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80 Shades of Beige

Publishing Date : 06 May, 2015

Stuart White
THE WORLD IN BLACK-N-WHITE


Flip Dictionary! If that phrase leaves you lost for words you clearly haven’t got a copy. Designed and compiled by Barbara Ann Kiffer, the person responsible for the Millennium update of Roget’s Thesaurus, the Flip Dictionary solves the problem of when you know what you want to say, it’s right on the tip of your tongue but you just can’t quite think of it. 

It goes beyond the standard dictionary format by offering cues and clue words to lead you to the precise phrase or specific term you need.  (note to self – ‘look up phrase ‘flip dictionary’). There’s even an online Adobe Acrobat version available for people with a fear of paper (papyrophobia) or even worse, fear of paper cuts (pulpuslacerataphobia).


As you can see, the Flip Dictionary is full of amazingly useful and totally useless titbits.  For instance, we may have been led to believe there are 50 shades of grey but did you know there are more than 80 different shades of the colour brown and in case you don’t believe me here is a sample to whet your literary appetite; anthracene, beaver, bistre, brindle, buff, doeskin, dun, fallow, fulvous, nutria, pongee, raffia, seal, sorrel, taupe and umber.

Now I am not quite sure where I can slip these extensions to my vocabulary into the conversation or even this column but I’m working on it and it did get me thinking that there is so much that is useless or inappropriate in the business world that it would be handy to have a flip corporate manual to assist in offering 79 other choices to specific situations, standard problems, accepted solutions and clichéd practises. Maybe the Flip Policy Manual or whatever could advise you what was no longer useful or completely redundant?


Having 80 different colours of brown may seem superfluous and overkill but so too are the many activities, rituals and norms we have in the corporate world. So here are some grey areas we should find alternatives for.


Team Building Retreats – I am referring here to the old ‘build a raft and climb a rock face’ interventions that are supposed to develop closeness and camaraderie through a shared near-death or severe deprivation experience away from the work environment, a sort of right-of-passage ritual for suits. These kinds of exercises are usually heavily over-subscribed by executives secretly harbouring a desire to be daredevil thrill seekers who can only usually get their adrenalin rush watching Mission Impossible movies.

In the real world team building can better be accomplished by using common sense and a few fundamental principles such as getting people to recognise that together they perform better and produce more than individually, by establishing an environment of trust, involving and including everyone and then recognising the efforts and attainments of the team, rather than by silly virtual reality war games or scripted, controlled and orchestrated adventures, the results of which rarely last much longer than the end-of-exercise party at the bar.  Face it, Tom Cruise most of you ain’t.


Mission Statements – A litany of self-delusion that everyone has to have but never remembers the wording or why it was put there in the first place. I am a great believer in ‘if its not working, toss it out’ and in my humble opinion I would have expected by now that Mission Statements would have fallen into a state of total disuse. Surprisingly they continue to be considered one of the most popular end-product management tools in the world, even ranked as one of the top two corporate practices in global usage by Bain & Company since 1993.

I do believe in the old expression, "No wind favours the ship that has no charted course” so I appreciate the critical need for organisational direction but don’t kid myself that the Mission Statement is the vehicle that will make it happen; they’re simply not worth the paper on which they are written. The average Mission Statement is a lofty, unattainable piece of pomposity which is, as John Philpott in ‘People Management’ says, “little better than a secular version of the religious pieties that in early times were hung above the door of the workhouses in England.”


Corporate Uniforms – Now I know I am going to be hugely unpopular with this one but let’s face it, having a dress code is the ultimate in management command and control. I have worked for organisations that branded you a black sheep, sent you home and docked you a day’s pay because you exercised a bit of personal choice in the threads department, thus leaving the work to be carried out by the mindless sheep happy to be all dressed the same way giving the same lousy service. But at least, the corporate thinking goes, they are uniformed and uniform in their lousy service. Fortunately in this country the not wearing of ties and tights is not too much of a criminal offence anymore.


Security Sign-In Procedure – This is a whole redundant employment industry on its own, requiring a superannuated security guard whose only responsibility is to ensure that the access register is completed. I love it when they get pernickety about the time “Excuse me sir but it is 4.23 and you have entered 4.25.

‘The fact that you recorded your name as Rumpelstiltskin and listed the reason for the visit under ‘Business, as in none of yours’ is neither here nor there. The only people who benefit from access-control security guards are the printers and stationery store owners purveying those massive and massively-expensively bound attendance ledgers, made of nothing but the best quality paper. They have to go, the books and the guards!


So Flip Manuals are in and team building, mission statements and uniformed time lords are out.  Or maybe not? Shall we flip for it?

STUART WHITE is the Managing Director of HRMC and they can be reached on 395 1640 or at www.hrmc.co.bw

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