The changing workscape: War on meetings & so-called solutions

Standard

…a committee decides, which committee decides, which committee decides, which committee decides…

Well I’m getting paper cuts, my eyes are bloodshot, from watching the tape turn red…

The Pentagon has too much paperwork to start a real war, I wish they’d just send me instead…

Ed Haynes – “I Want to Kill Everybody”

Long gone are the days when idle, if extreme, hyperbolic statements like “I Want to Kill Everybody” go unnoticed. Ed Haynes’s tongue-in-cheek protest song from the late 80s brings me back to a time when this kind of exaggeration – a modest proposal – could be said or sung and accepted in the joking, if frustrated, tone in which it was intended*. No one would call HR and think you were plotting to go postal tomorrow. (And Ed, your theme is as timely as ever. Strangely, there is very little to be found about Ed Haynes online – not even a Wikipedia page. I even have an ex-boyfriend or two with Wiki pages; how can Ed Haynes have almost no online presence, apart from a few CD reviews and listings for live shows he played in Portland, Oregon?)

I thought of good old Ed Haynes’s song, the anthem of my junior high school years, today as I sat in a meeting in which we were introduced to a new timekeeping system. The system exists ostensibly to keep track of projects to find out how much time is really being spent on them in order to better allocate existing resources (or to know where to supplement with additional resources). The presenter expressed the time-saving wizardry made possible with this new tool, which we are to use in addition to the hundreds of other tools piled on other tools where we are supposed to “report” things in the name of increased efficiency. Of course if we are spending half our time filling in reports in various systems, I think our resource problem is that we are spending half our time filling in reports.

Old Ed and his committees deciding on committees deciding, which – fair enough – springs to mind more often than it should in the current workplace, came to mind when the presenter showed a slide that housed several boxes with text in them, explaining how the decision had been made to run with this new system over a year ago… and many workshops, workgroups, task forces and other importantly-named committees met to analyze and discuss and brainstorm. See a problem here?

The company knew (or believed with no sense of irony) that it was underresourced. So, they took a large chunk of said resources and occupied their time with committees and workshops and task forces for months… all to come to the brilliant conclusion that they needed to measure how much time was being used on different projects in order to assign resources better. But what if – just what if – we cut out the years of analysis and internal focus groups and just accepted upfront that we need to implement a system and measure people’s time? Why take a year or more to decide that and then start a whole new process to choose a system for implementation?

The kicker is that most of the groups that work on a project basis today already have some form of time reporting that supposedly addresses these exact kinds of needs. Perhaps this new miraculous tool (and this company falls prey to the snake oil salesman every time – some system or another is a panacea for all our disorganized ills) will give us all the answers! Yes, it might be streamlined compared to the other solutions being used today. But what if they use this tool to collect data but then don’t actually use or interpret the data?

Oh, Ed, please cut the red tape and go directly to war… on meetings and more meetings about potentially useless, time wasting supposed time savers and redundant “solutions” that just create more work for everyone involved.

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*Back in the old days, you could actually say things that would be considered violent threats now. When I was an adolescent and working in the school office, I was walking in the hallway one day, and a kid who had been kicked out of another classroom for misbehaving said something suitably rude: “What would you give me if I let you give me a blow job?” I kept walking, but said, “A serious gunshot wound.” He sulked but nothing happened. Now, of course, I would be expelled from school for making violent threats – even though it was clearly a joke and clearly the kind of sarcastic reply called for in that situation. I don’t necessarily long for the “good old days” but somehow think that the more prohibitive we are with verbal expression, the more bottled up people’s frustrations will be.

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