I've written before about our organization's infatuation with process improvements. We so lack self-confidence that we're constantly reaching for someone outside to give us management wisdom. Lean Six Sigma, Whole Goals, High Performing Organizations, Balanced Scorecard, the list goes on and on.
At a recent meeting, where we decided to use a Whole Goals approach to a Lean Six Sigma event in response to our High Performing Organizations strategic plan to develop a new PowerPoint template for our semi-annual management reviews, it dawned on me that we were doing management by Xenon.
What do I mean by that?
Well, Xenon is an inert gas. That is, it doesn't react with anything unless it's forced to do so by a lot of external pressure. It vibrates and moves around, but accomplishes nothing.
(Warning: Tangential topic approaching at warp speed!)
I just ran across Guy Kawasaki's marvellous blog, How to change the World. The guy is a pretty deep thinker and writes about marketing, management, Web 2.0 and the new world of communicating and networking in general. His posts are original and well-researched.
It's a sure bet that no one in our management chain has read his work or any of the people he cites. One of the side effects of management by Xenon is a lack of quiet, reflective learning time. It's rush, rush, rush to the next meeting, the next training session, the next email barrage. Effectively, professional development ceases as soon as you become a high-level manager.
Management by Xenon crushes organizational innovation from above. If I read Guy Kawasaki's blog and find something fascinating and applicable, I will not be able to bring it to the attention of our management. Their time is wholly consumed with one frantic effort after another. Their days are scheduled in 15 and 30 minute increments. There is no way you can have a deep discussion about a new concept in 30 minutes. It probably takes that long for the adrenaline from the last frantic meeting to subside.
The end result? A caste system. Management spins off into its own world of buzzwords and process improvement flowcharts. The remainder of the organization separates itself from them. No reactions and no effect. Just like adding Xenon to a chemical reaction.
How about if we put that on the glossy brochures from the consultants who peddle these things?
Update: A chemist friend of mine suggested that it should be "Management by Helium" since Xenon can actually be made to do things under sufficient pressure and external conditions while Helium cannot ever be made to do anything. We then both decided that Xenon sounds much more mysterious and alien and left it as is.