We wear a lot of different hats here. Everybody does a little bit of everything. We don’t have the budget for a marketing person, so Brenda also does that part time. Ok, let me put on my sales hat for this. You’ll just have to juggle those commitments. He is the chief-cook-and-bottle-washer for this project. The employees just love the new flex scheduling. We maintain a lean organization.

Business and industry maintain these fictions with fierce, predictable regularity. They reduce inefficiencies (aka high wages) by issuing many hats from the hat supply. Your engineering staff also work as first line floor managers, sales and marketing get combined into an ever enlarging idiot, maintenance is trimmed out of existence, and HR also drives the bus. They consult. They outsource. They brainstorm and fill walls with postits.

What they don’t do is deliver a reliable product, on time and exactly as described, built by engaged and committed workers. To pull off this magic of many hats, something has to slip.

People have real limits, both physically and cognitively that businesses ignore at their peril. Your customer can tell when an effort is misguided, performed by a tired or overwhelmed person, or delivered with only partial attention. No matter how many times that person is reviewed, team empowered, cajoled, kicked, or bullied, they still cannot create more time. Nobody can accomplish even the most clearly stated goals if they aren’t given sufficient time to do the work. Disappointment shows up as diminished quality, lackluster response to customers, or a state of constant panic, confusion, and breakdown.

If it’s obvious to your customers, it should also be obvious to you.

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2 Responses to Hats

  1. Your post is spot on, though I would add you can’t ask an employee to do great work if you give her a 15-year-old computer, a copier that was brand new in 1999 and other office tools that date back to the era of Mad Men. I had one office manager yell at me because I was “taking too much time” hand-collating pages and stapling together 50 booklets the managers needed for a meeting that was to take place in a couple of hours. I pointed out to her that there are copiers that can do the work in a matter of minutes, but that only made her huff, “So you’re suggesting we fire you and get a machine?” I quit two weeks later, for that and other reasons (yes, you can’t ask an employee to create more hours than there are in a workday). But from what I’ve heard, this particular institution still has the antiquated equipment and burns through office assistants yearly. I wonder, once the economy picks up and there are more jobs available, if they’ll be able to find anyone to work for them at all.

  2. Doug says:

    Poor office equipment is its own reward! Sorry, I don’t have e-mail. Could you just fax it over? Sorry, I can’t find any record of that, do you still have your original invoice? Sloppy is as sloppy does.

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