On no-ROI deliverables

No-ROI Deliverables

I’ve been working 13 years. I’m about to turn 35 years old. (Less than one month, yay.) The first two years I was working, I taught inner-city elementary school in Houston as part of Teach for America. Then, I worked for ESPN for about a half-decade. The teaching job had tons of ROI — I was essentially “molding future generations,” which is somewhat terrifying if you actually know me — and the ESPN job mostly did. By “mostly” I mean: think about how many people watch ESPN religiously and cite information they’re providing or highlights they’re showing as gospel. I did that. I worked on that stuff.

Sometime around 2007 when I transitioned from ESPN TV to ESPN.com/ESPN The Magazine, the ROI of stuff I worked on at my job started to decline. It’s been about eight years now, and through a bunch of other jobs and opportunities, it’s never really come back. I often feel like I’m the king of no-ROI deliverables, and it’s somewhat depressing. Let me explain what I mean.

This whole no-ROI deliverables concept starts with middle managers who worship at The Temple of Busy. I’ve worked for a ton of people like this; some of you maybe have as well. This is typically a person who has a bunch of tasks/projects themselves — and they assume that everyone else is that busy. The most amazing thing about these people is that they typically don’t want to teach other people how to do things — in turn, making themselves less busy — so rather than figuring out ways to best allocate the work that their team has, they usually light their hair on fire and run around screaming about headcount.

Because they don’t want to relinquish control of the core work and because they’ve screamed about headcount enough to have teams numbering 8-10 or so, there’s always a couple of people who fall by the wayside. I’m typically one of those people. Hopefully I won’t always be — thoughts and prayers, you know? — but I usually am.

Here’s what happens when you’re a no-ROI deliverables person: someone comes to you with a three year-old PowerPoint document and says something like this —

“Hey, could you update this with some graphics and change the dates? I think someone needs it.”

Completely vague. Who needs it? Should any information be updated, along with graphics and dates? What’s it ultimately being used for?

The answers don’t matter. It’s a task. It makes the manager feel like you’re doing something, so that the salary you all agreed upon isn’t totally going to waste. Meanwhile, your manager is off saying to his/her boss: “Yea, he’s just not working out…” or “Well, things were hectic when we hired but now they’re slowing down…” It’s all a series of bullshit and excuses, and it happens every day.

To clarify, I am talking about myself — but plenty of my friends and people I’ve met through writing online have said the same thing.

This is how it should work, IMHO:

  • Your organization has a mission, purpose, and revenue targets/growth goals
  • You decide how to organize your organization towards those goals
  • You determine what people are needed in each department to do that
  • When it seems like there’s suddenly more work and it’s coming faster, you stop and think about who you already have and what can be reorganized
  • Basically, view leadership as maximizing and coaching people, not hitting revenue targets and demanding control of every situation

That’s just my two cents. Anyone else feel like they’ve been in a no-ROI deliverables situation? What have you done?

Ted Bauer

One Comment

  1. Sounds like a Dilbert cartoon, eh? I know whatchya mean…it can feel like you’re “trending sideways,” as they say in day-trader circles, lol. I’d say keep on keepin’ on, constantly put “feelers” out in the market by sending out targeted resumes, and hope that one day you can move on to a company and situation that’s a bit more tolerable.

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