This week, the latest in an occasional series inspired by Hilaire Belloc’s Cautionary Tales for Children (if this means nothing to you, visit http://www.recmusic.org/lieder/assemble_texts.html?SongCycleId=986).
Cautionary Tales for Managers (with apologies to Hilaire Belloc)
No. 3: Julie, who thought outside the box - and wasn’t allowed back in
Julie Dankworth, truth to tell
Had had an instinct to rebel
Since she was small; and now, full grown
She felt herself to be alone
In every company that hired her.
Non-conformity inspired her:
She rarely ever suffered fools;
She felt constrained by office rules;
She always asked: “What if?” and “Why?”.
So when a job ad caught her eye
Which said: “We need someone to coach
Our people in a fresh approach
Please send your double spaced c.v.
To Brown and Creasey plc”
She was intrigued; at last, she thought,
A chance to win the role she sought.
Now Brown & Creasey were not known
For fresh approaches; they had grown
Their business through good common sense,
And no unjustified expense.
They kept a tight grip on their purse;
They all were hugely risk averse.
But, in this turbulent business age
We read about (on every page
Of business books and brochures sent
To advertise some new event),
Their profits were now on the slide
And they had lost their corporate pride;
They feared a future hostile bid.
Accordingly, the main board did
What all boards do when times are thin:
They got some new consultants in,
Who focus-grouped and interviewed,
And said: “We finally conclude
Your problem’s really not that great:
You simply need to innovate.
It should take six months at the most.
Our bill will follow in the post.”
Begin a brainstorming crusade?
The board were, to a man, dismayed.
(To them, the phrase ‘outside the box’
Meant wearing brightly coloured socks.)
How might they, by some new decree,
They did what top teams do so well:
They passed the buck to Personnel.
And thus the job ad did the rounds
Which Julie saw. She said: “It sounds
Like it could be my kind of thing.
I’ll give the HR guys a ring.”
So Jules was hired, with a brief
To do things differently. The Chief
Popped in to see her, and to say
To please “crack on” without delay.
(How pleased he felt: he’d done his bit
And now could wash his hands of it.)
It happened that the Board, that week,
As part of their new quest to seek
A sound solution to their plight,
Had booked themselves on a five-night
‘Strategic goal top team retreat’
Held on a yacht moored just off Crete.
(Don’t ask me what they do on these;
I’m sure it justifies the fees.)
One week later, through the door
Returned the top team; what they saw
Induced raw terror in them all:
The lobby was filled wall to wall
With bean bags of a varied hue;
And on them, in the Board’s plain view
Reclined their staff, who laughed and joked.
This unexpected scene provoked
A swift reaction from the chief:
Turning puce with disbelief,
He shouted in the nearest ear:
“Just what on earth is happening here?”
Its owner, trying to explain,
Said: “Julie started a campaign
To get one thousand new ideas.
She ordered the stuff you see here
To help us think in different ways.”
The CEO, his eyes ablaze,
Fumed: “You’re not paid to think! Now go,
And stop this communist go-slow!”
They summoned Julie straight away
And asked her what she had to say.
She said: “I thought you wanted me
To bring forth creativity.”
The FD smiled a caring smile
And told her: “Listen Julie, while
We don’t say it’s a bad idea,
It’s not the way we do things here.
The bean bags for example; they
Are something for which we must pay,
And that’s why a procurement form
Must be signed off – that is the norm
Before a purchase can be made;
I’m sorry, but to make the grade
In business you must understand
How costs are always kept in hand.
And so, we really think it best….”
Let’s leave them: you can guess the rest.
They sent her packing, and instead
They hauled themselves out of the red
By “driving costs aggressively
Out of the business” - easily
Achieved: just ban staff, wall to wall,
From buying anything at all.
So what’s the moral? Well, if you
Consider yourself someone who
Is prone to do things differently,
Then don’t: it doesn’t work, you see.
(And if you are a company
Who wishes creativity
Would shine its blessed light on you:
Be careful, lest your wish comes true!)
(c) Phil Lowe, 2004