The Coke Machine Syndrome
The scene is your company’s or
institution’s executive conference room. You have just been presented with the
new corporate budgets for development, administration, sales, marketing,
manufacturing, and research. Not too surprisingly, the numbers are
significantly higher for the coming year.
MILLIONS IN A MINUTE
The debate commences. Each
department argues persuasively for its position. With some significant growth
goals for the coming year, marketing and sales “can’t make it without more
salesmen, special pricing and promotions.” Manufacturing obviously can’t
produce to the new goals without more equipment and higher inventories. And
administration simply must have the staff and new computers to track and account
for all the new business.
After some discussion, the
budget is approved and 95% of your company’s expenses have been committed for
the current budget.
THE COKE MACHINE
At this point, the
administrative manager mentions that the company has been delaying the
installation of a Coke machine in the executive section of the building, and it
needs action. The President opens the subject for discussion.
For the next hour and a half,
the debate rages with an intensity not felt during the budget presentations.
Should it be placed near the stairway, or in the employee lounge, or in the
stairwell, or just where? Should its location be optimized for ease of access?
Or should it be placed so that it’s out of sight?
By the time the meeting
adjourns, nearly as much time has been spent on the Coke machine as has been
spent on the entire budget.
NOT ONLY IN BUSINESS
The phenomenon is a familiar one
and it’s not restricted to business. At a recent school board meeting, we
observed the passage of a $12 million budget in the first ten minutes, followed
by an hour of debate on whether the high school should have a football team.
The Coke machine syndrome is
pervasive and it accounts for an incredible waste of management time and effort.
WHY DOES IT HAPPEN?
Coke machine syndromes happen
• Everyone KNOWS
about Coke machines.
• Everyone is
PERSONALLY AFFECTED by the decision.
• Everyone HAS
Coke machines are not abstract,
million dollar figures. They’re here, now, and real. Coke machines and their
counterparts consume huge amounts of management and employee productivity.
HOW TO CONTROL IT!
The first step in managing the
Coke machine syndrome is recognizing it when it occurs. You can identify a
syndrome whenever a small, easily understood issue begins to consume a
disproportionately large amount of time.
The second step is labeling it.
In other words, hang on to the term: “Coke Machine Syndrome” and define it for
your staff. In that manner, when it occurs, you have a short-hand term that you
can use to describe what’s happening.
The third step is to agree that
a decision will be made by the close of the meeting. Then concentrate on the
criteria for making the decision, not necessarily the decision itself.
The next step is to gather the
facts and to fit the conditions to the criteria. Also, be sure to agree on a
time limit for discussion.
Finally, recognize that the Coke
machine syndrome will never produce a consensus decision. With everyone
knowledgeable and everyone having an opinion, there will be a full range of
logical, well-supported, and totally divergent opinions of what must be done.