No Fooling - We Used to Think Things Like This Were Funny

By Tamara Wilhite posted 03-28-2019 09:29:04 PM


I was reading an older office humor book and found several themes for which every comic fell into at least one category.

  • Complaints about constant, needless change
  • Complaints about not being given correct information as a matter of practice
  • Abusive, bullying management practices
  • Complaints about overwork
  • Complaints about inefficiency of peers
  • Last minute changes that others fail to realize take a long time to implement correctly
  • Unrealistic schedules

As an industrial engineer, I realized though the comic book was nearly as old as me, the same issues remain in the workplace today. The same themes are found in Dilbert. But what are the solutions to these age old problems?

  • Have a clear, understandable reason for every change from procedure to hierarchy.
  • Communicate the changes to everyone involved and properly train them.
  • Training that is not directly related to specific, planned changes or legally required shouldn’t be given. It takes people away from productive uses of their time.
  • If you take everyone away from work for training, plan for the delays or making up the slack otherwise.
  • Recognize when the new fad is really a new name for an old concept, and don’t jump into seminars or rewrite your documentation to reflect the new names for what you already do.
  • Engage in clear communication and avoid the vague slogans even Deming and Drucker warned against, and don’t apply censorship to critical feedback based on fear of causing offense.
Companies rise and fall on the ability to point out unproductive workers, managers making bad decisions, suspicion of fraud. If you don't have the ability to receive corrective feedback and hold those breaking the rules accountable, you'll see more mistakes and freeloading until things fall apart.
  • Ensure that employees can access the data they need to do their jobs in as few steps as possible, and don’t require data entry or collection unless necessary – and you know why that data is necessary.
  • Don’t let managers engage in bullying behaviors as a standard management technique, no matter their motivations.
  • Track workloads not just for the department but individuals. The top 5% of the department is doing 50% of the work. And too many people respond to new tasks by giving it to the people who are considered the most effective – contributing to overwork.
  • Seek feedback on the least productive members of your team. Then ask why they are not as productive as possible. Then fix the root cause – and  honestly, motivation and team building seminars are almost never the real solution.
  • Plan your changes before you start making them. And control your change process so that untested or minimally valuable changes get dropped in at the last minute, impacting the whole project.
  • Review workloads for each people and their schedules. Don’t assume you can simply give it to them today and it will be done today.
  • Don’t predicate raises and promotions on billed overtime regardless of actual need for it.
Why is this bad? You’ll end up with slower work rates, more meetings and less value added during 8-5 to move more work into the overtime category – or encourage overwork by the  ambitious who now put themselves at risk of burnout
  • Without constant analysis and application of lean principles to management, you get the growth of “Administration”. This is a constant in human nature unless one is constantly keeping it in check.
  • The tendency to use bloviated, abstract descriptions has long been done to minimize the negative emotional connotations tied to them, make them sound new or better.  
In the book, they used the term “dynamic processing environment” instead of "kill" zone or "hardest working department". Don’t torture the language to make the concepts seem less severe or better. It undermines communication and wastes time whether writing, reading or speaking. And then there’s the waste of updating all the documents per the new terminology …. I could write multiple blogs on that. Nor would I have been the only one to write about it.
Dilbert's creator Scott Adams said business communications dropped a lot of this elitist linguistic posturing because people wondered who he was and whether what they said would be mocked in a Dilbert strip. Yet the fact that he can still find many such examples to make fun of is proof we can still make progress in the workplace. As industrial engineers and process improvement engineers, this holds the promise of guaranteed employment ... no joke.