CHINESE WHISPERS

I had instructed our receptionist not to be disturbed just before I went to my favourite chaise lounge in my office. This was my sanctuary, where I had been repeatedly baptised from all the stress from work.
It had the perfect view and as I looked out of my window at the Abuja landscape, I was once again grateful that I had this scenic picture of distant rocky hills embraced by Dongoyaro trees to always give me clarity.

It was my favourite time of year too, when the harmattan season kissed this elegant but temperamental city of mine with cool but dusty winds and veiled her with a beige coloured robe from the Sahara desert.

 As I felt the cramps in my stomach, I knew that my challenges at work were once again affecting my health, a part of my life I had been struggling to balance with no success.

The problem was the introduction of a new HR appraisal scheme in the 3rd quarter of 2015. This was done to strengthen our work culture.

Our organisation had just won a big facilities management contract and had also commenced a 5 year strategic plan for intercontinental partnership. Our portfolio had to be air and water tight to bring substance to any partnership and negotiation table.
We had also studied the present economic climate in Nigeria and knew that 2016 was going to be challenging, especially as a new government had taken over the state of affairs and was faced with the threat of a recession due to the global decline of oil prices- (Nigeria relies massively on oil revenues).

We were trying to be proactive and planned to align ourselves economically to prepare for any unforeseen eventualities by taking steps to radicalize our entire HR platform.

With strict policies in place to seal any loose ends regarding job laziness, we tied hard work directly to earning a 13th month salary, which was previously an entitlement.

 I thought all seemed to be going quite well until the end of the year when bonuses from appraisal evaluation were to be paid and an uproar ensued.

Our employees were livid and this was seriously beginning to affect their work output.

 Totally confused and exhausted, our MD and I decided to go Sherlock Holmes on this surprise outrage. A lot of mental work (not to talk of very long nights at the office) had gone into putting this platform together. We had taken a generic appraisal method and tailored it specifically to suit each member of staff, based on our organisational culture, taking into account level of education, work experience, language barriers, skills gaps and even ensured sensitivity to individual religion. Our HR consultants had explained all in detail to our
in-house HR rep who in turn was to pass on the policy to the rest of our 37 team members and also monitor closely. 

We were confident that we didn’t leave any stone unturned and she constantly reported back that all was working out smoothly, so what could have been the problem?

Whatever it was needed sorting out ASAP to restore the moral of the organisation.

 So our MD and I decided to take the horse by the reins and started our investigation by calling individual meetings with each and every member of staff, asking specific questions on what their personal grievance was.

From the answers we gathered, we realised that our HR rep was probably overwhelmed with the technicalities of this new program but was too embarrassed to speak up.
She had gone ahead to explain her own version of what she understood of the appraisals, which was far from the original and had gotten more complicated by every explanation to any member of the team that came to her for further clarification. They in turn went on to tell their own adulterated version  to their colleagues until a perfect storm was brewed.

 In the end, all was sorted out by proper explanation straight from source, with a truck load of questions and answers, coupled with an intense group training carried out by our HR consultants.

But because of this experience, we decided to do an exercise on “Chinese whispers” at the training to put into practice the impact of miscommunication.

 What started out as “ I can’t wait till this training is over, my legs are killing me and I’m hungry” came back as “ That you should go to the security post”!

 Nothing gave our whole misunderstanding more spirit than the gasp of disbelief  coated with amusement, followed by a mini commotion over trying to find out at what point the story had changed. It was the perfect end to our group education.

Even though I was extremely relieved this entire confusion was finally over, the exasperating episode only reiterated how often we forget the common knowledge that, information without proper verification, and left to it’s own devices, can birth an uncontrollable monster.

 Thank goodness it’s all over – now on to the next chapter…..

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