The saddest joke I've ever heard

There is a delicious scene in the British comedy series, Black Books, where Bernard, the dysfunctional proprietor confronts a customer.

The customer has foolishly walked through the front door and started poking around looking to purchase … you guessed it – a book!

Of course, the poor old customer cops a verbal hammering from Bernard who is habitually consumed with his ongoing life-crisis.  Book!  What do you mean you want a book?!  (And then proceeds to try to throw him out of the shop).

Older fans of British comedy will no doubt remember too the oft-referenced scene from Yes Minister where the hapless Jim Hacker discovers that the Government has, for some time, been running a brand new hospital with absolutely no patients.  There is that wonderful scene in which Sir Humphrey and his public service colleague, Sir Ian Whitchurch, are discussing the best way to run a hospital: 

Sir Ian Whitchurch: "First of all, you have to sort out the smooth running of the hospital.  Having patients around would be no help at all."
Sir Humphrey: "They'd just be in the way."

It is all hilarious but rather tragic at the same time.  Why?  Because the attitudes and behaviour depicted in comic sketches ain't that far from the truth.  Been into a retail outlet recently and been ignored by the shop assistants conducting a private conversation while trying desperately NOT to make eye contact with you?  (You can almost hear what they are thinking … what does he/she want?  Not another bloody customer!)

Then there are those inappropriately named public service organisations where rules, regulation, governance, audits, individual work plans and endless meeting agendas dominate discussion while the actual service is relegated to words sitting in the strategic plan.  

To keep the theme rolling, I am reminded of an old Morecambe and Wise sketch where a moustached bureaucrat with an abrupt manner is depicted picking up the office phone: Hello, London Bus Service – how may we HINDER you?

But this is no joke.  These are just symptoms of a disease that ravages many large organisations that have simply lost their way in the myriad highways and byways of corporate life.  That's why, as silly as it sounds (and I know it sounds ridiculous) there is a critical need for organisations to constantly ask the question: Why do we exist?  Better still, who are we serving?  And, by the way, what do they think about what we do and how we do it?

The biggest cause of this illness is the way in which many senior executives seek to hide themselves away from their customers.  They build corporate headquarters and ensconce themselves on the top floor behind doors and glass panels.  God forbid they should ever cross the paths with one of the people they are supposed to be serving – let alone a member of their own staff.

It is understandable that as a corporate structure is built, as new positions are added and the bureaucratic machine takes on a life of its own – that many companies find themselves marooned in a sea of ignorance.  But it is a dangerous ocean to chart and sooner or later the corporate ship will drift on to the rocks of corporate peril.  That, I can assure you, is no laughing matter.