My friend Elizabeth has what seems to be an enviable job. She’s the head of global product development for a cool consumer products company. You can see her company’s logo all over the streets of New York and the trails of Yosemite.
Elizabeth is running on empty. She says that feels like she’s a farmer: she gets up at 4:30am just to get on top of her work. She has 18 direct reports, and spends so much time buried in the weeds of product development meetings (moss-colored buttons or spruce-colored buttons?) that she never has the luxury of thinking — really thinking — about the strategic direction of the company product. She rarely has time to mentor or guide her team, either: she’s gone from weekly meetings to bi-weekly, and she cancels more often than not. Oh, and the executive team has requested a 15% increase in sales for 2012 — which means more product SKUs and more development work.
Linda Duxbury, a business school professor at Carlton University, writes often about “corporate anorexia,” which is the point at which the volume of work to be done simply outstrips the capacity of the people in the system to do it.
Corporate anorexia is an apt description of Elizabeth’s circumstances. I mean, really: 18 direct reports? Her company simply doesn’t have the human infrastructure it should have. Its growth has been built on the backs of people like Elizabeth getting up at 4:30am — and that’s just not sustainable.
Everyone knows that machines have a fixed production capacity: you can only get a finite number of widgets per hour out of it. Everyone knows that machines need downtime for maintenance, or they’ll break down. Treat your machines with respect — don’t overload them, don’t forget about supporting and maintaining them, or you’ll have an expensive pile of scrap metal on your hands.
Companies often talk about how “people are their greatest asset.” And yet, they often treat their people worse than their machines. They overload them. They don’t provide the support they need. (18 direct reports?) They expect 24/7 response to email and voice mail.
I don’t know about you, but if this is the alternative, I’d rather be treated like a machine.