Santas' management challenges

Dec 22 2008 by Wayne Turmel Print This Article

The end of the year is a great time for analysis and reflection. For many it's a chance to take a deep breath and calmly ponder what the next year holds. Personally, I sit in the dark and obsess about the thousand ways I screwed up and pray it won't happen again.

Either way, if you can pull your attention away from your own navel long enough, spare a thought for a manager with real problems - problems that would make most of us crack like the screen on an old laptop. That manger is Santa Claus.

Oh I know, on the surface he's got it made: seasonal work that leaves lots of time for vacation, a corporate culture based on love and good cheer and a public image that makes Google look like Enron. But behind the jolly faÁade are real management issues that must be addressed and I hope the old guy is up to it. To name just a few:

A changing product line: If you have children, you know that their wish lists look nothing like ours did at their age. The demand for digital goods (video games, cameras and the latest "i-whatever") has created retooling problems not seen since the great "wood- to- plastic" migration of the late 40s.

A shortage of skilled workers: A workforce comprised mostly of experienced elves has certain advantages(highly motivated, they don't take up much physical space), but just because you can handcraft a doll with blinking eyes doesn't mean you can crank out video games.

Cross training has had mixed results - a particularly disastrous transition from dolls to Transformers cost precious time and resources along with an embarrassing product recall. Apparently nobody wants an Optimus Prime that cries "Momma" when you pick it up.

An increase in hungry Polar Bears makes the commute to work much more hazardous for the elves
Distribution challenges: Population shifts mean that centuries-old delivery routes must be reexamined. Las Vegas used to be a quick stop at the buffet. Now it takes precious time to supply the growing population which has more than doubled in the last ten years.

The booming market in China is a lot less appealing when you realize nobody actually pays for these toys but demand is rising exponentially. An offsite SWOT Analysis turned ugly when he raised the idea of a strategic partnership with FedEx.

IT Infrastructure: Instead of adorable hand-written letters to Santa, the order desk must deal with millions of emails. The unexpected crash of the email server has eviscerated the IT budget. Processes need to be overhauled. Like any modern organization, the emails come at the last minute, are frequently unclear and don't have return addresses to check against the distribution list. We know where Ashley Drive is, how do you find the delivery address for [email protected]?

Going Green: Climate change and the green movement are creating all kinds of challenges. First, the melting of the Polar icecap makes delivery of raw materials more difficult as roads, rail and sled tracks suffer from shifts in the permafrost. Because they are unable to find their normal food, an increase in hungry Polar Bears makes the commute to work much more hazardous for the elves, who are appetizer-sized to start with.

To make matters worse, the increase in electronics and computerized games is causing a buildup of heavy metals and scrap, not to mention centuries of reindeer waste which was less of a problem when temperatures stayed below 0 Farenheit

Employee Engagement: the centuries-old pattern of seasonal overtime and layoffs is less appealing to young elves with internet access and an understanding of modern manufacturing techniques. Additionally, lack of a clear career path means more elves are seeking work in Silicon Valley rather than staying in the family business.

Only a shortage of US Work Visas prevents a full-scale exodus. Fears of gift-card inspired layoffs have poisoned a usually collegial atmosphere. Santa's traditional patriarchal approach is being openly questioned.

So if Santa can stay jolly, deliver effectively and bring smiles to faces in spite of everything that's happening, the likes of you and I can stop whining long enough to be grateful for our own situations if only because we don't have his job.

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About The Author

Wayne Turmel
Wayne Turmel

For almost 30 years, Wayne Turmel has been obsessed with how people communicate - or don't - at work. He has spent the last 20 years focused on remote and virtual work, recognized as one of the top 40 Remote Work Experts in the world. Besides writing for Management Issues, he has authored or co-authored 15 books, including The Long-Distance Leader and The Long-Distance Teammate. He is the lead Remote and Hybrid Work subject matter expert for the The Kevin Eikenberry Group. Originally from Canada, he now makes his home in Las Vegas, US.