This question is key for me, while I am working with senior teams or participants at a training event. Observation and analysis are needed to ensure any intervention is appropriate and effective. The question may be applied to group dynamics, individual reactions or organisational structure and culture.

It was brought to mind by a recent experience with Royal Mail. The Royal Mail was controversially floated on the London Stock Exchange in October 2013. The Coalition Government policies led to an increase in the procurement by private and public companies of public sector contracts let by central government and local authorities. One argument was that they are more efficient and effective and so cheaper for the taxpayer.  My experience with Royal Mail as a customer recently, compared with that pre 2013, did not bear out this government assumption. I was unable to work out what was going on in Customer Services. 

The story goes – on my return from a weekend away, I found a card from Royal Mail asking me to collect a large parcel from my ‘local’ parcel centre, five miles away. My previous collection point was Swan House, three miles away. I followed the instructions and drove through traffic to the Post Office as directed. The postmistress told me how frustrated she is with customers being given the wrong card for their parcel pick up, which now happens ‘all the time’. Without looking for my parcel, she advised me to go to Swan House. 

I found a large new name on Swan House and no public entrance. The sign ‘Swan House’ was still in a flower bed, looking tatty. So where could my parcel be? In a parallel universe? I rang the customer services number on the card. The advisor assured me the collection point was Swan House. When I told her it had been taken over by another company, she could find no further information about a move of building or a map with the precise location and no colleague was available to help. 

I took the initiative to try the sorting depot further up the road. A sign for Customer Services and visitor parking spaces were promising, although no sign for Swan House. I found a collection desk and asked the member of staff why there were no clues as to the location of Swan House, other than a misleading sign on a closed Royal Mail office. I discovered: 

  • Royal Mail are not allowed to put a sign on the sorting office building
  • They would not put ‘Swan House’ on the Customer Service sign because there are many teams in the building and Swan House is only the south west Leicester team.  
  • Swan House continues to be used on the collection information cards and the Call Centre as the team like the name and do not want to lose it. 
  • The sign cannot be removed from the previous building as the new owners like the name and want to reinstate it on that building. 

Models can provide useful tools in organisation development. I have found David Snowden's award winning Cynefin Framework for decision making relevant and thought provoking for chief executives and chairs of boards seeking a fresh angle from which to analyse their organisation. How to organise a Children's Party provides a humorous introduction to the model. 

Is anyone in Royal Mail asking the question ‘What is going on here?’ Might external consultation be needed to ensure efficient, effective clear communication with customers?