Paul Little at large
Paul Little is a Herald on Sunday columnist

Paul Little: When stupid ideas go bad

MoJ staff were memorable doing a Justin Timberlake cover. Photo / AP
MoJ staff were memorable doing a Justin Timberlake cover. Photo / AP

Early contenders for this year's Own Worst Enemy awards will be those people at the Ministry of Justice who were responsible for spending $23,000 on five leadership videos, one of which included the worst ever cover of Justin Timberlake's Can't Stop the Feeling, as performed by staff of the ministry.

Justin Timberlake is a former Mickey Mouse Club member - I think you can probably join your own dots there.

Ironically, given their core business, the justice wallahs didn't seek permission before helping themselves to their heartthrob's intellectual property.

But this is unlikely to be a problem. By all accounts he is an awfully nice bloke with a healthy sense of humour. In fact, he would probably have paid $23,000 to see the bureaucrats singing and dancing and getting on down - or whichever direction they ended up going.

"The video was played at the Leaders' Forum and then shared with everyone in the ministry through the ministry's intranet," said deputy secretary for corporate affairs Suzanne Stew.

"It was received in the spirit in which it was made - as an opportunity to engage with colleagues from around the country in a positive way."

Remember when "How was your weekend?" was considered sufficient engagement to achieve this aim?

Highlights of the video, as reported by Radio New Zealand, who found it not trending on YouTube but under the Official Information Act, included: "Staff lip syncing at ministry headquarters and in corridors. ... court security and other court staff dancing in court rooms and at one stage staff form a conga line and dance through the offices ... MOJ chief exec and Bridgeman also on video dancing at his desk and lip syncing in his office."

Well of course, there was a conga line - what better model for leadership is there than a queue of people each blindly and arrhythmically following the person in front with no set destination in mind.

Perhaps the experience will teach the MoJ chorus line - sorry, leadership team - how to cope with a guerrilla management style.

Some staff were apparently taken by surprise when invited to perform: "There was no mention of dancing and miming haha," wrote one. "It was a lot of fun but I hope they cut us out lol."

More cause for concern. It's deeply troubling to think that in 2017 there are people at the Ministry of Justice who use "LOL" unironically.

But the lip syncing side of things makes sense. It's a core skill for people in government departments to be able to move their lips while someone else's words come out.

Questions put in the video interviews were the sort that are designed not to get an answer that might require management to alter their own practices.

Subjects were asked about:

A defining experience in their leadership - "Too many to choose from but probably when I realised how great all the people I work with are and how lucky I am to be surrounded by them."

When they felt most proud - "The day I nailed the moonwalk in my cover of Billie Jean."

When they felt most vulnerable - "Probably all the time. I give too much. That's just the sort of person I am."

And their aspirations as a leader - "To expand my department's narrative and make it a game-changing force for progress, and to have my own dance troupe."

The main objection to this farrago is not the money of course. What's $23,000 after all? That price point is definitely at the lower end of the scale when it comes to corporate waste. It's barely enough for a bespoke suit from one of the higher-end tailors or sufficient to feed a family of four for a year.

What's most concerning is that no one in the ministry said: "This is a really stupid idea."

- Herald on Sunday

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