Dear Dr. Schpamm:

Last year I was promoted to the top slot in our little governmental enclave, and I've got a problem. Instinctively, I have been trying to improve efficiency and productivity in the office, and I thought I was fairly successful. What I got for my trouble was a mediocre performance rating and no budget increase for the next fiscal year, which means that my career hangs in the balance. What can I do to keep this from happening again?

— Baffled Bureaucrat

Dear Baff:

Effective operations rely on highly-trained personnel and efficient communications. In a government unit, you can't do a whole lot about your personnel, but there are plenty of things you can do to change the way your office communicates. Consider email. Email isn't exactly the lifeblood of the organization, but keeping the email flowing quickly and smoothly is essential to maintaining a level of efficiency, so if your efficiency is too high, you'll need to do something to clog up the email flow.

The first thing I suggest is to impose a bottleneck. In a proper bureaucracy, there are going to be people who are Too Important to have their email addresses released for public consumption. So instead of having incoming mail automatically sent to the appropriate offices and/or department heads for disposition, try having all incoming email routed to a handful of generic boxes and have one person spend the entire day routing mail. Better yet, rotate the job among a number of people, which will insure that no one learns the patterns very well. If you do this right, you may wind up having to print the vast majority of email, which delivers the kind of efficiency reduction administration envisions only in its wildest dreams.

Once you've thoroughly screwed up the very heart of the system, there are still incremental pessimizations that can be performed. Contemporary mail clients are capable of handling multiple email accounts at once, so you can score small reductions in efficiency by using a mail client that can't do that, thereby forcing your mail person to log into each mailbox individually. And consider the question of attachments. Organizations that routinely receive lots of attachments — publishers, for instance — maintain a list of acceptable file formats. If someone is submitting a document to a publisher, he must make sure that the document can be read by the publisher, otherwise it's a waste of everyone's time. If you receive lots of attachments, you might want to consider not maintaining such a list. This will have two salutary effects. Your correspondents will automatically assume that you can read everything they send, which they will find encouraging, even embracing; your mail person will have to take time out to find the appropriate application, which you may or may not have. In some cases, it may even be necessary to call in IT professionals to examine a questionable attachment, which can waste the time of two offices at once. And I certainly don't have to tell you about the upsurge in attachments that incorporate viruses and worms, which deliver their own body blow to efficiency.

If you follow all these suggestions, you should be able to bring office communications to a screeching halt in a matter of days, an impressive achievement which will undoubtedly win you the admiration of bureaucrats the world over. Of course, you'll never know, since they won't be able to get through to you.

The Vent

8 December 2001

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 Copyright © 2001 by Charles G. Hill