Too many chiefs, not enough Indians



In today’s world it seems that more and more employees are overworked and overloaded. Burning the midnight oil is common and accepted. At my company everyone wears the “I worked till 2am last night” message as a badge of honour. They even think you aren’t busy enough if you only work 8-5pm! Honestly its getting boring.

But here’s the thing. I think staff being overloaded isn’t evenly distributed through the levels at many companies.

I was at a meeting yesterday in which a VP (of which we have very many) was describing a new process for designing and implementing certain types of project. It was a presentation that had flow diagrams and arrows and graphs and all this fun stuff. He certainly put a lot of work into it. And the senior VP loved it.

But I sat there stunned. If you really looked at it it worked like this

  1. high level strategy “what products to focus on” would be done by a team of 20 VPS and directors.
  2. 2nd level strategy “what audience to target” would be done by another team of assorted 10-20 VPS and directors
  3. 3rd level “high level messaging strategy” again performed by another team of 10-12 directors and senior managers
  4. everything else/implementation – design, all the details, content, tools, implementation, tracking and followup would be done by 1 person (with no team or support)

Can you see the issue with this? Not only would it take months to align all these senior VPS and directors to get them to make these decisions (decisions which the person in set 4 could do in an hour max) but there are tons of people working “strategy” but only 1 poor person doing all the implementation!

Here is an example of this in action. New project to be launched – intricate new program which involved setting up  a new program for a division – this would require staff training, website, brochures, new tools creation, communications created and deployed etc.   For step 1-3 above all the “strategists” had to do was come up with a name for the project – no other work could start until this was done. Project was due completed in 9 months. It took them SIX MONTHS to come up with the name. SIX MONTHS to just to decide a name!  Suffice to say the project took over 2 years. (and they changed the name twice!)

This is a classic case of too many chiefs and not enough Indians. Senior managers don’t seem to realize they need actual people to do the work. The implementers are badly overworked.  And the company continues to lay off the poorly paid implementers whilst keeping the higher paid strategists!??

One strategist  I did talk to said they could always outsource the implementation work to outside companies.  (And possibly even the strategy!).  But I have seen this attempted and fail badly  – outside companies often don’t have the insider knowledge to effectively implement this and prior best practices and practical experience is lost.

Your company got too many chiefs and not enough Indians?  If you are an Indian, get on your horse and get out of there.


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