Archive for March, 1999

Ridiculous at the top

Wednesday, March 24th, 1999

Mar 24, 1999

Success seems to blur clear thinking. Perhaps it’s the rarefied atmostphere

Amid the flotsam-jetsam of cyberspace that regularly lands in my e-mailbox (mostly reams of bad jokes, which I delete immediately), I found one interesting message last week. “Here are some entries from a recent ‘Dilbert Quotes’ contest,” it said. “People were asked to submit quotes from their real-life Dilbert-type managers.” The ‘Dilbert-type’ quotes followed, highlighting the mind-numbing stupidity of lumbering corporate Godzillas.

The winning entry was a Microsoft memo, which read: “As of tomorrow, employees will only be able to access the building using individual security cards. Pictures will be taken next Wednesday and employees will receive their cards in two weeks.” The message listed out some other gems. “This project is so important that we can’t let things that are more important interfere with it.” (Advertising manager, UPS) “We know that communication is a problem, but the company is not going to discuss it with employees.” (AT&T) “Doing it right is no excuse for not meeting the schedule. No one will believe you solved this problem in one day! We’ve been working on it for months. Now, go act busy for a few weeks and I’ll let you know when it’s time to tell them.” (R&D Supervisor, 3M)

I believe this stuff. In fact, sometimes I get the feeling that the more money a com-pany makes, the more well-paid the managers are, the more their thinking processes get garbled, and signal-to-noise ratios go all haywire. When I worked in advertising, a top marketing man of a big transnational, whose account I was handling, told us in a meeting: “For this (advertising) campaign, I want real breakthrough ideas that have been proven to work many times before.” We goggled at him, so he thought we had missed the drift, and repeated the statement more forcefully.

In a financial services company I worked in, our CEO decided to bring in a management consultant for a two-day brainstorming session with managers to set the medium- and long-term course for the company. At the start of the session, the consultant fixed a beady eye on our CEO and said: “So, what business do you think you are in?” Our CEO gibbered for a few moments and then spoke for around 20 minutes on what business he thought our company was in. When he finally stopped, our consultant said: “If you can’t explain what business you are in in one sentence, you don’t know the answer.” We then spent two days trying to draft a one-sentence mission statement for our company. The result was something like this: “We are in the business of attenuating frictions in the flow of funds from resource-surplus entities to resource-deficit ones, while earning our revenues from this activity, predicated on relentless focus on quality and timely service to our customers and stakeholders at every stage of the fund-flow process and beyond, never losing sight of the profit principle in all its ethical, social, shareholder-interest and excellence dimensions.” How’s that for a mission statement? We don’t pull our punches when it comes to core stuff, no way!

When I tottered back to office with this statement and revealed it to my team, the stupid sods couldn’t figure it out. “But we thought we were in the business of lending money at as high an interest rate as we could get!” they whimpered. They were unable to get the big picture, the totality, the holistic thing.

I left the company soon after out of fear of slipping on frictionless surfaces and breaking my neck.

My personal favourite from the Dilbert Quotes contest is the following: “In a memo I circulated reviewing our company’s training programmes and materials, I mentioned the ‘pedagogical approach’ used by a training manual. The day after, I was called into the HR Director’s office and told that the executive VP wanted me out of the building by lunch. When I asked why, I was told that she wouldn’t stand for ‘perverts’ (pedophiles) working in her company. Finally, he showed me her copy of the memo, with her demand that I be fired, with the word ‘pedagogical’ circled in red. The HR Manager was reasonable, and once he had looked up the word in his dictionary and made a copy of the definition to send to my boss, he told me he would take care of it. Two days later, a memo was issued to the entire staff, directing that no words that could not be found in the local Sunday newspaper could be used in memos. A month later, I resigned. In accordance with company policy, I created my resignation letter by pasting words together from the Sunday paper.” Show us the way and we’ll precede.