One of the best parts of having been around for a while is that “my lane,” those areas of the workflow for which I exert some measure of control or influence, are reasonably well defined. Put another way, I know my boundaries within the organization or of the specific projects I’m assigned. I know what I can and can’t do – or rather what I’m supposed to do and those areas on which I am not supposed to tread. It helps me not dive into the deep end and fire off my opinion without first having that opinion grounded in fact.
It’s important to remember that your lane can change over time. It can narrow or grow wider based on the needs of the organization you serve or on the whims of those who lead it. Because of this, remembering who is empowered to change the size of your lane, also helps you avoid careening through the guardrail and finding yourself upside down in a ditch.
It’s critical to remember this when someone who isn’t in legitimate position to shift the width of your lane tries to give you a nudge. The fact is, I don’t care if you are a butcher, baker, candlestick maker, doctor, lawyer, or indian chief, if you’re not one of the handful of people who are authorized to change the width of my lane. Despite all their efforts to the contrary, I’ll smile politely, give them and understanding look, and then carry on as if we’ve never had a conversation.
I am an American bureaucrat. I have honed my craft over years. Who’d have thought that innate intransigence and a prickly sense of how things ought to be done would ever serve me so well.
I’ve never really understood the need of management to convey information by jamming as many people as possible into a room and then throwing PowerPoint charts at them until they want to gouge out their own eyes. These events are even more near and dear to my heart when the information could have been just as easily sent to me by email so I could read it at a convenient time rather than rejiggering my calendar to free up three hours in the middle of the week – a task I accomplished by cancelling my one actual productive meeting this week.
As a rule, 120 slides constitute just a few too many in any presentation. That’s doubly true when 31 of those slides fall into the “org chart/wire diagram” category. 1) Nobody in the room can read the eight point font used to squeeze that graphic onto the slide and 2) After ten or twelve wire diagrams, they all look exactly the same. That’s just an observation from a guy sitting in the back rows, so take it for what it’s worth.
When I’m proclaimed King of the Bureaucrats, my first edict from on high will be a proclamation that no briefing will use more than five slides. Ever. If you can’t distill the essence of what you’re trying to convey into five or fewer slides or (gasp) talk about your idea without the visual aids, there’s a pretty good chance I’ll think you don’t know what you’re talking about and will be sorely tempted to send you to sleep with the fishes. Since I’m somewhere just above the janitorial staff on one of those 31 org charts we saw, I suppose everyone is safe for the time being.
But you’ve all been warned. Oh yes, you’ve all been warned.
Editorial Note: This part of a continuing series of posts previously available on a now defunct website. They are appearing on http://www.jeffreytharp.com for the first time. This post has been time stamped to correspond to its original publication date.