Business Oxymorons

Every time I get a memo, directive or request from management, or anyone else for that matter, that causes me to shake my head, I put it in a file where I can review it and smile at a later date. I have to do that because sometimes it is almost impossible to believe in, let alone laugh at many of the documents and directives when they are actually issued. It seems that it is only on reasonable reflection that the humor associated with the document can be appreciated. Over the years I have amassed a fairly large file of what I like to refer to as management “Business Oxymorons”. Here are some of my favorites.

Process Simplification:

Process simplification has long been a target for cost cutting and efficiency increasing projects and teams. Regardless of how the business is structured, or what processes there may be in place, this is an area that can and will receive incremental focus. My favorite approach here was when I received a 36 chart presentation deck detailing the process we would all be using going forward for corporate process simplification. That is correct. It took 36 charts to detail out how we were going to simplify things. Needless to say, I had a suggestion for the first process to focus on for future simplification.

Announcing / Assigning a New Team to Track Cost Reduction:

Like process simplification, cost reduction is also always a favorite topic for management attention. Indeed cost reduction should be an ongoing focus for every business. The point here is the activity of cost reduction should be the focus. The idea is to reduce costs. The tracking of cost reduction doesn’t actually reduce any costs. It could be argued that one of the best ways to start reducing costs would be to get rid of all the teams whose only responsibility is to track cost reductions, since they are actually an unproductive incremental cost to the business. I always thought that the people who were implementing cost reductions were also capable of tracking cost reductions too.

Unprofitable “Strategic” Business:

I wrote an entire post dedicated to this concept a few weeks ago. Sales teams want to sell things. That is what they are supposed to do. Customers usually want the lowest price possible for the goods and services that they are going to purchase. Sales teams try to get their customers the lowest price possible, sometimes by describing the business opportunity as “Strategic”. Getting requests to discount product and service prices to the point of unprofitability because it is strategic to the company to get this business has always been an interesting exercise in logic for me. How can bringing in any incremental unprofitable business be of benefit to a company, let alone strategic to it?

Multi-Tasking Equals Productivity:

We are all continually asked to do more. That is the nature of business. How we go about it is the key to our effectiveness. I know many people who pride themselves on their ability to be on conference calls, do their email and converse on their computer’s instant messaging system at the same time. I also notice that these people are usually so busy that they never get anything actually accomplished or completed. Productivity is the measure of things that are completed, not the measurement of the number of things being done concurrently. It is similar to the idea about the difference between work and progress. Work can be a great deal of splashing around in a pool. Progress is actually swimming somewhere.

Measurement is the Solution:

It seems that whenever there issues in a business, the first thing management requests are a brand new set of metrics and reports regarding the already identified issues. Metrics and measurements are key tools and sources of data for any manager and business. They help us keep score. They help identify where issues may lie and where performance may need to be improved. Measurements very seldom tell us how to improve performance, only that against some sort of scale that performance needs to be improved. More measurements or more detailed measurements may not help this situation. It is the decisions that are made and the actions that are taken in the business as a result of the measurement information that are the solution. Business measurements are a ways to a means, not a means unto themselves. The 80 / 20 rule truly does apply to measurements and data, and the idea of trying to measure your way out of a performance issue rarely works.

Global Projects:

The world is a very big place and the way business is conducted varies significantly from place to place in it. Global tools, programs and platforms, while always a desirable goal are almost always problematic when it comes to implementation, but that has never seemed to stop the drive towards them. Part of this issue seems to be in that global projects focus on trying to remove the differences between business regions instead of leveraging the similarities that the regions have. By the time you modify the tool, platform or project to take into account every regional business difference, you usually have a uniform solution that is so large, complex, expensive and unmanageable that it is worse than the separate and discrete capabilities it replaced. My father would have called this phenomenon the starting of a vast project with something along the lines of a half vast idea.

These are just a few of the business oxymorons that I have in my file. I am sure there are others that I will bring out in the future. I believe it is the irony associated with the approach as it applies to what was obviously the desired solution that causes me to share them here. It appears that at least in some circumstances it is true what has been said about good intentions. It also doesn’t hurt to find the humor in it.

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