There was a wee bit of chaos

Ladies & Gentlemen, an allegory from the Day Job…

When I took up my first job in the corporate world, I was involved in a disastrous recruitment campaign that lasted nearly a year. At the end of the process, the whole team agreed on a number of things:

1. The campaign had not gone professionally.Spot the cow! Joseph Ritson (1752–1803), antiquary Engraving by James Sayers, published in 1803 Gallery: National Portrait Gallery, London

2. It happened, but it wasn’t managed.

3. Only through hard work and overtime had we grabbed back the initiative and completed the campaign, loose ends and all.

4. There was a wee bit of chaos.

Not what one expects from a major high-street company with billions of spondulicks on its balance sheet and a household name recognised across the nation.

So my boss and I, we sat down and analysed the whole process:

  • Volume of work.
  • Time to do it.
  • An IT system before Windows.
  • Only me, too, while everyone else was on the road.

We sat down and I typed a completed application form into the non-Windows system, stopwatch ticking. Worked out how many I could do in an hour before I had to take a break. Worked out how many hours I’d need at that pace to enter 2,000 applications.

Even worked out how long it would take me to print off, sign and fold 1,800 rejection letters and stuff them into envelopes. (I wore a groove in my thumbnail folding the flippin’ things.)

We worked out when we needed to start each phase of the process, and how long it would take.

Where we could start early, to free up contingency time for those things most likely to overrun, because they would, and leave room in the timetable for catching up. Space for dealing with circumstances beyond anyone’s control.Letter opener and hand

When we needed to have 2,000 envelopes on order for those rejection letters, and how many we might lose to someone else “borrowing” a few dozen. A couple of boxes of paper, too, with the embossed header and the HR Director’s name and the company logo because these things matter.

And how we would cope if things went horribly wrong, maybe with the pre-Windows IT system or something beyond our control.

Did I mention this campaign’s deadline was 31 December?

That’s right, just when the rest of the world was painting the town red at the office Xmas party, me and my boss were frantically typing application forms into an ancient computer system before the holiday season shut down the building.

But we did it, and had a few days off, and then the application forms were sifted and the rejection letters sent out and the interviews scheduled.An ice-skating scene, as seen in a print titled

In late January.

I ended up fielding phone calls from Senior Managers stranded in snowbound airports, needing a hotel and a cancelled flight and a whole host of rescheduled interviews. Usually at five o’clock, just as I was going home.

Did I panic?


Not me in the snowbound airport, was it? And I had contingencies built into the process from start to end.

(Did I mention we won an award for this?)

Because we’d done the process analysis, and had productivity data from the Campaign Gone Wrong, I could forecast – anticipate – how long I needed to catch up, how many people I needed to help me, and what I could delay doing until I’d dealt with the emergency.

Estimate, with accuracy, the best use of my time and resources.

Do you have to muck up to learn that?

No, you can do it while working successfully.

It’s the best way, BTW. Less panic at snowbound airports.

Fewer sackings, too.

But you have to do the process at least once before you understand – really, deeply understand – everything involved.

A bit like writing a novel.

Published in: on July 9, 2014 at 12:00 am  Comments Off on There was a wee bit of chaos  
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