Wednesday, September 15, 2010


A big company opened a small specialty shop to sell a new product. It got off to a rocky start. It was due to a combination of things - turnover in personnel; an outside partner that failed to deliver; an overly complicated operating plan. But business finally began, after opening to much fanfare, and the shop started doing business.

The product on offer was so attractive that hundreds of potential customers swarmed in. Phone calls, emails, walk-ups. Each customer had to be responded to, and the staff couldn't keep up. The product was so complicated each sales pitch took a long time to deliver.

Once a sale was made, it took even more staff time to fulfill the customer's order. The product had limitations, stringent rules, regulations. Customer expectations were high, and when the product didn't measure up, complaints poured in, and it took a lot of time to respond to those.

The small staff was under a lot of stress. Everything was created on the fly - policies, documents, administrative infrastructure. If there was a policy question, it took days - weeks - to get it resolved or approved. The office space was difficult - inadequate furniture, desks shoved into alcoves isolated from colleagues so that communication was difficult.

Overtime increased. Payroll costs doubled. Revenue sagged. Contractors and service providers clashed with the shop's staff over mixed-up orders. A grievance was filed, claiming harassment and disrespectful behavior. As things got worse, some of the core staff jumped ship, applying for transfer positions to other departments in the parent company. There were conflicts, arguments, tears.

The nice thing about a large bureaucracy is that there are plenty of internal resources to draw upon when something goes wrong - so the company sent in experts and support staff from other departments to help. They analyzed costs and documented procedures. They wrote reports. They submitted lists of recommendations to the manager. Then they left.

The recommendations went nowhere.

Other experts were dispatched - marketing consultants and efficiency experts.

The result was the same. Good advice doesn't help if no one listens.

What happened next was inevitable. The exhausted staff couldn't take anymore. Smart, talented, and professional, they began to look for other jobs. First one, then another, and finally the third of three key staff members put in their notice. The shop was left with an office of empty desks, ringing phones, and a full in-box.

Will the ship be lost?

What's my role? Well, you could probably think of me as a pilot, someone who guides a ship through dangerous waters. Pilots are simply advisers, though; the captain remains in charge of the vessel. What can a pilot do when the captain steers the ship aground?

Call ashore to the company for more experts to tow it off the reef.

Bring it in to dry-dock for an overhaul. Wish the crew clear weather and a calm sea.

A new captain? Well, we'll see how it turns out.


ifthethunderdontgetya™³²®© said...

Aunt Snow, I hope your ship comes in!

Big Bad Bald Bastard said...

Hopefully, you'll be able to steer this ship through the shoals and reefs, thereby saving some folks' jobs.

Good fortune!

M. Bouffant said...

Why I am now gainfully unemployed! Holy crap.

The significant other went back to teaching this wk. & is suffering. I'm controlling the schadenfreude though.

Anonymous said...

You just described why my husband is looking forward to retirement next summer.