Jessica Herrin calls it the Dilbert Effect. It’s when a conference room seems really packed, even though the meeting should need only a couple of people. Or when an e-mail list suddenly has a long list of carbon-copied recipients. In other words, it’s when a business resembles the corporate culture from the Dilbert cartoons. Herrin experienced this first hand at a large firm.
“There were literally moments of my day were I felt like I was trapped inside a Dilbert cartoon because there was so much meeting,” she told entrepreneurs at the Inc. 500|5000 Conference, a meeting of the fastest-growing companies in America. She would later leave that firm to found Stella and Dot, a jewerly company that was No. 67 on the Inc. 500 list.
As a fast-growing company, “you’re hiring people and that one poor person isn’t running crazy and doing five different jobs,” she said. “You’re actually going to get five different people in to do each of those five different jobs. And they’re going to do it better than before – If you fight bureaucracy, if you keep your company from turning into a Dilbert cartoon.”
At Stella and Dot, Herrin will sometimes walk into a conference room filled with people and pull some out. Or she’ll respond to an e-mail chain with too many people on it, and write, “Let’s keep this lean and mean.” A meeting should contain only the decision makers. After they reach a decision, they can let everyone else know. This will help a company reach its appropriate revenue-per-employee scale. It promotes accountability. And it keeps the business from turning into a farce worthy of a Sunday morning comic strip.