8/26/2013

#13 If I Can't Do It, It Must Be Easy (1998)

rat All Rights Reserved © 1998 Thomas W. Day

The title of this piece, "If I Can't Do It, It Must Be Easy," seems to the strongest of all modern management beliefs. A zillion years ago, good managers said things like "I'd never ask anyone to do a job I wouldn't do myself." Not anymore. Or maybe, and more likely, there aren't any good managers left to say things like that. Today's managers usually don't know what they would do themselves, mostly because they aren't capable of doing much of anything. More often than not, they're proud of this characteristic.

The new pack of MBA-de-educated, fast-tracking managers believe everything from performing a useful function to leading a meeting is a task unworthy of their "skills" (a term left totally undefined in MBAville). If nothing else in our current economy tells us that we're living beyond our means, the vacant lot of management abilities in American companies ought to do the job. It's zombie-land in the offices with windows. A decade ago, we complained about bosses without people-skills. Today, it's tough to find any sort of skills in the executive suites.

Where is Lee Iacocca now that he might actually be useful? Man, I never thought I'd be saying that!

Which reminds me, what do you get when you glue a pair of shot glasses to an executive's ears? An overpriced, unrepeatable Hubbell telescope.

Most companies could lose all of their management staff in a plane crash and not know they were missing for months. The outside world's first clue that the business was unhelmed would be the company's rapid increase in efficiency and profitability.

The perfect beauty of the MBA-to-Management fast-track is that it takes absolutely no ability or experience or any identifiable quality to make the big bucks (other than being tall, attractive, and having good hair). Buy a degree from a prestigious MBA factory and you're on your way to an executive lifestyle, regardless of the disasters you create along your way. In fact, I've seen a few of these dweebs completely hose up a company and get hired and promoted (for a job well done?) to another company in the same industry. What an awesome example of the phrase "poison pill."

In mismanagement's simple world, there is no downside to simple solutions for complex problems. Need to cut costs? Whack out a budget with smaller bottom line numbers. Need to shorten production times? Slash the schedules. Management's blissful ignorance is the total lack of consequences to impossible demands. Someone will either "make it happen" (in the words of the ultimate MBA'er, Captain Picard of the Failed Enterprise) or convince the dim-bulb execs, on the next rung up, that it did happen.

Finally, a side effect to this low-road route to success is that someone has convinced these New Age Mismanagers that any skill they don't have isn't worth having. If God is in the details, these fools are the ultimate atheists. As a dean of Harvard's School of Business once said, "Details? We don't need no stinking details."

The mass of today's executives seem to believe that the difficult part of every task is saying "make it so." These corporate wood worms believe that "seeing the big picture" is some kind of special skill inherited only by the ruling class. "Bring me your poor and wretched ideas, so that I can wave my arms over them and blessed they shall be." Once the arm waving is done, it's back to the golf course, the three-martini lunch, the Waikiki sales branch inspection, or a ten day quality seminar in Paris.

Sometime between ten minutes and a week after making the grand pronouncement, the doofus with the good hair will be back wondering why it "isn't so." The time period has more to do with his recreation schedule than the complexity of the project. No excuses are acceptable. It doesn't matter if you don't have the tools, training, human-power, or time. Since Mr. Corner Office thinks he has performed the hard portion of the task, in his mind the rest of the task is simple grunt work. And you are the grunt.

In a Priority Mail(TM) ad, the Postal Service said it all for me, "The smartest executives all have something in common. They love a no-brainer."

And the rest of us know why.

March 1998

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