Fluff over Substance

Some work place leaders don't know what is important. So they emphasize unimportant things, being unable to tell the difference. They usually are fad followers, the ones who fail to focus on timeless and proven paths to success.

I was once in a meeting, and asked by my boss how long it would take to finish a certain project. I gave my best estimate, based on years of experience in such things, and I said, "Two weeks." He said, "Can't you do better than that?" So I said, "All right, how about one week."

His reply: "Way to go!"

The project was finished in two weeks. It was that way because that's how long it took, quite simply. My revised estimate didn't change anything, because it could not have changed anything. It was just words.

This leader was more concerned with the estimate than the performance. And it was the same guy who liked to tell everybody to "under promise and over deliver," one of his many slogans that he failed to practice and actively prevented any of the workers from practicing. An estimate of the resources needed for work to be done is worthless if it's impossible to meet the estimate. Actual performance is what matters, not the guess. He never seemed to figure that out. That's not a "forward thinking business leader" who "sees through to the core issues."

Ironically, after the meeting where the "estimate" was changed, the meeting summary my boss compiled contained not only that one project for the week, but three others, not discussed, for the same week. "Under promise and over deliver"?  Yeah, right.

This same "expert" also tended to be in constant conflict with the other workers regarding the service our business was providing. He used the example of Wal-Mart, and said we need to provide quantity, and not focus on quality or customer service.

Then during a vacation, he visited a very busy coffee shop. He spoke with the owner, who told him the key was customer service and quality. So our leader came back from his vacation, and told us about the "almost religious" experience he had, and from now on we were going to focus on quality and customer service. I thought it was amazing that in a service industry, a "forward thinking business leader" could not see something so fundamental on his own.

In addition to this being instructive of the guy's stupidity, it's also an example of employing cargo cult management. Our business was nothing like Wal-Mart. Nor was it anything like a coffee shop. He reached the right conclusion, finally, but for the wrong reason, and then claimed it was his own discovery that our clients needed good service, when in fact, the workers had been saying that all along.

When this type of fallacy is elevated to company policy, you get flip flops like this. (We need to be like Wal-Mart! Get on board, people! No, wait, drop everything, we need to be like Joe's Coffee shop!).