What business axiom or management principle have you discovered to help you live better, work smarter, or to understand organizations in a way that is unique, funny or provides that rare but special “ah ha” moment?
An example of a well known business axiom is the famous “Peter Principle” (1) that states: “People rise to their level of incompetence.” Explaining how incompetent people can achieve executive and high level political positions without any management or leadership skills provides some understanding to why so many businesses and governments may fail. There are many corollaries to this intriguing concept that may explain government and business poor performance. Perhaps major decisions also rise to their level of incompetence. That is, the more critical a decision, the more probable is that it will be taken away from the people with expertise and be decided either in a steering committee (to avoid any accountability) or at the C-Suite or government cabinet level where truly awful decisions are sometimes rendered out of ignorance. While this principle is meant to foster discussion about the follies of some bureaucracies, all of us can relate to those major business blunders caused by executives who thought they knew better. Remember new Coke, the Edsel and the infamous business failures at Enron, Arthur Anderson, Lehman Bros. and Bear Sterns? Government failures are even more common as evidenced by the Arab Spring uprisings and most of Europe facing serious budget deficits and even a European Union currency collapse.
Talking to a high level bureaucrat who was going to announce the immediate closure of a major call center, I replied that determining its future call distribution would be critical as this location had nearly 400 staff at work. He responded that I was incorrect and that no one was working there. Stunned by his lack of knowledge, I replied that I had just returned from a visit last week, and that we had over 400 active staff conducting business there. A bureaucrat located remotely and especially at headquarters can be very dangerous to sound decision-making!
My personal favorite business axiom is Parkinson’s Law, written by C. Northcote Parkinson (2) in 1954: “Work expands to the time available.” It is the only management principle I can remember with clarity from my four collegiate years of study in administration because I have experienced the relationship between work and time is both elastic and unpredictable. It is an irreverent but insightful view on how workload is not proportional to staffing within bureaucratic organizations. It reminds us that in our world, one must understand human behavior, embrace humor and recognize a tendency by people to make foolish decisions especially when emotions take control from basic common sense.
All students recognize the value of Parkinson’s Law. It is critical to determine how much time a task will take or it will naturally expand to two, three or more times the actual amount of time needed. As students we quickly learned this fact after laboring several days on an …