Press-ganged again! Those inky blighters who do the menial work around here have locked me in my office, demanding that I ransack my reminiscences for a real-life tale, to be published today. All right, you drudges, I’ll do it – on condition that you print these few words as a caption. If you trick me, heads shall roll. One true story coming up. Editor
A Man And A Plan
Shortly before the end of my working life in the commercial world, I was charged with an awesome responsibility. “You are now Corporate Planning Manager,” they said. “Go forth and produce a plan.” The initiative was a brainchild of my immediate boss, the Director of Administration. He had attended a seminar, returning with a mountain of literature emanating from an American business guru.
In a sizable organisation – we had over a thousand people at the head office and four times that number in our nationwide branch network – I was not left without help. In fact I was assisted to distraction. Dozens of colleagues were eager to participate, especially in the area of terminology. I soon found that the idea was to mix and match impressive words and present them in any order, without varying the ostensible meaning of the expression concerned.
My chief thundered that we knew next to nothing about our affairs. This baffled me, as we and our predecessors had been running the business for about 140 years and were achieving better results than all but half a dozen of our hundred-odd competitors. Nevertheless, it became de rigueur for our leaders to stalk the corridors, wearing glazed Messianic looks and striving to outdo each other in admitting profound ignorance of our wider environment. To make any contrary claim was to court disaster.
Presentation of the plan was a big problem, revolving mainly around organisational shapes. Some preferred classical pyramids, others ziggurats, others concentric circles. The only general agreement was that whatever was offered to the non-executive directors should look nice. Many hours were spent in meetings convened to establish the relative values of the words ‘mission’, ‘aim’, ‘goal’, ‘objective’ and ‘strategy’. Invariably, the consensus was that all of them should be used, though their hierarchy was a matter of hot debate. If a mission was immutable, could a goal be changed? If an objective was quantifiable, could it be reached by a strategy which was not? Such considerations so impinged upon the daily round that for weeks it was almost impossible to find a manager who would deal with our firm’s normal day to day exigencies.
In vain I pointed out that other companies in our field were repeatedly attaining excellent annual results without the benefit of formal corporate planning. For this and other heresies, I came close to losing my job. That I did not do so was probably attributable to the fact that I was the only one doing any actual work on the new scheme. My colleagues offered much advice, while remaining sufficiently ambivalent to guard themselves against any danger of adverse repercussions. Every one of the chieftains agreed that the old baronies had to go, but all maintained their fiefdoms, prudently adding extra strata, to be removed later in the event of rationalisation, in order to restore the status quo ante.