Managing the support staff identify crisis

Ranjay Gulati

In an article written for the Harvard Business School Working Knowledge online, Ranjay Gulati points out that employees not connected directly to profit and loss can suffer from a collective “I-am-not-strategic” identity crisis. Gulati suggests that business managers allow so-called support function employees to become catalysts for change. Key concepts include:

Marketers, human resources managers, finance managers, and other so-called support function employees often have trouble defining their worth because their jobs are not directly tied to profit and loss—which is how companies often gauge success.

As such, they tend to view themselves as overhead, and they paradoxically try to justify their existence by falling into adversarial policing roles in an attempt to cut costs for the company.

Business managers should encourage these employees to view themselves not just as support functions that police other departments but as catalysts for new ideas and company growth.

Here’s my own take:

1. Members of an organization’s supprt staff are frequently feel treated like mushrooms: kept in the dark and fed manure.

2. They will not become actively and constructively engaged if they (a) do not feel appreciated, (b) do not see the value of the work they do, (c) are not consulted about how to do it, (d) do not see how what they do helps their organization achieve its strategic objectuves, and (e) do not respect and trust their supervisor.

3. It is imerative to Communicate! Communicate! Communicate!

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Ranjay Gulati is the Jaime and Josefina Chua Tiampo Professor of Business Administration at Harvard Business School.

To check out more Working Knowledge from Ranjay Gulati, please click here.

To visit his HBS research page, please click here.

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