UK: WHEN ARE WE GOING TO GET THERE?

UK: WHEN ARE WE GOING TO GET THERE? - I know you've only just started reading this but I'd just like to ask you one little question.

by David Morton.
Last Updated: 31 Aug 2010

I know you've only just started reading this but I'd just like to ask you one little question.

'Are we nearly there yet?' In fact I'd like to ask you a lot of little questions. 'Will we be there soon? How much longer will it be before we get there? Why is it taking so long?' Indeed I would like to keep asking you these questions, in no particular sequence, but in an increasingly irritating fashion. And from time to time I'll add; 'Can I go to the toilet?' for variety.

It's quite extraordinary really. Travelling a few thousand miles business class with the director of finance is such a doddle. Dull but a doddle. You gaze for the nth time at the perfectly-defined crimson lips and the perfectly-starched white blouses and the perfectly-bored beautiful eyes of the air hostesses as they explain once again for our safety; how to fasten our seatbelts (which can be adjusted like this); how to put on our oxygen masks (which fall from overhead like this); how to inflate our life-belts (which tie at the side like this); and how to jump down the emergency slide (like this).

And remember to first extinguish cigarettes and remove high-heeled or stilettoe shoes and ensure that your seat is upright and the table is safely stowed away. And then it's just a matter of sitting still until an inevitable sequence of complimentary drinks and snacks and meals and breakfasts and hot towels moves you from one side of the world to another.

In contrast, travelling a few thousand miles in steerage with a four-year-old and a seven-year-old (for purely theoretical example) is a nightmare. Such an appalling nightmare that it has been known for people to wish they were back at work trying to cope with the ordinary everyday problems of running (for purely theoretical example) a lossmaking profit-centre.

Children quite simply don't sit still but they do spill drinks (theirs and yours) they don't like the food on offer but they do like playing with life-endangering cutlery. And most of all they do want to know whether they are nearly there yet.

At which point they raise two interesting insights into modern management theory, the consideration of which - rather like a Zen Buddhist saying - may allow the holidaying manager to maintain some sanity, reach an inner tranquillity and indeed gain a useful perspective on loss-making profit-centres.

The first insight is that management gurus tend to give too much importance to establishing objectives and agreeing destinations and measuring progress and give far too little thought to the question of who on earth we're attempting to reach these objectives with.

Or, to put it another way, it's one thing to speed through customs with Mr Laptop and his Gucci suit-holder, but it's entirely another to stand by the luggage carousel desperately hoping to see the appearance of a three-foot-high blue elephant who goes by the name of 'Blue Ted' and whose loss would make any loss made at a profit-making centre seem quite insignificant on the scale of human disasters. In other words, the same destination can be a totally different place depending on just who is with you.

So Holiday Management Revelation Number One: it's all very well knowing what your destination is - but what really counts is who you are travelling with - and just how much emotional and other luggage they are carrying.

Holiday Revelation Number Two: in truth, we all have more in common with children than we like to think - especially in the desire to get there almost before we have started travelling.

rom the stock-market's need to see evidence of instantly succesful company restructurings, to the fairy-tale PR-world of immediate benefits from quality circles and corporate re-engineering, and to every manager who thought that now they'd got their problems sorted out.

The real world just ain't like that - but how we wish it was. And how irritating it is to hear the chorus of voices asking for the impossible while you're doing your best to wipe up the orange juice. And how embarrassing to be part of the chorus when you're sitting on the board of a company.

So much for insights - what about practice. Well, despite the fact that the holidaying manager does not have the option of closing down or selling off the less successful units of the holiday family, most of us manage to have a pretty good holiday when we finally get there.

That's when the kids start asking: 'Can we go home now?'.

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