Management Reporting and The King's Horseman

The title of this blog is taken from a play by the Nobel Laureate Wole Soyinka, titled "Death and The King's Horseman". It tells the story of "the Elesin" or "the King's Horseman", who must commit ritual suicide after the King's death, so as not to deprive the King of his services in the afterlife. Unfortunately, the Elesin, having tasted the fat of the Land, is somewhat reluctant to comply with tradition. This, along with the fact that his people believe that the earth will fall apart should tradition not be followed, serves as a core source of tension in the play. Like the people of Soyinka's play, I have found that there is a rather illogical belief within some corporate circles that the centre will cease to hold should people fail to submit management reports. I once heard a suggestion that reporting volume should be linked to remuneration. My faith in my colleagues was somewhat strengthened by the fact that this suggestion never made it past the four walls of the room in which it was uttered. A less painful, but equally pointless, approach of publishing the names of early and late submitters was adopted. Essentially, a list of the good and the bad. My approach to staying on the good list was submitting  reports consisting of no more than a mighty period "." at each reporting interval. The result being that I consistently came top in the list of submitters; but, rather worryingly, for several months no one seemed cognisant of the fact that I was not really submitting anything. Even more worrying is that I suspect no one would have noticed had I gone on doing so for even longer. I've never really been sure what conclusion to draw from this experience. On the one hand, it could be that companies are simply interested in collecting pointless information just to show that they are doing something. Or maybe just that management are so overloaded with data that they cannot reasonably be expected to keep track of the activities of their underlings. Or perhaps a mixture of the two? Some political insiders contend that members of parliaments and other such representative bodies do not study the items they vote on in any great detail. Not because they do not want to, but simply because they are swamped with minutiae. I suspect that the same applies to many managers. The question then is why we persist on collecting all of this junk information--apart from the fact that it may make interesting input for a text mining project to a computing student? Would the universe really fall apart if we fail to follow reporting cycles? Could all that energy not be employed in adding some real value somewhere else? Like the character in Soyinka's play, I cannot bring myself to ignore the obvious benefits of devoting my energy to more productive tasks. However, as in the play, this refusal to follow convention does lead to a lot of tension and I am mastering the art of just providing enough information to be left alone. I fear that until senior management learn to empower and trust their subordinates, the pointless reporting will continue.

This story, "Management Reporting and The King's Horseman" was originally published by JavaWorld.


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