When Air Force General Michael Fortney told his subordinate commanders to root our and do away with Queep (http://www.airforcetimes.com/story/military/2016/05/03/2-star-general-puts-wasteful-queep-duties-crosshairs/83873648/), he continued a long tradition of senior leaders trying to Lean down their operations and do away with those meaningless duties that take away focus from the company’s bottom line. Unfortunately, his directive is doomed to die on the vine like all the ones that came before it.
Queep is a term now nearing 30 years old. It was a made up word that means all those extra duties that people in all lines of work have to do that that are extraneous to their primary duties. It has come to also mean extraneous physical objects as well: those nick-knacks around the house or office that gather dust, or those extra papers that you carry into a meeting “just in case” the extremely unlikely question gets asked and you want to have backing for your response.
But any boss wants to cut out queep, the hard part is how to do so. In this case, General Fortney was, quite unintentionally, adding to the queep burden of the very people he is trying to protect from queep. By directing subordinate commanders to go out and root out queep, and directing them to ask their own subordinates for examples, he is unwittingly adding to the massive queep pile he’s trying to get rid of
Which of his commanders does he think are going to inform him that they are making undue queep burdens on their people? Which subordinates are going to tell their superiors that they should report themselves to the general for unnecessary non-mission critical work to the general? It isn’t going to happen.
If he wants to truly fix the problem, he has to first set the example by assessing from within his own staff what non-mission critical burdens are placed on his own subordinates and then get rid of them. Then he needs to argue for a service-wide culture change to get back to basics and divest the work day of queep. It will prove fruitless for General Fortney to continue this effort in a vacuum if the rest of the service levies queep on his that he must pass down without giving him the option to exercise the judgment that he is giving his subordinates.
And let us not fool ourselves into thinking that this is a military or government-only problem. Queep is alive and well in the corporate world. It is nearly impossible to find a company that doesn’t have the same issues with queep as the military suffers from. There’s no shortage of people who would line up to tell you how many soul-crushing sessions of diversity training, safety training, copier security training…..they have to sit through every year.
So as a leader, you owe it to your people to critically discern what queep is necessary and what queep you can do away with. Just because it is queep doesn’t mean it is necessary, and just because you think it is queep doesn’t mean it’s not actually critical to the mission.
I’d argue that one of the most critical functions of a senior leader is to balance the queep vs. your walking-around duties. You have to go through your inbox. You have to fulfill the obligations levied upon you by the law (such as Safety briefings as required by OSHA) or by your professional affiliation (such as service requirements by various Bar Associations). You may see that as queep, and I won’t argue with you on that. But you still have to do it as well as your primary duties. Just make sure you are aware of when you start moving from primary duties with queep on the side to queep taking the majority of your time.
As I say in my Maxims, Bury the Queep Or It Will Bury You. There will always be petty taskers and inquiries from above. Deal with them and move on.
But if you are the senior leader, set the example by making it easier for your people. Let them know what they’re free to disregard and what they can’t. Try to be specific. And if you think it is possible that your subordinates are burdening their own people with mounds of queep, don’t be naive enough to think that he or she will tell you they’re doing it. If you really want to know what the people think, give them a non-attribution avenue to get you that information.