Spiritual Adventures in the Workplace

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Why Is It So Hard? (Part 5 of Series)

Series Disclaimer: The scenario in this series is fictional.  The bank, the banker, the customer, and the card in question are all created as an example for this series.  The training department, help desks, and procedures are equally fictitious.  Any resemblance to actual people and situations is purely coincidental.

By persisting and raising her voice a little, our banker has finally found someone who can help us.  It turns out that there’s a little box she needs to check before she cancels our card and orders us another one.  If she doesn’t do that, then the new number will automatically be sent to merchants who do recurring debits on our account.  The bank considers this a service to customers, relieving them of the inconvenience of having to contact all those other merchants.  So unless the banker indicates otherwise, the new card information will be sent to the merchants.

When our banker tells us what she learned, we shake our heads.  It’s such a simple thing.  Why did it have to be so hard?

Here’s why: because the modern business enterprise is a cooperative venture in which we are heavily dependent on lots of other people we’ve never even met.  This is true even when we’re doing routine tasks, although we rarely think about that fact.  No single person in the modern corporation can get anything done without other people also doing their part.  If anyone anywhere along the line falters, we all do.  Like it or not, we’re all in this together.

In the case we’ve been discussing, the information we needed was entrusted to a single department: the Help Desk.  But the members of the Help Desk were depending on the manual writers to make that information easily accessible to them, and that wasn’t the case.  So only some members of the Help Desk knew the answer, meaning that the correct information was passed on to the branches only sometimes.

No matter how good you or I may be at our jobs, service breakdowns like the one I’ve just described are going to occur.  We may be tempted to blame it on the manual writers or on the few members of the Help Desk who can’t find the procedures, but there are no villains in this story.  None of these people are either lazy or incompetent.  The manual writers simply don’t realize that the article in question is hard to find (or what steps they can take to make it easier), and some of the Help Desk people have not yet learned how to locate certain kinds of articles within the online manual.

Here’s where I’m going with all of this.  The general public is aware that it’s hard to find good service, but most people don’t know why.  They assume that it is because workers are apathetic, careless, and unengaged.  That assumption is false.  Yes, there are plenty of people out here in the work world who are apathetic, careless, and unengaged, but those are symptoms of the problem rather than its cause.  The core of the problem is that our work is fundamentally cooperative in nature, and that there are sometimes knowledge gaps between one department and another—gaps that we don’t even know about until a problem like this arises.  We may like to think of ourselves as rugged individualists, but we’re not.  We’re part of an interactive network that we as individuals can barely comprehend, much less control.

Why have I spent several posts laying out this case study? Because it illustrates the reality that we in the workworld face every day but don’t think much about. When I ask, “What is God doing in our lives while we’re working?” a robust answer requires a detailed understanding of what we’re doing while we’re working. And one big thing we’re doing—unreflectively—is contributing to that mind-boggling interactive network that I just described. We are simultaneously participants in that network and members of the Body of Christ. In my next post I’ll talk about the challenges we face in trying to play both of those roles well.

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