The High Cost of White-Collar Waste

Great leaders not only get the most from available resources, they re-create, reinvent, reawake, renew, empower, and transform resources. The leader, after all, is in the best position to eliminate or proliferate wasteful practices — to make the organization more fit, profitable, and fruitful or more indulgent, ineffective, barren. Yes, there is waste in production and support services, but more often than not, these incidences are relatively minor infractions.

Real, industrial-strength waste is found in the mismanagement or misuse of things and people — in the white-collar areas of the organization. In the massive waste of such things as paper and computers, fuel and vehicles, time and money, all squandered and swept under the rug or written off the books. In the colossal waste of human resources — the waste of words, ideas, potential.

Most incidences of chronic waste, I believe, have their root causes in attitudes and beliefs — these then become evident in individual judgments, decisions and actions, and, finally, become institutionalized in the culture, structure, and systems of an organization and industry. [Prevalent though waste may be,] I’ve met some veritable models of conservation, real people who battle waste on every front.

For example, I’ll always remember my visit with Robert MacVicar, who served as president of Oregon State University for many years. Now, in Oregon, you expect to find environmentalists; but in MacVicar, you find the consummate conservationist. He turned the lights off during the lunch break; refused to fire the football coach just because the team had a losing record; had a lean, efficient staff that served a loyal faculty, which, in turn, served dedicated students; dealt one-on-one with people.

Also high on the list is Dick Dauch, executive vice president of manufacturing at Chrysler Motors. When I met with Dick in his office, he introduced me to his team and to his dream. I could sense his pride in his people and his passion to be world competitive, to eliminate defects, to educate and motivate his workers. No fat, flab, or false emotion in the man. And then I commend Nolan Archibald, CEO of Black & Decker, for his effective leadership, resulting in quality, made-in-America products and in cost-conscious people.

These three men are finding cures for the cancer of waste. The cures, curiously, can be found in many different places: in education and training in order and obedience in quality and productivity in open systems in ethical conduct Great leaders make gardens of waste places, restore and rebuild people. Christ fed the 5,000 with five loaves and then gathered up 12 baskets of crumbs — now that’s real economy. Edwards Deming, the modern-day Isaiah, is telling management they can do the same if they work with faith to improve quality.

I invite you to listen; to check what’s going down the drain and out the door with the trash; what’s being spilled, left over, misused, neglected, mistaken; what’s being burned in the incinerator and ground up in the disposal — you may just find some of the prime minds and time, meat and potatoes, fruit and produce, people and things of the organization. While I hope this warning will make a difference, I fear that, like Ebenezer Scrooge, some executives will have to be visited in the night by the ghosts of corporate past, present, and future before they change their wasteful ways.

(Ed. Note: The above essay is one of thousands of articles about leadership, management, and business success that are available on the “Instant Consultant” CD from Executive Excellence Publishing. If you’re interested in learning more about it, click on