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August 20, 2015

Decision Dysfunction in Corporate America

Summary:

If your customers voted tomorrow, who in your organization would be retained? Who would be fired as examples of dysfunction?

Photo Courtesy of Impact Hub Global Network

Nancy Newbee is the newest trainee for LOCO (Large Old Company). She was hired because she is bright, articulate, well-educated and motivated. She is in her second week of training.

Her orders include: “We’ll teach you all you need to know. Sammy Supervisor will monitor your every action and coordinate your training. Don’t take a step without his clearance. When he’s busy, just read through the procedures manual.”

Nancy is already frustrated by this training process but is committed to following the rules.

Upon arriving at work today, Nancy discovers the kitchen is on fire! As instructed, she rushes to Sammy Supervisor. Interrupting him, she says, “There’s a major problem!”

Sammy is obviously disturbed by this interruption in his routine. “Nancy, my schedule will not allow me to work with you until this afternoon; go back to the conference room and continue studying the procedures.”

“But, Mr. Supervisor, this is a major problem!” Nancy pleads.

“But nothing! I’m busy. We’ll discuss it this afternoon. If it can’t wait, go see the department head,” Sam says.

Nancy rushes to the office of Billy Big and shouts, “Mr. Big, we have a major problem, and Mr. Sam said to see you!” Mr. Big states politely, “I’m busy now …,” all the while wondering why Sam hires these excitable airheads.

“But, Mr. Big, the building…,” Nancy interrupts.

“Nancy, see my secretary for an appointment or call maintenance if it’s a building problem,” Mr. Big says impatiently, thinking, “Where does Sam find these characters?”

Near panic, Nancy calls maintenance. The line is busy. As a last resort, Nancy calls Ruth Radar, the senior secretary in the accounting department. Everyone has told her that Ruth really runs this place. She can get anything done.

“Ruth Radar, may I help you?” is the response on the phone.

“Miss Radar, this is Nancy, the new trainee. The building is on fire! What should I do?” Nancy shouts through her tears.

“Nancy, call 911!” Ruth says calmly.

Of course, this dysfunction is a ridiculous example. Or is it?

Assuming you are the boss, try this eight-question test:

  1. In your business, do you hire the best and brightest and then instruct them not to think, act or do anything during their training except as you tell them to do?
  2. Do you promise training but substitute reading of procedure manuals?
  3. Do you create barriers to communications, interaction and effectiveness by scheduling the new employee’s problems and inquiries to the busy schedules of your other personnel?
  4. Do you and your staff ignore what new employees are saying?
  5. Is the process more important than the result? Does the urgent get in the way of the important?
  6. Do layers of bureaucracy between you, your employees and customers interfere with contact, communications and results?
  7. Is “Ruth Radar” running your shop?
  8. Do you have any fires burning in your office?

If you answered “no” to all of these questions, congratulations!

Now go back and try again. The perfect business would have eight “no” answers, but very few businesses are perfect. If you are like LOCO (a large old company), you might be so far out of touch with your trainees, employees and customers that you won’t hear about a fire until it starts to burn your desk.

Look back at IBM, GM and Sears in the late 1980s. These were kings of their jungles. Yet all nearly burned to the ground. Many thousands of employees were terminated, profits ended and stock values fell. If you would have talked to any of these terminated employees you would have learned that the fire had burned for a long time and that many people had tried to sound the alarm.

Remember the large old insurance companies that are no longer here – Continental, Reliance, etc. Did their independent agents smell the smoke? Did the leadership of these carriers ignore the alarm?

Sam Walton, who had reasonable success in business during his lifetime, once said, “There is only one boss – the customer. Customers can fire everybody in the company from the chairman on down, simply by spending their money somewhere else.”

Sam was right. In your business, do you or Nancy have the most direct contact with the customer – the ultimate boss? If Nancy has the most contact, is she adequately trained, motivated and monitored? Is she providing feedback to you? Are you listening?

Take one minute to draw a picture of your organization. Are you, as the boss, at the pinnacle? Are Nancy and her fellow trainees at the base? Is it prudent to have the least experienced personnel closest to the customers?

Your organization was formed to meet the needs of customers. You exist to serve these same customers. Where are these customers in the organizational chart? Did you forget them? How much distance is there between you (as boss) and the customers?

Does this pyramid model facilitate the free flow of information between you and the customers or does it buffer you from the thoughts and feelings of the real boss (the customer)? In your business, is the customer and her problem seen as an interruption of the work or the very reason for your existence?

If your customers voted tomorrow, who would be retained? Who would be fired?

Think about it! Do you dare to ask?

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About the Author

Mike Manes was branded by Jack Burke as a “Cajun Philosopher.” He self-defines as a storyteller – “a guy with some brain tissue and much more scar tissue.” His organizational and life mantra is Carpe Mañana.

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