Skip to comments.(Vanity) Why Business is For the Birds, or, All Flocked Up Part I
Posted on 10/22/2006 8:06:26 AM PDT by grey_whiskers
Some time ago, at work, I found myself assigned to a clerical task, which was beneath both my education level and my pay grade. Now, since I was a contractor, and paid by the hour, I did not complain about being instructed to do thisboth because I wanted to remain on good terms with my employer, and because I thought Hey, you know, getting paid [my wage] to do this is kind of cool. It makes up for all the salaried jobs where I worked until midnight on a project, only to have it postponed the next day.
Nonetheless, the situation kind of nagged at me. Partly because I still have a conscience, and partly because I knew this sort of situation is not sustainable. Contractors as well as employees have a vested interest in making sure that a companys money is spent wisely. (Somehow, managers and executives seem to have more trouble with this concept, especially when they are the beneficiaries of the dubious spending.)
The work that I was doing, was sorting a scrambled lists of tasks to be completed, into groups which belonged together, so that they could be assigned more efficiently across the team. If this was not done, there would have been a great deal of wasted effort and re-invention of the wheel as overlapping tasks were performed by different groups. In addition, some of the minor tasks would have been given priority over more important tasks, once which were directly necessary for releasing a new product.
So after I had been doing the sorting for 20-30 minutes, the idea came to menot why am I the one doing this? but why dont companies do this sort of thing more often? To my surprise, I found myself faced with an answer. And the answer was one I didnt like:
It doesnt matter!
How come? Because business is not necessarily about maximizing efficiency, it is about maximizing profit. For those of you with MBAs who are thinking about cost of labor, worker productivity, and the like, bear with me. Just reducing costs is not the only way of increasing profit. You can always try increasing revenue, too. How does this apply to prioritizing work, you ask? Simple. If you spend too much time cutting costs, and lose track of the time taken to get the product out the door, you have become penny wise and pound foolish. If you spend too much time fixing a few glitches to satisfy one loud customer, when the other customers dont care, you may miss a market opportunity, and win a battle, but lose the war. In other words, the advice is not the (individual) customer is always right but the customer (base) is always right.
What do you think productivity concerns? To me it means partly getting the right person and doing things as efficiently as possible.
I wish more managers felt like you. Too often, "productivity" means "political CYA" or "blowing one's horn loudly enough to get promoted"--even if the *actual* business goals or customer needs fall by the wayside.
Which, by the way, I hint at in the second piece. I think the real situation is that competing business factors and the environment are so complex, it is impossible for anyone to get it "right"--there are too many things out of one's control. So what happens is, people do "their best" or even "just good enough" and focus on spin of whatever happens.
When enough high-ups do that, it poisons the well so to speak--so that you *have* to spin to get ahead.
When that goes on long enough, you get managers of the Fiorina type, or Jack Welch type.
Yes, I know, Six Sigma and all that. Hogwash. All Jack really did was nuke enough people to scare people--and then announce that he would cut the bottom 10% every year. People worked like dogs to avoid being in that 10%.
And the other thing he did was position himself as CEO during the stock market run-up of the late 1990's--GE is still as strongly performing now but their stock is just stuck where it was. Note the current CEO doesn't blame himself for the stagnant stock market, its "the environment".
But when the stock price goes up, the CEO gets full credit.
Nice work if you can get it! :-)
Thanks for taking the time to read and respond, btw!