Why good people sometimes do bad things: 52 reflections on ethics at work
28. The future under control:
implementation plans and coffee cups
Organizations want and need to be increasingly under control. The goal for supervisors,
directors and managers is control over their organizations. All kinds of internal and external ‘in
control statements’ are issued, declaring that the organization is properly managed. But can
an organization control behavior, not just now but in the future? What does it say if a company
introduces a new code of conduct, a department resolves to implement an environmental
program, or an employee declares that he will be more customer-oriented?
Besides the methods mentioned in the previous chapter, good resolutions stand or fall by
their implementation plans. You may have thought they’d had their day. Don’t those ritual rain
dances just lead to bureaucracy and waste of time and energy? Aren’t the new management
styles ‘muddling through’, ‘incremental management’, and ‘entrepreneurial lexibility’?
Research by Rob Holland and colleagues explains the psychology of implementation plans.
A telecoms company wanted to reduce its ecological footprint by making changes such as
recycling more. They therefore decided to place a recycling bin for used plastic cups in each
department. The bin was a short walk from each ofice worker’s desk. Furthermore everyone
was clearly and persuasively informed of the aim of this new bin; there was a special team
set up to inform employees directly and instruct them in the importance and convenience of
this bin. The company appeared to have taken reasonable measures to get the matter under
control. But in spite of all efforts, no more was recycled than previously. Employees continued
to throw their cups in the ordinary trash cans under their own desks. Even prominently placing
a bin for plastic cups in each room did not help. The researchers wanted to help the company
and thought of an approach which might work.
Some of the staff were asked to make a proposal as to when, where and how they would
recycle their plastic cups and to write this up. The researchers noted the effect of this on the
behavior of the employees. At the end of each day they counted the plastic cups in the trash
cans. Initially on average there were 2 plastic cups per day in each employee’s own, general
trash can, but after the researchers’ intervention, this number decreased quickly. A week after
28.The future under control: implementation plans and coffee cups