I recently ruminated here on “Swarm Management”. In these posts I talked about how some companies’ organizations resemble a swarm of kids trying to play soccer. Nobody’s sure what their responsibilities are so they all swarm around any urgent issue that arises in the company. (I believe Steve Toburen refers to this sad business model with the acronym “MBC” which stands for “Management By Crisis”!)
There’s a corollary to Swarm Management where (instead of everyone stepping all over themselves to accomplish one task) everyone piles multiple responsibilities on to just one person. Maybe the following scenario sounds familiar…
Sue is a highly efficient bookkeeper/office manager in a small cleaning and restoration business. So efficient, in fact, that she’s able to complete her routine tasks and still have time left in her day. So, the owner says, “Sue has extra time on her hands. Maybe she can help Ernie the estimator with estimating projects.” So, Sue takes on some of the estimating responsibilities to help out Ernie.
But Sue continues to show extraordinary organization and efficiency. So the owner suggests that maybe Sue can also help out Paul the production manager. After all, Paul never seems to get his paperwork turned in on time, which backs up Sue’s invoicing. Besides, Paul is lousy with details. Surely Sue’s organizational skills will whip Paul and his production crews into shape!
Before long the owner notices that the accounting reports are neither accurate nor ready on time, invoicing is running a little late, sales have slowed down because estimates aren’t getting done on time, the technicians are tired of hearing Sue yell at them AND everyone is talking about how Sue’s attitude lately really needs adjusting.
Now before you roll your eyes at how far fetched this scenario might seem to you, let me offer this suggestion. Print this article and pass it around your office for people to read. Is there someone who isn’t laughing?
This “flogging the mule” scenario is more common than you might think. It creeps into existence so gradually that most of the time we don’t even know it’s happening. It starts with an innocent comment like, “If you’re not too busy, could you….” Or, “Would you mind taking care of this just this once?” Before long our innocent requests grow into asking the “mule” to handle jobs other people either don’t want to do or simply slough off doing. And we can really complicate the situation by stirring in inequitable pay arrangements, perceived nepotism and undeserved titles. (Among other things!)
If this situation goes unnoticed—as it frequently does—or it isn’t addressed and corrected, it will inevitably lead to resentment, burn out, and the possible departure of a very valuable employee!
Maybe one of the reasons we don’t recognize when we’re “flogging the mule” is that many of us have been the mule at one time. So, subconsciously we figure if we can do it, why can’t they?
Much of this unpleasantness can be prevented. So in my next post I’ll offer a few questions you can ask yourself in an effort to avoid this potentially deadly business scenario.