It’s high time business slimmed down and stopped fooling itself with crash ‘diets’ of job cuts and outsourcing

A real "fat cat"

The media are happy to keep reminding us that people in the developed world, especially the United States, are growing ever fatter; that obesity starts in childhood and continues thereafter to pump itself up on a diet of junk food, sodas, and ‘super-sized’ portions.

Yet what we almost never hear about is the exact same process going on in our businesses. Here it’s not junk food that is the problem, it’s junk activities and the ‘empty calories’ of time wasted on things that have no real bearing on business success.

Just like many overweight individuals, business also has its diet fads — few of which ever work for more than a short time. When the bloat gets big enough to squash profits, organizations rush to shed jobs and cut back on ‘soft targets’ like training and research. For a while, the panacea was outsourcing overseas — until that got too expensive.

All these fads tackle the symptoms, but never the underlying cause. It’s just the same with individuals in their working lives. They ‘fatten up’ their schedules and working days with empty calories: activit amounts of time while producing little or nothing of any real use.

Corporate ‘empty calories’

What are these productivity and time wasters? At a corporate level, they include endless meetings and PowerPoint presentations, which waste time both in preparation and delivery; providing reports no one reads and statistics nobody uses or understands; preparing budgets that conceal the truth and quarterly figures that do the same; dreaming up projects and initiatives that spawn countless working groups — until they are dropped like all those before them; engaging in petty, inter-departmental feuds and internal warfare; the endless rules and regulations dreamed up by head office types seeking to justify their existence; and — worst of all — spending money asking external consultants to provide options and answers to problems that are totally the responsibility of in-house management.

Most such corporate ‘junk food’ emanates from the executive suite. Like the real stuff, it ‘fattens’ the organization — demanding resources, time, and energy — while providing nothing to further the business. Much of it is only there to satisfy some person’s lust for power, or provide ‘information’ to justify a piece of blatant self-interest. It’s intake without any healthy nutritional value in business terms.

The outcome is sluggish, bloated, top-heavy organizations addicted to the sweet indulgences provided by eager consultants, busily fattening their pay-checks on ‘busy work,’ while distracting managers from the fact that they need to shape up, slim down, and start doing what they are paid to do — and doing it themselves.

Individuals and their bloated calendars

It’s not simply corporations that become addicted to ‘binge eating’ on useless activities, followed by crash diets of lay-offs and budget cuts. Individual managers do it as well, alternating between adding to their overwork and taking up the latest productivity fad to try to slim down again afterwards.

For such individuals, empty calories include notorious time-wasters like constant Instant Messaging; sending useless e-mails to everyone imaginable; calling pointless meetings to provide the illusion of being in control; continual micro-management (for the same reason); demanding that people check-in constantly — even when there is nothing to report; and running from meeting to meeting, convinced that a packed schedule indicates importance, when all it proves is that they rarely devote any time to their real jobs.

Corporations filled with people like this find that the number of managers constantly rises (all these activities demand more and more people to keep them going), while those who do the real work are ‘thinned out’ to pay the cost of management bloating.

Productivity means never wasting time on what doesn’t matter

At every level, the simplest way to drive up productivity is to remove waste. Don’t spend time on what isn’t relevant to the business. Don’t apply energy to what doesn’t matter. Don’t allocate people and resources to activities that contribute nothing to the objectives of the business. Don’t add to red tape, dream up new ways to enforce compliance with petty rules, demand useless statistics, or massage the egos of those at the top.

People who genuinely lose weight know there is only one way to do it: by cutting back on their intake of calories and increasing the amount they exercise. Everything else is useless.

It’s the same for business and working individuals: cut out the ‘empty calories’ that clutter up your schedule. Increase the time you spend exercising the responsibilities that matter. Stay right away from expensive, heavily advertised junk foods peddled by consultants.

If you do that, your career will be healthier, your calendar will slim down to a surprising degree, and you’ll start enjoying your work again. After all, carrying all that extra weight around every day is tiring in itself, while massaging the boss’s ego is pretty disgusting work — especially compared with spending time on your real interests.

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