Insane corporate efficiency – part 2

One of my readers bought up a point that has probably been used to justify many instances of corporate insanity:

Richard M Rowan says:

Corporate America is quite "sane" by any definition. Executives behave exactly as their owners want them to, or they are out. Nothing will change until investor expectations change.

I think this falls under the unsuccessful defense, "We were only following orders!" That didn’t work in Nazi Germany in 1945 and it doesn’t work now.

Owners (investors) want and demand financial results. That is their right and is a sane expectation. Executives who wish to retain their jobs strive to produce those desired results by creating efficient corporate structures and procedures. They generally rely on time-tested organizational structures, policies and procedures to carry out the day-to-day activitires which make a modern corporation successful. There is nothing insane in all of this.

It is the reliance on mechanistic models of perfection that create the corporate insanity I have experienced. Substitution of rigid policy for judgment is the genus of spreading insanity in some corporations. The glorious vision of pre-scripted relationships with customers, employees, and suppliers must spring from the ridiculous notion that machines are error-free.

Machines are only good for doing things that some human has already figured out how to do. All of the Artificial Intelligence claptrap notwithstanding, it takes an empowered, trained, and competent human being to assess a new situation and have any hope of coming to a rational conclusion about it. Life is all about judging and handling new situations.

On the other hand, many assembly operations and cooking fries at McDonald’s do not require judgment, because the activity is mindlessly repetitive. If human beings are involved, it is because they are cheaper than the robot which would otherwise do that job.

As soon as we communicate with humanity, we need to ensure that there are competent human beings on both ends of the communication line.

Rote procedures do not handle real-life situations very well. Robotic behavior by poorly trained or severely coerced employees does not contribute much to a customer’s or a supplier’s experience. In most cases, robotic responses are infuriating and cause the customer or supplier to avoid doing further business if at all possible.

There are some answers to this apparent dilemma, but it will have to wait for another post. Meanwhile, lets hear your thoughts about this. Your comments have been most interesting.

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0 Responses to Insane corporate efficiency – part 2

  1. Most of the insanity I see at work doesn’t seem tied to a desire for efficiency. Why would any business spend large sums to hire engineers/cubicle coders and then ignore their recommendations? Worse – why do corporations insist on doing something that consistently fails? Failing consistently seems ludicrously inefficient. And it seems to be completely insane when you’ve got people you hired to do the job screaming all the way down the line that this is wrong thing to do. And you ignore them – or punish them.

    Individually, I like most of the people I work for. They seem intelligent, likable, caring, responsible, and so on. Collectively though, the corporation is insane.

    Why? I’ve got no clue.

  2. Kim B says:


    A few months ago I posted a comment on your site that said that I felt like I was standing on a trap door and when management pulled the lever I would be in a free-fall. You advised me to make my exit strategy. Well, I tried but didn’t make it out in time. They pulled the lever. The company is outsourcing its entire IT department to IBM. Eighty percent of us will lose our jobs. I’m not bitter—just kicking myself for not getting out sooner.

    This relentless drive for efficiency will end badly, I think. At some point it becomes counter-productive as the corporation becomes too inwardly focused in its pursuit of efficiency. One criticism of the FBI in the 9/11 era was that it had a “culture of process.” I see the same mania in corporations as internal processes and efficiencies become obsessions that will slowly destroy them. Some day, perhaps, I think we will see a book entitled, “The Autistic Corporation.” Here is a definition of autism I found on the web:

    An abnormal absorption with the self; marked by communication disorders and short attention span and inability to treat others as people.

    Sound familiar?

  3. Kim,

    Sorry to hear that you could not manage a graceful and bumpless exit.

    Your original quote appears on page 126 of Danger Quicksand – Have A Nice Day. Take a look at pages 128 and 136 for advice on starting over and making a successful change.

    Send me an email if I can answer any questions for you.

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