It was 1998 and I was working for Norwest. I was a foolish, idealistic young analyst who actually thought that profitability and efficiency were things that corporations would like to achieve. Led through my studies in college to think somehow managers and bosses would appreciate faster, cheaper and more efficient ways of doing things, I thought that if I could find a way to do something better they would appreciate it.
Now, already many of you are seeing the train crash coming, but in my defense they falsely led us ground troops to believe that Norwest did indeed care about efficiency. That maybe, somebody up top had realized that the brains of tens of thousands of individual employees might actually add up to a higher gross IQ than the handful of managers’ IQ’s. They did this with a “best practices program.”
You see, if you came up with a way to do something better, you could get a $25 savings bond!
And so in the monthly staff meeting we’d all be corralled into a big room, listening to management drone on about things irrelevant to our jobs and sure enough Suzi in processing came up with a way to save half a ream of paper per decade, and wow, what a great idea, Suzi, here’s your $25 savings bond for what is ultimately an insignificant contribution. I was of the opinion that getting rid of these meetings which tied up and lost hundreds of hours of labor would be a real efficiency achiever, but thought it better not to mention that
However, I did come up with an idea. A genuinely good and solid idea.
Part of my and the other analysts’ jobs was to take an hour out of our day and file all the paper work that had culminated throughout the course of our work. This was a tedious process as filing typically is. Common sense would dictate that instead of paying 8 analysts $18 an hour to file, we could hire a full time admin for about $10 to do the filing and save some money. However, my idea was even better.
“Why don’t we buy some scanners and scan this stuff in? We could then do away altogether with the filing, we’d free up some office space without the need for file storage, we could even cut down on rental expense as we wouldn’t need that much office space.”
Now this was 1998 and scanners did exist back then, and the idea of scanning was not a new and revolutionary idea. And so one would think that a large firm like Norwest would have the capital to buy a couple scanners and be eager to capitalize on this opportunity for increased efficiency.
One would think.
And that is the problem.
You see, in corporate
Naturally my idea was not implemented (well at least not as first, I found out 9 YEARS – and lord knows how much in wasted labor - LATER they finally did start scanning in documents), but it taught me an important lesson; logic does not always rule corporations.
Now, despite this wisdom I gained long ago, it is that damn natural, intuitive economist in me that automatically wishes to maximize production and maximize efficiency that still persists within. It’s not something you can turn off, it’s just this moral code programmed into your DNA, constantly nagging at you to progress and screaming aloud as you run into inane, obsolete and pointless instances of corporate idiocy. Regardless, I should not have been surprised when I ran into the most recent (and one of the more unbelievable) instances of corporate idiocy last week.
Like everybody else, one of my clients who shall go unnamed is having trouble boosting sales in this economy. It is a retailer that sells “stuff” and we’ll just leave it at that. Ergo, they wanted to find a way to get more people in the door.
Now, knowing this market and working with them before, after sitting down and doing some research I found a market that had yet been untapped or approached by any of this firm’s competitors. This market was wide open, not saturated, not even penetrated and I had it pegged.
My contact said, “That would be great, but we’d have to go through marketing first to see how we would advertise to it.”
And now, yes, for those of you with experience in the corporate world, you see the train wreck coming. Working with marketing.
We waited a solid month before we thought maybe we should follow up with marketing to see if they got our idea. My contact contacted his contact in marketing who said, “Oh yeah, yeah, I got your e-mail, just haven’t had time to look at it. I’ll get back to you in a week.”
“Oh, geez, sorry, yeah, sorry about that. We’ve just been swamped.”
Meanwhile sales are plummeting and people are starting to fear for their jobs.
Another month goes by and my contact at the firm finally has enough, decides to go over marketing’s head, and sends out an e-mail campaign to the predetermined target market.
All it took was one week and the sales department was flooded with calls from interested customers. They had people calling, not only interested in the product line, but willing to fork over good money.
Now one would think this was a good thing.
Sales INCREASED during a RECESSION.
Sales INCREASED not only by a little, but by a lot, 20% for some lines, 40% for another.
Sales INCREASED based on a simple and costless e-mail campaign.
I had brought the firm business.
I had brought the firm MONEY.
It would be like going to a house with a $1,000 bill, knocking on the door and saying, “Hello, here, have some money.”
One would think the recipient of the money would be happy, if not ecstatic.
Ah, but there you go thinking again.
Sure enough, in true American corporation form my contact received a complaint from marketing. He hadn’t gone through the proper channels. The e-mail campaign was not authorized by the head of marketing, and even though it did receive authorization from executive management, marketing was not pleased.
Now I am of course critical of the Obama administration and their efforts to turn around this economy. I think their strategy is inherently flawed and will not work. But, in intellectual honesty it is not just the government that is to blame for the lack of recovery, but the American people, particularly corporate
I don’t know what to call it, but it’s like a disease. It’s like when the organs of a patient start to all shut down and fail at the same time. A “systematic failure” of sorts. That there is no one thing wrong with any one particular part of the body, but that there is something inherently wrong with the entire body and it is practically untreatable. And thus is the same with corporate
Almost on a cellular or individual level where people are so incompetent and so stupid they are incapable of the independent thought necessary to make logical decisions, their decisions or indecisions cost corporate America billions. Lost clients. Lost markets (anybody remember IBM scoffing at point and click interfaces or Ben Franklin retail stores turning down the Walton brothers?) Oh, and the fact this whole housing crisis could have easily been avoided. It is only by sheer economies to scale or massive government bailouts that some of these corporations ever manage to eek out a profit in the face of inept managers and incompetent executives.
However, in these dire economic times, we cannot afford to be so damn stupid if we sincerely expect to turn this economy around.
Norwest is going to wait 9 years to start scanning in documents for their back office operation? Are you nuts? Why?
You bitch and complain about increased sales, practically free money, because it didn’t go through the right god damned channels?
You cave in time and time again to the UAW, knowing full well you can’t afford to stay competitive, and then go for a taxpayer bailout?
Or you ignore the sheer convincing and damning statistics that there is no way in hell your client’s condo development is going to sell and finance it to the tune of $40 million anyway?
With such boneheaded moves, it is practically guaranteed that the corporate sector of the
People in corporate
Sadly, I think the reason for such idiocy in corporations is the same reason we see idiocy in government. Both institutions pull their labor from a dumbed down and entitlement-driven population ala the movie “Idiocracy.” This also parallels my “total systematic failure” theory in that at the cellular level, the basic unit of labor is corrupted. When you only have idiots or spoiled children to choose from, is it any wonder none of the corporations seem to be able to make a profit, let alone had the incredibly simple foresight that was needed to see the housing crash coming? Worse still is that who precisely is going to turn around these corporations and institutions? Government is ruled by ignorant masses who believe they won’t have to worry about their mortgage or paying for gas as testified by Obama’s election. Corporations are headed up not by leaders, but by nepotists and cronies who have no managerial or leadership abilities but rather connections and rich parents. Schools, good lord, children teaching children. Alan Greenspan can’t teach economics. I can’t teach dance. But some 23 year old with no experience, living with mommy, BUT HAS A TEACHERS LICENSE can teach anything as long as you give them the textbook to teach out of. The t-cells or white blood cells needed to repair the
Alas, the only thing the white blood cells can do is sit and watch.
(Future post along the same lines coming soon – How Blunt, Truthful, Meanie Manly Jerks Will Become Sought After in this Economy)