Recipe for disaster
Insanity in a corporation does not happen spontaneously. It may be caused by well-meaning people with a limited understanding of life. On the other hand, it may come about because of a criminal mentality (wanting something for nothing) in top management. Either way, a situation arises where dedicated and hard-working employees do not get recognized for delivering what customers need and want.
In other words, an insane corporation punishes employees who understand the importance of providing good service to customers. The future of any company depends on maintaining fair exchange with customers. The insane company puts its priorities on making sure that arbitrary targets are met.
There are many companies which fit this pattern, but it takes a few more factors before the last shreds of corporate culture wither and die. Corporate culture, you will remember from the earlier parts of this series, is the spirit which keeps a company growing and enables it to overcome obstacles.
A company which institutes a top down command and control system which substitutes rules for decision making ability at all levels is doing a good job of suppressing corporate culture, but it takes micromanagement by beancounters to drive the productive employees completely around the bend.
"Gaming" the system
A company seeking salvation through numbers rather than excellent products in the hands of customers is wide open to those who play the numbers game without doing anything effective. When numbers become more important than quality, someone is always ready to take advantage of the situation and will move rapidly upward in the organization by producing statistics that win the heart of management.
Statistics are only valuable if they measure something that can be exchanged for money or support. "Number of systems shipped" is a meaningless number if the systems are shipped untested. "Potential orders" tells us nothing if the probabilities are fudged to make them look encouraging. When management puts the pressure on for higher numbers, employees respond in some cases by falsifying the numbers and hoping that things will work out somehow.
The other effect of this fixation on numbers is the demand for higher numbers at all levels of the organization. This causes something called a "stat push" which is a meaningless action designed to increase a reported number. When you get repeated sales calls from the same salesperson and you have no requirements she can fill, she is probably keeping her "sales calls" numbers in a safe range. Some companies have a quota on letters out, so employees being measured on quantity of letters send out anything that will fit in an envelope and count it as a letter. When the number of anything becomes more important than the result, it will lead to a manipulation of the number.
It is a worthwhile effort to track sub-products in any complex product offering because one can get a sense of how the project or shipment is going. If you ship only one product a quarter, you had better keep track of the bits and pieces that go into making the product or you may miss the quarterly shipment, but the sub-products must be real and be valuable. If they are not, you get statistics like "lines of code" and "issues resolved" or even "hours worked".
It all comes down to employee responsibility. When the employee is punished for taking responsibility, they can fight, leave, or shrug and stop worrying about customer needs. When they produce what management wants and ignore the harm that results, this is irresponsibility. This irresponsibility may take the company down the tubes, but it will damage employee self-esteem first.
People generally produce what management wants. Management that consults employees (and customers) will generally get enough feedback to avoid creating a recipe for disaster.
Tag: corporate insanity