Getting Your Priorities Right

December 1, 2007

How would you feel about this situation .. ?

A (hypothetical *cough*) management team realise that they’re not really operating as a team, and decide to have a bit of a brainstorming, bonding and ‘get-to-know-you’ offsite session. They figure that that has to be a positive and much needed sign to the rest of the company. Sounds good?

Meeting gets scheduled for next March…..

Busy Fools

October 22, 2007

If you ask somebody nowadays how they are, what do they normally tell you? Chances are that along with the usual ‘fine’, ‘doing ok’ and ‘so so’ they’ll also say ‘busy’, ‘tired’ or ‘flat out’.

We’re all more than familiar with the increased pace of life. The always-on, always-connected life of the Blackberry addicted corporate netizens most of us have become. But do you ever stop to wonder how much of our busy schedules are really unnecessary necessities? How much time we waste, or how much is wasted by others?

I’m not talking about proper, conscious time wasting activities like reading Digg, surfing for pictures of cute kittens or writing your blog (ahem). I’m talking about being a ‘busy fool’. Attending pointless meetings, producing reams of unnecessary reports (often the same information sliced in different ways for different people), dealing with administrivia, working on projects you know are never going to work, following rules and processes just because, waiting for decisions, dealing with committees, waiting for sign-off.

Do you ever think about the things you shouldn’t be doing? Actually, not just think, I mean properly stop and consciously decide to not do something? Instead of hoping for more people in your team, or wishing in vain for a bigger budget, have you ever wondered how it’s probably possible to really do more with less (as we all keep getting told) if only the items in the ‘more’ list were actually less (but higher value).

Do you subscribe to the ‘two people in a garage’ theory but never get a chance to find out?

The trick of course is not only knowing what’s important and what’s not, but also helping to educate your organisation to allow people to focus on those items. You should be ready to not do certain things, but there’s a reasonable chance that simply saying ‘no’ will get you labeled as someone who isn’t a team player or isn’t willing to play the corporate game. So you need to be open and honest in your reasons, work upwards and downwards and keep your eyes open for inefficiencies (as an example, I seem to spend a reasonable amount of time getting person A to talk to person B having noted that they’re both working on largely the same thing. This also saves person C – me – from doing the same things a third time!).

I get very frustrated at ‘make-work’ for mediocre people and sometimes, when all else fails, you simply have to walk away. I’d like to think though that we all have a part to play before it gets to that point.

As my old physics lecturer used to say ‘if you’re going to waste your time and do nothing, you should have decided beforehand that’s what you are going to do. Otherwise you’re just wasting your time.’

What are you not going to do today?

Don’t Let Me See That

October 3, 2007

Whilst I was shopping for TVs the other day I saw something that at first was mildly amusing but then got me thinking.

I was in … let’s call the store ‘Hardly Normal’ .. when there was a bit of a commotion near the checkout. Two members of staff had got into a shouting match. It wasn’t clear what the fuss was about – I think one guy had interrupted another when he was with some customers. They were still shouting at each other when I left.

It did make an interesting sideshow, and the small crowd that formed near them appeared to agree.

On reflection though, I really didn’t want to see it.

If your company is dysfunctional, don’t let me see it. If your order processing and back office systems are crap, don’t let me see it. If your accounts department finds it hard to deal with your service department .. you get the idea. We may have to contend with annoying co-workers, crappy systems and inflexible processes but I don’t really care how hard you’re paddling under the water: please make it look serene on the surface (and then fix your other issues of course!).

On a related note I once saw a genuinely interesting (and scary) workplace incident in Thailand, when two kitchen workers decide to fight it out. One of them grabbed a knife from the sink. Luckily she (it was two women) was stopped before it got too out of hand.

Not sure why, but the restaurant burst out into spontaneous applause. Now that’s entertainment!

Business BS

September 28, 2007

I had a meeting a couple of days ago with one of the large hardware and software vendors. Let’s call them ‘Moon Microsystems’. I’ve been around long enough to hear my fair share of business BS, but this meeting vied for the world record.

Three hours of my life I’ll never get back, I was tempted to stick a fork in my eye for a bit of light relief. Luckily I had a flight to catch and so managed to escape with most of my brain cells largely intact.
And yes, I did try and steer things back but unfortunately I wasn’t chairing the meeting and was only one of ten participants – how expensive must all of that time been?!

Here are some questions for you (see if you recognise any of these):
– Why do we waste so much time in our working lives (and I’m not talking about checking out your Facebook or reading Digg.)?
– Why waste time in unnecessary meetings?
– Why make commitments we can’t keep or undertake projects we know we won’t have time for, or worse still, deliver no value.
– Why spend three hours bullshitting around the issues instead of setting clear and simple actions
– Why do companies get so afraid to try something different?
– Why can’t people give up control, or really and properly let someone else run with an idea?
– Why do we stymie innovation at the expense of the short-term numbers, giving us the exact same problems year on year?
– Why is it always ‘someone else’s problem’?
– Why keep doing the same thing, never learning from past mistakes?
– Why do we find it hard to filter out the ‘noise’?
– Why do we say ‘because that’s the way things are done around here’ to justify mediocrity?

My apologies – I’m feeling a bit frustrated at the moment. Can you tell? 😉 I appreciate that not every company is like this. There are some superstars out there, to be sure, but there sure are a lot of shockers too.

To misquote someone else’s phrase: “strategy without action is just hallucination”.

(oh, and just to be clear: I’m not suggesting ‘Moon’ are like this – I couldn’t possibly know from the one meeting. Let’s say I’m taking an average over multiple companies I’ve seen in action … )