Administrivia Root Cause: The Simple Heuristic

SandwichesI used to work for a large corporation that required managerial approval to get a corporate Blackberry or to order food or snacks for meetings. Said another way, vice presidents were responsible for assessing the need for $30 worth of sandwiches. Huh?

My policy, regardless of corporate policy, has always been blanket pre-approval for those things. If you believed having a corporate Blackberry made you more efficient, that was enough. It was a $600 decision after all.

While corporate administrivia has always made me laugh, some of my colleagues didn’t agree with my cavalier approach to organizational gastronomy and communication theory. They insisted that all food orders be pre-cleared by them, sometimes days in advance. I am not making this up. I used to ask what their departmental policy was with regard to the type of condiments allowed. That joke always fell flat with these types, alas, and spoiled my fun.

In over twenty years of leading people, I’ve never been quizzed once about how much I’ve spent on caesar salad or on my departmental communications budget.

If you can’t trust somebody to decide on the bagel order for a meeting, you can’t trust them to make real decisions.

Why bureaucrats focus on the trivial

The lunch order, the slightly sloppy (but not inaccurate) expense report and whether somebody chooses to work from home are all things that are visible but unimportant. Anybody can derive a simple heuristic like “no lunch = $50 savings” or “at their desk = working” and then develop policies to force compliance.

I’ve had lunchroom attendant colleagues brag that their team members built new models that delivered better quality leads. When I asked a particular person about the selection of candidate variables, the individual had no idea what I was talking about. In a logistic regression model, the candidate variables are invisible but important. The important/invisible things are not solvable by simple heuristics and require more thinking and time.

That colleague had it exactly backwards. If their team member couldn’t be trusted to make a decision on the cookie order (where the manager was also focused), how could the model be built correctly? I wouldn’t trust somebody who couldn’t order breakfast to build a selection model. Would you?

As a leader, you and your team should be spending lots of effort on things like considering candidate variables for regression models and zero time on getting three signatures for a new desk chair.

Takeaway: Trust your team to make the big and small decisions and spend your time helping them optimize the big decisions, while keeping administrivia at bay.

Have a safe and happy July Fourth!

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