1. Discuss the changes made in the area of communication within COS – what benefits have these brought and how have they done so? What can be gained from conducting an organisational climate or employee opinion survey?
2. What impacts could Dom’s childhood experiences and background have had on his business? Speculate on the impact of two such different national cultures coming together. What aspects of culture should Dom be aware of and respond to as his company continues to grow?
Read case study attached below ( only need question 1 and 2 )
Case study: Complete Office Supplies (COS)
The stationery industry is competitive, with thin margins. The small number of major suppliers and large number of small suppliers have rationalised in the past few years. Complete Office Supplies (COS) is one of just four major players in the contract channel. As aggregators they buy stationery products from many local and overseas sources and sell to other businesses. ‘We store the supplies for the shortest amount of time and despatch them to our customers as quickly as possible. In the door then out the door.’
COS in the Industry
COS’s customer base is corporate and government. Much of their business is under contract, as the sole or preferred stationery supplier for a business for an 18- or 24-month period. However, most customers are casual and can be snatched away at any time by a competitor. To gain and retain customers, COS must offer flexible solutions to reduce customers’ costs. Analysing customers’ end-to-end stationery needs from needing stationery to paying the bill is core to keeping corporate clients. In the quest to tighten supply chains, corporate clients are increasingly demanding the fewer but more meaningful single sourcing relationships. Services never previously thought to be the domain of stationery suppliers, such as forms and print management, toner refill management, office furniture and design consultation, and management of promotional products, are provided. COS boasts ‘smart, flexible solutions for ordering systems, billing methods, reporting structures, logistics and product choice to ensure [clients] receive maximum cost reduction and efficiency’. COS has been recognised for its IT innovations and industry-leading website uptake by being named as a finalist in the 2003 Western Sydney Industry Award for Excellence and Innovation.
The Founding of COS
Complete Office Supplies was founded in 1976 by Dominique Lyone, the son of an Egyptian immigrant to Australia. Dom’s father had run a typewriter repair business in Egypt, and fled that country after the 1967 Six Day War threatened the lives of his family. Dom started learning English on arrival in Australia at age 13. He finished school at age 15 to become a telegram delivery boy, then followed his father’s footsteps into the typewriter repair business as a mechanic. Attracted to the sales environment, he was soon selling consumables in that business. After a few years he started out on his own, selling a wider range than just the typewriter consumables to which he had previously been restricted.
The business grew so well in the first ten years until expansion into retail took the business to the brink of liquidation in the mid 1980s. Dom recalls, ‘The business was overstretched, I took my eye off the ball, and we had few reporting systems’. Doing a deal with creditors to repay outstanding debts, it took four years to trade through. Many employees from that time have stayed with the company.
In the early 1990s, COS began a national expansion program, and now the company has a presence in every Australian state. It distributes more than 8500 SKUs (individual stock items) from six distribution centres and has more than 120 employees. The business is structured along functional lines with managers of Sales and Marketing, Finance and Administration, Procurement, Logistics and IT. In 2002 COS joined the global strategic alliances of American Office Products Distribution Inc., with multiple dealers linked for global customers. The AOPD group’s combined turnover is in excess of $3 billion a year. Dom and the management team plan to continue the current rate of growth – to double the business every three years.
While Dom retained full ownership and control of the business, many members of his immediate and extended family were employed in the business. In the past, these intimate loyal contacts in the organisation have supported Dom’s leadership and strengthened his ability to stay in touch with employees. However, he realised he was not in touch with employees when the business started national expansion. ‘Suddenly I wasn’t there. I wasn’t seeing everything that was happening every minute of the day. I had to rely on others to run my business in my absence. It was no longer a small business operation.’
Since that expansion, Dom has realised the value of training and developing managers and employees. COS supports employees through performance review outcomes and recognition awards. Induction programmes, self-study support, national conferences and on- or off-site training are some of the professional development opportunities now available.
Employee Characteristics and Culture
The culture at COS could be described as conservative and autocratic. A classic example of Dom’s past style is when he initiated a major IT change. Employees found out about it when they powered up their computers one morning. Dom was used to seeing what needed to be
done, and going ahead and doing it. He hadn’t needed change management principles or communications programmes when the company was small. But now his impact is wider. Employees must still wait and depend on him, as Dom’s approval is required for most decisions. This causes a potential motivation problem among senior management – others don’t see any possibility of being able to lead the organisation. The answer to the question ‘Can someone get from the bottom to the top of the organisation?’ is simply ‘Not while Dom’s in charge’. While his sales approach is professional and innovative, Dom’s management approach is conservative, with low risk taking. For example, he wants to ensure the last recruits are paying for themselves before recruiting more. He has lost his family home before, and he’s not going to lose it again.
Cultural rites and rituals within COS include personal as well as business events. Respecting high family values, all employees are given the day off for their birthday, family social BBQs are held on site, ‘show where you work’ family days are held each year, and special days such as Melbourne Cup and Halloween are celebrated throughout the organisation. Employees’ partners are invited to the staff Christmas parties, where a thoughtful exchange of gifts reflects the family culture.
The workforce is stable, with key people working in the same role for many years. There is low staff turnover; however, few return from maternity leave. Multiculturalism is taken for granted at COS. There are very low levels of intergroup conflict, reflecting COS’s history of diversity.
An Opportunity for Employee Opinion Surveying
When planning for growth in 2002, Dom wanted to ensure his employees were prepared. He had always assumed he knew how they felt, and had never really asked them what they thought of their jobs, their teams and the organisation. He knew large organisations regularly surveyed their employees, but he hadn’t thought to do it himself before.
He contracted Macquarie University’s Voice Project (from their Psychology Department) to conduct an organisational climate survey – often known as an employee opinion survey. This was his opportunity to professionally evaluate how the organisation was performing, and to compare their results with those of other organisations. The survey consisted of 115 questions in the broad categories of Leadership, Direction, Relationships, Human Resource Management, Non-Financial Outcomes, and Financial Outcomes. Three open-ended questions were asked of employees to canvas opinions in their own words. The survey was designed to capture a comprehensive snapshot of employee opinions. The survey was sent to each employee and the responses were analysed when more than 70 per cent were completed and returned, anonymously, to the consultants.
At the beginning of the consultants’ feedback of the results to Dom and his management team, the team was asked to rate how they thought the organisation might have responded on a number of the scales. The true surveys were, not surprisingly, different to the ‘gut reaction’ of those managers. Although simplified for the purpose of this case study, the issues that COS needed to address were Communications, Processes and Structure, Resources, and Training and Development. Employees confirmed their attitude that COS is a very successful company, with satisfied customers and a promising future.
Although a great deal more information came from the survey, Dom and the team prioritised their efforts on a few manageable areas, including improving their communications and processes. The action plans became their ‘to do’ list, which they have worked through in the year since the survey.
Specific results in the area of the company’s communications efforts were first evident in the way the survey results were fed back to the employees, a key component to encourage future participation. A four-page newsletter with a summary of the full company results was sent to every employee.
As a direct result of the survey, the decision was made to develop the company’s intranet site. From now on it was to be used to post internal communications and communicate policy changes, for example. Within a year the intranet has become integral to COS staff accessing company information. While developing the site had been planned for a few years, the survey highlighted its urgency. The full survey report was placed on the intranet site.
A third major communications outcome of the survey is the monthly ‘company meeting’. The entire head office – 50 to 60 people – attends the warehouse lunchtime talk with Dom and the management team. Dom presents information on where the company is headed and other relevant news. Employees are free to ask questions of him and the team. The sessions usually last around one to two hours. Is it worthwhile? ‘You’d have to ask them that’, says Dom. Anecdotally the results are positive, with staff now seeing more of their employer than they have for many years.
Employees will be asked whether these initiatives are worthwhile when the survey is run for a second time shortly. Their scores on the communication scale will reflect their attitudes towards the communications changes made during the year.
Eleven months after the initial survey, managers still refer frequently to the ‘Voice results’. The survey results come up in management conversations at least weekly. There’s enough corporate memory to keep the survey on the agenda, and it is scheduled to run again on the anniversary of the first survey. Dom and the team plan to compare last year’s results with the next batch. He sees it as a formal way of asking all employees what they think, and acknowledging that the management team have heard it. He sees the results as a reflection of himself and the management team. He appreciates that the survey results highlight problems he may not have been aware of as the size of the business grows, and sees them as ‘constructive feedback’.
Initial concerns about possible disadvantages of conducting an employee survey – that staff may want even greater input, that they may start to challenge his (or management’s) authority, that they may distort survey results – have not eventuated. The survey has enabled Dom to stay in touch with his employees despite the organisation’s reaching a size and geographic spread that ordinarily limits that level of contact. The employee survey is now a standard business tool that will see Complete Office Supplies fulfil its promised growth.
Source: Adapted from Wood, J. et al (2009) Organizational Behaviour: A Global Perspective, 3rd edition, Wiley.
I. Report Marking Criteria (30% of the overall module mark):
1. Overall style of written report and structure – 10% of total marks Writing style should be simple and fluent in terms of spelling, grammar and punctuation. The report should have a clear structure and organised into identifiable sections with introduction, main body and conclusion.
2. Analysis –
Question 1 – 20% of total marks.
The answer should have good theoretical underpinning drawing on the appropriate theories/issues of communication and organisational culture/climate and should not be just a repetition and description of facts that are contained in the case study. There should be evidence of an in-depth examination of relevant issues with supporting evidence from the case. There should be evidence of logical development of arguments.
Question 2 – 20% of total marks
The answer should have good theoretical underpinning drawing on the appropriate theories/issues of personality, national/organisational culture and groups/teams and should not be just a repetition and description of facts that are contained in the case study. There should be evidence of an in-depth examination of relevant issues with supporting evidence from the case. There should be evidence of logical development of arguments.
Referencing – 10% of total marks There should be a properly constructed list of references using Harvard referencing system with a minimum of five appropriate academic sources and all referencing and citing in the text should be correct.