Red Alert

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Square wheels and Petronius Arbiter

Posted by on March 16th, 2012

Restructuring often occurs when there is no plan, when things are getting a bit hard and those in charge have to look like they are doing something.

I used to have the quote below from Gaius Petronius Arbiter on my wall at the union office, both to remind managers who were trying to make their mark, and to remind myself as the leader of a large private sector union and employer of more than 70 people. (And please don’t argue it’s a false quote from Petronius Arbiter.  I know all that stuff. Regardless of who wrote it, it’s still a goodie).

We trained hard, but it seemed that every time we were beginning to form up into teams, we would be reorganised.

I was to learn later in life that we tend to meet any new situation by reorganising;

and a wonderful method it can be for creating the illusion of progress

while producing confusion, inefficiency, and demoralisation.

A long serving experienced member in the airline industry described it to me as the “square wheel syndrome.”

New management comes in, wants to make their mark, so announces that planes will have square wheels from now on. Gradually, the edges are cut off the square wheels, until they are round again. In the meantime, there’s been wastage, loss of morale and huge sums and effort exhausted in a restructuring programme that often ends up where it started, except more money is spent rehiring redundant workers as consultants. Trevor put it well in this post.

We’re all for efficient public services, but the latest announcement of a Mega-Ministry sounds like Steven Joyce is inventing square wheels, all in the name of his super minister status.

John Key needs to put Petronius Arbiter – false quote or not – on his wall – and share it with Steven Joyce.