Putting out fire (with gasoline)

“A plague I call a heartbeat” – 
David Bowie, “Cat People”

The Economist blogger Schumpeter recently proposed decluttering the company. I see lots of sage expressions, nodding heads. No-one would openly propose “cluttering” it up any more than it is, would they? Promising start, then.

Along with some annoyingly useful data supporting what we already know to be true (like we spend an increasingly greater proportion of our time in meetings and that many have little purpose – well, raise my rent) was the uncharacteristically preposterous suggestion that “spring cleaning needs to be reinforced by policies to stop the clutter accumulating in the first place”. Even though the clutter is already here.

A CEO at a company I used to work for talked about “lightening the backpack” (his was later removed altogether), and the article referenced “organisational load”, a term used by Boeing amongst others to refer to the weight of meetings, communication and initiatives preventing employees from being productive and creative. Good, we have a target.

But to suggest that the way to counter the daily gunk of the modern organisation is with more gunk is the sort of suggestion that has one glancing upwards for the nearest light fitting capable of taking your bodyweight.

A “policy” is one of the hardest things to get approved in most large organisations, given it is part of the ever-more pervasive governance framework. Imagine the spine-and-spirit crushing weight of the team formation, meetings, drafting, audit checks, politicking and positioning (people wanting “in” if its looks promising, “out” when it takes a wrong turn), submissions and re-submissions (after re-drafting and many more meetings) and finally the Board ratification of the end result that by the time several other departments played topiary with it, resembled nothing that left the final project team approval meeting – and weep softly. We understand, we shall weep with you.

The last thing the world needs is another bloody policy. They are the plague we call a heartbeat. Even if all it does is instruct meetings to stop if they are going off track (thank you for that gem, Lenovo – how useful can a tangent be after all?). Revelation – we can do something about it. Ourselves. A litte more common sense, a little more courage, and a slightly more determined voice when things look daft, and we will all carry a little less weight.

Try and put that in a policy, and we’re all on the fire.

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