Sep 212016

In “Same Sheet, Different Data“, we saw how subordinating human intelligence to technology is a failure to “raise the game.” The story of the Zumwalt highlights another opportunity of work in the 21st century: raising the game means that much of traditional management effort is waste.

Lesson 3. Reduce the Wasted Effort of Traditional Management


An all-too familiar problem in many corporations. (Reddit)

Technology on the Zumwalt — and in the workplace — has shifted jobs away from routine tasks and toward those requiring technical expertise. Cross-training and crew communication have made layers of top-down supervision redundant.

Yet in the majority of organizations that aren’t a stealth destroyer, these redundant managerial structures remain in place. A recent HBR article estimates the current waste — that’s no value added — of management overhead in the U.S. at 17% of GDP. Three. Trillion. Dollars. Every year.

Roger Perlmutter has been at the helm of R&D at pharmaceutical giant Merck since 2013. One of his early tactics was to simply eliminate the redundant layers:

The problem, Perlmutter says, was that the labs had become tied up in bureaucracy, with too many people reporting to other people reporting to other people, all of them asking each other for permission slips. “Everybody stayed in their swim lanes. I’m actually interested in people who want to own the pool.”

Forget the pool, Captain Kirk and his crew are owning the ocean. Kirk’s job as a leader is to “create a sense of mission and teamwork.”  This enables his team to be responsible. To “not just accept delivery of the ship, but to take delivery of the ship.” And as we saw in Lesson 1, they use their game-raising automation to directly control the gunnery, communications, and steering of the ship.

Capt. James A. Kirk (U.S. Navy)

Capt. James A. Kirk (U.S. Navy)

The result? Despite being a much larger vessel, Captain Kirk’s modern destroyer has a crew complement that is the smallest since those of the 1930’s.

Maybe some organizations can get away with the extra bureaucracy. Maybe it’s okay for their service delivery to be thinly smeared across multiple managers/directors. As embarrassing as it might be to admit, perhaps their missions just aren’t as critical as that of Captain Kirk’s crew.

But just think what your enterprise could be like you were able to create that sense of mission and teamwork.  If everyone who worked there directly added value, because you aren’t creating waste with adult baby-sitters.

In our final lesson (for now), we’ll look at the skills that differentiate the superstars in the 21st century workforce.


All articles in this series:

  1. “Raise the Game” — Automation is Required
  2. “Same Sheet, Different Data” — Tech Is Not Enough
  3. Management Overhead — Reduce the Waste (this page)
  4. Team Skills Needed — Diversity, Communication, Mutual Support
 Posted by at 5:17 pm

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