great year we’d had? With cookies. And maybe have us ask a question or two.
Hey, I was just there for a couple of weeks, and didn’t have any morale problem that wouldn’t be cured by going back to school and not having to sit on a steno chair 8 hours a day typing the letter “B” onto an insurance form. Still…
Fast forward a decade or so, and I was working at Wang Labs.
And so it was Christmas…
The tradition at Wang had been to have each department host a Christmas party – family invited – on Christmas Eve morning. And then informally dismiss everyone at noon, without forcing them to take a half-day off. It was quite a nice little tradition. I was only at Wang a couple of years, but it was fun to see everyone’s kids, and have our VP dress up like Santa and give them all some little gift.
Then the new president blew into Lowell.
A week before Christmas a “holiday greeting” memo came out that tersely informed us that Christmas Eve was a full work day, and that anyone who planned on leaving even an hour early should put in a vacation request. And, by the way, you can keep those rug rats at home where they belong.
To make up for this, we were all offered a free turkey dinner from the caf, served up by our senior execs, wearing Santa hats.
Peace on earth and morale boost toward men!
And the Wang Christmas gala was by no means the last of the bogus morale enhancing/employee thank-yous/etc. that I lived through. (I could write a book…)
How is it that, so often, those in high places can’t see that the only way to have good morale is to a) provide decent working conditions; b) communicate honestly and openly with employee – and I’m talking two-way communication here; and c) THIS IS THE REALLY IMPORTANT ONE: either succeed at what you’re doing (yay, us!) or have a reasonably clear and actionable plan for achieving success (let’s go, team!).
I suspect that “It’s a great day in South Carolina. How may I help you?” is not going to improve state worker morale, or make South Carolina a better place to work or do business. (Plus, it’s a mouthful. People in South Carolina are no doubt a lot more patient than people in Massachusetts, but who wants to hear all that jibber-jabber when they’re calling about a missing tax refund. Wouldn’t you rather hear a pleasant voice telling you you’d reached the state tax division. As someone commented on a blog I read on this, the greeting sounds like you’ve reached a recording, not a human. Which may, actually, be Ms. Haley’s goal. Humans, after all, cost money and have morale issues.)
In terms of the hokey-hype, the truth about South Carolina is that it ranks pretty low in things that matter, like health and educational attainment. And high in things that matter in the other direction, like unemployment.
It may be a great day in South Carolina if you can afford to live in a pristine 200 year old restored home in Charleston. It may be a great day in South Carolina if you can afford to retire to Hilton Head and play golf every day. It may be a great day in South Carolina if you like barbecue. It may be a great day in South Carolina if you want to re-lo your business to a place where you can get away with paying sub-standard wages.
Other than that….
Naturally, it got me thinking about what the reaction would be if our governor ordered Massachusetts state employees to use a similar greeting. Talk about the entire population of the state playing ROTFLMAO.
The entire state infrastructure would be brought down as everyone logged onto their local “newspaper” to start flaming.
If the order did go through, they’d have to have an intermediary step, however.
Press 1, if you want to hear positive things about the state – like educational attainment, health, and unemployment rate. Press 2, if you can’t stand the fact that this is a pretty good place to live and want to hear only about real or imagined negatives. (“It’s another miserable day in Massachusetts – make that Taxachusetts – which has crappy weather and is run by a pack of socialists.”)
I would venture that the majority of people think that the place they live is pretty darned good. And certainly one would expect that Nicky Haley would love-love-love her state, as one would prefer a governor to do.
But this lame-o phone greeting? What was she thinking? (I don’t know what her background is. Maybe she never managed people.)
I read the article a few weeks back. The order has probably already been rescinded.
Meanwhile, I did find one measure in which South Carolina bested Massachusetts: lower instances of binge drinking.
Which might be in jeopardy if the order hasn’t been rescinded, and state workers have to run through that smiley-face of a greeting all day long.
Labels: business stupidity