The Lion Listens and Empowers Before He Roars

Something called the “modern day fable” of the Ant and the Lion is making the rounds of various inboxes—it’s amusing and as most fables go, timely, or shall I say timeless?

It presents some serious food for thought about the way we and our organizations work, collaborate and grow over time.

Here’s a link to the slide-share presentation of the fable. Take a look, but I’ll summarize the story briefly.

An industrious Ant in the jungle arrived to work early every day, started working immediately and was highly productive, needing no supervision. Ant was also happy with the results of her work. Observing this, Lion, the chief, was surprised. He thought if Ant could do so much work without supervision how much more would she be able to accomplish with a supervisor?

So Lion hired Cockroach, who claimed to be a good supervisor. Cockroach was also very good at preparing reports. Cockroach implemented a time-clock attendance system. Cockroach now needed a secretary to type reports, so he hired Spider to manage document archives and monitor all phone calls.

Lion asked Cockroach to produce graphs, trend reports and analyses, which would be presented in board meetings and used to increase sales. Cockroach bought a computer system and other supporting devices for this, and hired Fly to manage the IT department.

Ant no longer achieved her normal work levels because her time was taken up by paperwork and meetings. She was no longer very happy. Lion felt there was a need for a department head where Ant worked. Lion appointed Cicada as department head. Cicada bought an expensive carpet and ergonomic chair for his office. He also got a computer and an assistant to help with budgeting, reports and optimization plans.

Ant’s department became a sad, unhappy place. Lion eventually saw a report that showed a decline in productivity in Ant’s department. So he brought in Owl, a renowned consultant, to carry out a comprehensive audit. Months later, Owl’s huge study and report concluded the department was overstaffed.

So Lion fired Ant. The reason: Her lack of motivation and a negative approach towards organization processes.

We’ve probably all worked for organizations that demonstrate some or all of these antics. They have love affairs with meetings, processes, reports and management layers. Often in this scenario the idea of, “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” quickly goes out the window because executives and managers must justify their existence, their job descriptions and their place on the organization chart.

The beauty and DNA of a Vested Outsourcing arrangement is that people are encouraged to collaborate across companies and functions to do what they do best without the need for constant micromanagement and “measurement minutiae”—two of the 10 Ailments that plague business relations—under a flexible, agile and insightful agreement framework.

Yes, it’s true that if you can’t measure it you can’t manage it, but the balance is often skewed. Too many processes, organizational layers, meetings and benchmarking exercises can be too much of a good thing that perversely becomes a bad thing. As the fable tells us, they can drag down productivity and produce the exact opposite of the intended result, especially in human terms.

The idea should be organizational empowerment, listening and support, not control, red tape and angst.

Many thanks to George Gecowets, founder and former CEO of the Council of Supply Chain Management Professionals, for sharing the fable and his thoughts about it.

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