New research shows that giving senior managers colouring books significantly improves performance.
Typically, most people who reach the upper echelons of the corporate pyramid have very little to do with the day-to-day business of the organisation. However, this doesn't mean that they won't try to stick their oar in; and in doing so they usually demonstrate an extraordinary capacity to fuck things up for the people who do the actual work.
Rearranging the furniture
In many cases managers will content themselves with tidying up or rearranging the furniture - trivial interventions which nevertheless provide them with the sensation that they are exercising their authority and contributing to the enterprise as a whole.
As such, they never become more than a mild irritant and are generally very easily managed. The problems come when someone who is nominally 'in charge' exceeds their capabilities and starts messing around with something important in a foolish attempt to try and run the company.
Policies are changed for no reason, targets and deadlines become wildly unrealistic and legal obligations are cast aside in favour of legislation that the manager has just made up on the spot. This sort of behaviour inevitably has a devastating impact on efficiency, staff morale and customer confidence.
But researchers at Oxford University think they may have found a solution. They took a selection of senior managers and tried giving them complex puzzles to solve, such as crosswords, logic problems and Sudoku.
The thinking behind this was that these activities would provide a welcome diversion, satisfying a need in these high-performing individuals to exercise their phenomenal problem-solving and organisational skills.
Disappointingly, most of the test group found them too difficult, flung them across the room then stormed off to annoy an underling.
Nevertheless, the research team persisted, experimenting with a wide range of pastimes and tasks. It was when they gave the managers coloured pencils, felt tips and a pile of colouring books that they started to see some encouraging results. These simple distractions kept the test group amused for hours, ensuring that they were far too preoccupied to wander off and interfere with something that actually mattered.
The team have now developed a special management kit containing crayons, poster paints, glue and glitter. This is already being used in several major companies, where it is issued to staff in senior positions, who are then encouraged to find a quiet corner and try not to bother anyone.
Significant improvements in productivity and efficiency have already been made and the Oxford team is so pleased with the results that they are working on an expanded version incorporating potato printing and Play-Doh for use with senior figures in government.