How Congress Is Like My Company (stop me if you've heard this one before)
Watching how things played out in Washington recently, it all started sounding familiar. Too familiar. Some people like to say that private companies function better than government, but this latest display only points out how any large organization of humans, private or public will find ways to suck. Let’s review:
A lot of bold talk by leaders creates a crisis and a deadline that otherwise didn’t exist. At the end of June we were all made to work the weekend because the project absolutely had to go to senior management before the holiday break. Then when we finished, the CFO said “I won’t have time to look at this until August.” It’s clear that the two managers involved had created the deadline themselves in an attempt to impress the CFO, who, it turns out, doesn’t care.
Macho posturing takes precedence over trying to get something done. How many times does your boss interrupt your work or make you postpone something so you can go to a meeting where he brags about how “things will be different”? Listening to bragging is the #2 waste of my time, after status meetings of course.
Only in the last hours do people finally start to focus. While the project remains weeks away, there is no urgency from the boss to approve anything, even though the timeline says he’s already days behind and holding things up. Threats of late delivery fall on deaf ears until we’re a week away.
Some leaders get worried it won’t be finished on time, so they begin efforts to shift the blame on others EVEN THOUGH IT HASN’T YET FAILED. This is a favorite of mine. There’s an account director who doesn’t really understand what we do, and she gets nervous as deadlines approach. Rather than giving us space to do our jobs, she tries to interfere and micromange. When we push back and our boss actually backs us up, then she walks around the office trying to point out how no one will listen to her, and the project is going to fail because our department is incompetent.
As it is nearly done, people shift their focus towards efforts to take the credit, even though it is not yet done and could still fail. While we were waiting for a manager in another department to approve the changes to his section, he delayed for a day, and instead sent a note to the CEO and CFO saying how his department had really pulled together in the last minute to get the project done, and what a success it was. The only thing was IT WASN’T DONE YET.
Finally it’s done and everyone hates it, but it gets pushed out anyway because not to would be admitting failure. Any project that requires compromise and has multiple bosses either dies a painful death, or is to big to fail and goes out a real stinker.
Everyone promises to learn their lesson but nobody does. The day after the project ships, everyone meets to discuss what went wrong and how to avoid it. But I don’t know why we even take notes, because no one is ever held accountable, and we just repeat the same criticisms from all past projects.
People continue to plot their next move to gin up a new crisis to make them look good and their rivals look bad, because the company’s interests don’t matter as much as their own. I’ve seen times when talented people are pulled off projects for some trumped up emergency, in an attempt to railroad the other manager’s project, and thus look better. I’ve also seen people hold back some key resource until the last minute so they can look like the hero. If someone in a cubical tried this, they’d be fired; but if you have an office, this is just politics as usual.