In any large company, it is critically important to keep a tight reign on budgets whilst also understanding the investment you need to make over the next few years if you are to stay ahead of the curve and continue to grow your profits. We spend a lot of time in my company building three year plans, working up business cases and developing technical roadmaps so that we know exactly how much money we will be spending on new developments and innovations. There’s a benchmark figure that various analysts like Gartner and Forrester have calculated for the percentage of its total profit a “world class” company will be spending on IT, and we build our budgets around making sure that we get the maximum possible return from that investment.
That’s the theory, anyway.
Here’s what happens in practice: I have a meeting with my boss and he hands me a piece of paper. On this piece of paper is a scrawled, handwritten note. The note was written by the Chief Executive of our UK business when he visited a store. He passed the note on to the Director of IT, who passed it on to the Head of Retail Delivery, who passed it on to my boss, who passed it on to me.
“Can you look at this and get back with an answer by the week commencing the 6th June?”
“What is it?”
“It’s an idea that the Chief Executive picked up on a store visit and he wants to know if it’s feasible”
“What does it say?”
“I don’t know. No one can read it.”
And that’s the thing: the note is almost completely illegible. It says something about label printers, and that’s about all that can really be made out. Someone along the chain of people who has received this note has made a half-hearted attempt at a translation, suggesting that “tea rocki” translates as “the team reckons”, and rendering “myll jtt” as “many thanks”, but apart from that, it’s a bit of a mystery.
….and now it’s landed on my desk.
I actually think it’s a good thing that our chief exec goes on store visits, and that when he hears suggestions from the staff there, he takes them away and tries to do something with them. I have no problem at all with that. What I don’t like so much is that this note has been passed down, hand to hand as if it were some holy relic, through all of the tiers of management in my department with not one of them troubling themselves to ask any questions about what they were actually being asked to do, where it sat in our plans, how we would pay for it, or even if we were the right people to be looking at this stuff. They just smiled, nodded and made it someone else’s problem.
As it turns out, I have been able to make an intelligent guess about what the note is talking about, I do know what to do with the suggestion, and have scored some easy brownie points by taking immediate action (as, presumably, all the people above me in the chain will also do when they relay the good news to the person above them, perhaps neglecting to mention who came up with the answer).
THAT’S NOT THE POINT.
And anyway, I've now laboured the point about this piece of work so much that any question of brownie points has disappeared, to be replaced by irritation and exasperated eye-rolls all round.
My brilliant career FTW!