Wednesday, 11 September 2013

Labour Saving

A friend of mine recently shared some observations he’d made on certain of his staff, as they strove to achieve economy of effort.

‘The message seems to be: always carry a pad,’ he told me, ‘and walk fast. You’ve got to look purposeful, as though you’re responding to some urgent call. No one will spot the fact that you’re actually just walking round and round the office and not actually doing any work at all.’

‘Surely that runs out of steam fairly quickly, doesn’t it?’ I asked.

‘Well, I suppose if you walk round too long, you get dizzy. So the next trick is to look for someone you know isn’t in.’

‘How does that work?’

‘Well, you know Nigel Sanders is off-site today. So you wander round peering in every direction and asking for him. You can even bust in on a few meetings: you stick your head round the door and say, “is Nigel in this meeting? Nigel Sanders? Has anyone seen him?” When they tell you they haven’t, you can follow that up with, “you see, I need to speak to him quite urgently.” They won’t be able to help, they may not even know Nigel, but they’ll be impressed by the energy you’re putting into dealing with an urgent matter that requires his input.’

‘Of course, you still have to have your pad, don’t you?’

‘Oh, the pad’s essential. It should have half a dozen lines of notes on it, each with a bullet, and perhaps a diagram – a few circles and rectangles, linked by arcs with arrows. That confirms how vital it is you see Nigel.’

He thought a moment. ‘Actually, I think the pad’s always crucial. Even for the next step, when you turn to the big guns and call a meeting. You have to have that pad, to show you’ve prepared the discussion, even though you haven’t. You can also use it to list all the participants, including yourself, in case you forget you were there.’

‘And what do people do at these meetings?’

‘Do? They’re not for doing anything. They’re another great device for reducing workload. You call them without an agenda. Then you turn up fashionably behind schedule and then suggest waiting for latecomers, even if everyone’s there.’

‘What if the others ask who’s missing?’

‘Why, you’re waiting for Nigel Sanders, of course.’

‘OK, so that you should kill quarter of an hour. And then?’

‘Get the group talking about something that sounds terribly important, such as “mid-term commercial review: strategic perspectives.” Strategy is good, and commercial isn’t bad. Then keep the conversation moving. If it looks as though you’re reaching a conclusion, summarise the discussion so far and make sure you include something in the summary that hasn’t been discussed – that’ll get everyone talking again. And most important of all, keep asking for more information.’

‘Why’s that useful?’

‘Well, it means you can conclude the meeting with a decision to investigate further and hold another meeting to discuss new findings.’


‘Isn’t it? Two meetings for the price of one.’

‘And what if even the meeting doesn’t do the trick?’

‘Well then, I suppose, they just have to knuckle down and get on with some work.’

‘Actually, that might be no harder than all that ingenious labour-saving.’

‘Damn right. Going that far to avoid work
’s more trouble than it’s worth.’

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