Reorganise To Fail

In the old days, companies endured, and most workers were hired by the day. Now, it is the other way around: most workers can expect to outlive half a dozen company names. Especially in former state-owned corporations, where frequent rebranding is confused with customer service.

Work is currently something done in the odd minutes when not reorganising, restructuring, rebranding, downsizing, upsizing, merging, demergering, acquiring and spinning off. Rapid oscillation between wholly irreconcilable business philosophies, such as exploiting synergies contra concentrating on core competencies, allows employees skilled at gobbledygook to outmanoeuvre those skilled at doing something useful. It also provides a rich living for a class of parasites who ought to be classified as a negative externality but aren’t, because they write the management books.

There is a quotation floating around the Internet, purporting to be from Petronius, on how the moment an organisation begins to function, someone reorganises it so that it doesn’t any more. It is not from Petronius, but from a 20th-century writer. But it’s still a good observation. There is a variation attributed by The Economist to Mao: “If you can’t do anything right, do a lot. The more you have going on, the longer it will take for its disastrous consequences to become clear”.

Why precisely does this happen? My own suggestion (made without having read that writer) is “protective coloration”: if an organisation is running well, the incompetent person will be easily visible, he’s the one screwing up his own patch. If, however, the organisation is currently being reorganised, everything will be screwed up, and so the effects of having an incompetent in the house will be impossible to detect.

Management consultants prey on corporations’ insecurity in precisely the same way as therapists prey on the insecurities of individuals. The global economy could be made vastly more efficient at a stroke, in the same way as human happiness could be greatly enhanced overnight: shoot all the consultants and all the therapists.

Posted on March 9, 2010 at 11:25 by Hugo Grinebiter · Permalink
In: MONKEY BUSINESS, Management As Cargo Cult

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