Parkinson on Headquarters
As fervor mounts on Amazon’s HQ2 search, and the share price and earnings of General Electric, in the process of relocating its headquarters to Boston, swoon, it is a good time to reflect on Parkinson’s Law of Buildings.
C. N. Parkinson is most famous for his first law that “work expands so as to fill the time available for its completion”, but he also postulates that when an enterprise constructs its own headquarters, its demise follows not long after. In a published essay he wrote, ‘a perfection of planned layout is achieved only by institutions on the point of collapse… Perfection of planning is a symptom of decay. During a period of exciting discovery or progress there is not time to plan the perfect headquarters. The time for that comes later, when all the important work has been done.’
One of many examples he offers is the British Colonial Office, whose size increased even as the number of British colonies decreased and whose move into its new headquarters coincided with the loss of its colony in India.
In my own career I have assisted in a number of headquarters searches only to see the project collapse – most commonly by a merger or acquisition of the client. Let’s hope that GE under new leadership, which has already slowed its expansion in Boston, can rebound. After all Apple seems to be thriving in its new headquarters. That being said – caveat amazonas.