I can’t get no satisfaction

Via reader David Moore, this article:

Open-plan offices could be making women feel stressed and isolated, research shows.

Over the course of two years, Rachel Morrison, a senior research lecturer at Auckland University of Technology, looked at whether or not open office plans were promoting productivity.

She found an interesting difference between the answers men and women gave.

Let me guess: men couldn’t give a rat’s arse either way and wondered what half the questions even meant, whereas the women bitched at length about every minor annoyance?

“I followed and surveyed 99 employees from a law firm as they were transitioning into an open-plan office space and I started noticing a trend in the answers I was receiving from women in the company,” Morrison said.

While the male employees of the company saw the open-plan office as a positive change, many of the women said they felt “stressed”, “watched” and “judged” in the new layout.

Now there’s a surprise. What’s interesting is this article is from New Zealand which, as William of Ockham can confirm, is about 50 years behind everywhere else when it comes to work practices. Open plan offices are pretty much standard now, and I know of very few companies that still give offices to all but the most senior people (and HR, of course.)

“Those feelings of being watched were only on women’s radar, so many of the women reported feeling watched, viewed or monitored but not a single man did.”

It’s almost as if men and women are fundamentally different, isn’t it?

Overall, she found there were a few negative outcomes in an open-plan office.

“I found relationships between co-workers were negatively affected as well as increased stress for women, which resulted in more sick days and less productivity,” she said.

Alternative headline: Women cannot cope in modern workplace, study finds.

Business psychologist Jasbindar Singh agreed open-plan offices could cause stress.

“Many women feel a certain amount of social pressure from being in an open-plan office to dress and act a certain way because they feel as though they are on display the whole time,” she said.

No doubt this is the fault of company management or, failing that, the patriarchy.

Whether women truly were being watched and monitored in the work place more than men remains to be ascertained, and Morrison said it was beyond the scope of her project.

Oh, I have no doubt they are: by other women. Unless any women are under 27 and hot, the men won’t be watching at all.

Of course, this doesn’t mean all women are uncomfortable in open-plan offices; I’ve been working in them since 2000 and I’m reasonably sure the women didn’t feel undue pressure because they didn’t have their own office. But it’s part of an interesting pattern or women, having demanded equal access to the workplace, finding it’s not to their liking and – inevitably – things must be changed to accommodate them. Here’s another example:

Here we have a woman joining an industry and then complaining how things are done when she gets there. Note she’s not complaining of sexual harassment, which would be unacceptable, merely about what people choose to do at tech events. If she doesn’t like what she herself says is normal about an industry, why did she join it? To cause trouble?

The thing is, I know a lot of female engineers and many actually like the male dominated environments in which they work. A competent woman in among a bunch of men can have an enjoyable experience indeed, because (according to them) men are simple and easy to understand and there’s no silly competitiveness. They actually prefer to work with other men than women, or so several have told me. Similarly, they entered into engineering and the oil industry because both provided an environment they liked working in. They didn’t join the oil business and then set about complaining how things are done when they got there, they embraced it because that’s what attracted them in the first place.

If women want to engender hostility from men in the workplace, the best way to go about it is to demand access to male-leaning industries and then campaign to get them changed for their benefit as soon as they arrive. I have no doubt they’ll be successful, but whether they’ll be happy with the final result is another matter entirely.

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Careful Wording

I’m sat here looking at the instruction manual of a domestic hot water pump. The warning at the beginning amuses me. Here’s how it starts:

The use of this product requires experience with and knowledge of the product.

Pfffft! It then goes on:

Persons with reduced physical, sensory or mental capabilities must not use this product…

So lunatics should keep well away. Sounds sensible.

…unless…

Wait, there are situations where nutters can fiddle around with it?

…they are under supervision or have been instructed in the use of the product by a person responsible for their safety.

So if they’re with their nurse while on day-release, they’re free to use a domestic hot water pump. That’s good to know.

Slightly more seriously, you can imagine a committee sitting around trying to write this, feeling the need to cover their arse while at the same time avoiding any accusation of being prejudiced towards disabled differently-abled people. Multiply these efforts across the entire economy, and you’ll see how much time, money, and energy we’re wasting.

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A New Direction

So, having decided the oil industry wasn’t for me, what to do next? My professional skill, insofar as I have one, is a project engineer or manager, basically someone who can organise, communicate, and coordinate a bunch of specialists to get stuff done. Although doing this well brings considerable added value to any organisation, I was faced with two problems if I attempted to take these skills into another industry (or even stay in oil and gas):

1. Project management positions are to some degree prestigious, hence they are granted to the favoured sons of the upper management regardless of whether they have the necessary skills and competence. There are exceptions, but it would be hard for me to break into a new industry and convince someone to give me a decent project manager role.

2. Project engineers tend to have to report to incompetent project managers, and you end up doing menial admin work on behalf of the dolt above you who is good pals with someone in the higher echelons. Also, project engineers tend to be badly paid because few recognise the importance of the role; you’re basically a dogsbody to be blamed when things go wrong. Depending on where you are, this can also apply to project managers. I was once in an interview for a project management position which reported into a technical manager. I asked what the technical manager’s job was, and was told he was responsible for the project execution. In other words, it was some loafer in HQ who wanted to tell the project manager how to run the project. Micromanagement and non-accountability is absolutely rife everywhere these days.

What I needed to find was a job that:

1. Came with good working conditions, i.e. if the pay was not great you’re at least somewhere without green in the flag and you can drink the tapwater.

2. Was a role that was growing, i.e. there are plenty of them about and, even better, the numbers are increasing.

3. Was a role that sat near the top of any hierarchy so, unlike project engineers who lie near the bottom, you’d not be handed shit-burgers every day.

4. Was generally badly done and if anyone halfway competent showed up, they’d immediately stand out.

So what role encompasses all of that? Why, Human Resource Management, of course!

Has the laughter died down? Have you all quite finished? Right, allow me to continue. HR is something that does need to be done properly, but almost all of the time isn’t. The principle reasons for this is as follows. What used to fall under the responsibility of middle management has been handed off to an HR department. This suits the middle management because the last thing a modern manager wants is responsibility, and it gives them a handy excuse at to why “nothing can be done” because “it’s an HR decision”. In theory, a centralised HR department is supposed to handle those responsibilities more efficiently than middle managers, but in practice they often don’t get handled at all. HR departments have grown increasingly remote from the middle management and most would have little to no idea what an actual worker did or why. Often HR doesn’t even sit in the same continent, let alone country, as those who generate the value in a company, yet they are tasked with producing policies and procedures which govern the minutiae of their working lives.

Everywhere I’ve worked without exception there has been an unbridgeable gulf between the HR department and those who carry out the company operations. On the rare occasions they meet, they’re talking completely different languages. In many instances, the HR department works chiefly as the propaganda organ of the senior management. Whatever they think they’re doing, it isn’t human resource management. The reason for this is the sort of people who are good at projects and operations have no interest in HR, and almost nobody working in HR went there intentionally: they ended up there because they were too useless to do anything else, or they saw it as a way to occupy a comfy chair in an air-conditioned office having got a 2:2 in Modern Literature and Psychology from the University of Glamorgan. Perhaps two or three times in my career I’ve encountered a genuine HR professional who studied for it specifically, and it’s like coming across Christiano Ronaldo playing football for the local pub. There is a drastic shortage of these people, and they’re worth their weight in gold.

Now the advantage I have is I am genuinely interested in HR management, these  days far more so than the technical stuff. I am sure part of this is having seen so much of it done badly while realising it should really not be that difficult. I’ve seen travel policies where one section contradicts the other, career managers who didn’t know the person whose career they were supposedly managing, untrained managers stepping on legal landmines wherever they trod, and CVs of competent people filtered out by HR while completely unsuitable candidates get the nod. Across the four branches of HR – policy, legal, training, and recruitment – I’ve seen little but blithering incompetence. All are subjects I’ve somehow become interested in, particularly those elements which are to do with personalities and human behaviours. I also take a keen interest in administration being done well, and if I have any skill it’s probably that; get your admin right and everything else becomes much easier. It also helps that I can write clearly and accurately, especially when it comes to reports, procedures, and emails.

Now I know I’d not last five minutes in an HR department of a major corporation, but I reckon I could bring considerable value to a small company. Consider a startup of 4-5 people, managed by the founders, who now need to expand to 20 people and assign someone to Bulgaria for 6 months where the factory for their prototype is being made. They’re going to need HR policies, but who writes them? Who’s going to set the housing policy in Bulgaria, and manage any visitors? They also need a finance manager; how do they recruit him? These are things the founders will have little interest in, and will either wing it or get some outside help. There are plenty of HR consultancies to whom you can outsource things like travel and accommodation policies, and the resulting documents are useful if the people to whom they supposedly apply want a good laugh. This is because HR consultancies are staffed with the sort of people who end up in HR, not people who know what an engineer or technician’s job involves. The company could also hire someone, perhaps a nice young lady with a few years experience working in the HR department of another company somewhere and she could ensure all employees are fully briefed on the diversity policy and the importance of ensuring all eleven managers sign off their expenses before they can be processed.

So here’s where I come in. I’m that rare beast who has an engineering degree, a lot of operations and project experience, and an interest in getting HR done properly and willing to do it myself. The trouble is, no company would hire me in an HR role: I have no experience outside winging it in various positions, and me waving my hands around saying “It’s common sense, innit?” isn’t going to convince anyone. What I need if I want to land an HR job in a small tech company is a course which will provide me with the complete and structured knowledge to do the job.

To that end I started looking for Masters or MBA courses in Human Resource Management. I dismissed the US business schools out of hand on the grounds I didn’t want to pay a king’s ransom to listen to Marxist harridans tell me I’m a rapist. I considered the UK but thought London would be expensive to live in and perhaps also filled with demented leftists, and it took under two minutes to write off Manchester Business School. So I looked at Geneva, for two reasons. The first is the Swiss tend to be quite sensible folk, serious about business, and their schools good (although very expensive). The second is I have an apartment in Annecy just 45 minutes away by car, meaning I don’t need to fork out for accommodation.

So I applied to an MBA in Human Resources Management at the EU Business School in Geneva and got accepted (the essay I submitted with my application was this one). The course begins in October and lasts a year, with lectures taking place between 6pm and 9pm each weekday evening. This is obviously to allow people to work while studying, but helps me in two ways. Firstly the commute will be much easier, going against the traffic, and secondly it leaves the day free for blogging and writing books.

At the end of the course I’ll probably look for a position in a company in Geneva; I am hoping my industry experience will make up for my lack of direct experience in an HR role. A small company might not need anyone full-time, but that’s okay; I can either work part time or in a dual role, running projects or operations as well. Having proper HR capability should also open the door to general management roles too; previous companies I’ve worked for would have paid handsomely for a general manager who could manage the HR himself. Long-term, I might even go into freelance HR consultancy, but that’s a way off yet.

So that’s the plan, folks. I’ll be in Paris until end August when my gardening leave finishes, in September I’ll move to Annecy, and in October it’s back to school.

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Time for a Change

As of today I am effectively no longer working in the oil industry, although in the strictest sense I still am as I’m on gardening leave. That said, in an even stricter sense, I’ve not been working in the oil industry for quite some time. After something like fifteen years it’s time to call it quits, and for two reasons.

The first is that there is simply no work around. Back when I started out in 2003 there was a mountain of work and it picked up exponentially as the oil price rose. My biggest problem back then was a lack of experience, but once I’d got a few years under my belt I landed some half-decent positions with exposure to serious, major projects. But when the oil price crashed in 2015 the entire industry came to a screeching halt with projects being cancelled en masse and thousands of people fired. Since then, from what I can tell, the industry has adopted a holding pattern until the oil price picks up and things return to how they were in the boom years. This is a bit like the dinosaurs waiting for the meteor dust to settle down so the climate goes back to how it was.

From where I’m standing the oil price didn’t so much crash into a trough than return to normal from a ludicrous high; the lowest it got was around $36 per barrel, higher than it was when I joined the industry, and soon stabilised around $50. The problem was the oil industry had forgotten how to function at such prices, and if they’ve since remembered they’re keeping it secret. The other issue is that even when prices eventually rise the oil industry will look very different than in previous eras. National governments will enjoy the majority stake in any sizeable future development, with private oil companies being lucky to retain operatorship and not reduced to a partner in an operating consortium or simply paid a service fee much like any other contractor. in addition, the competency gaps between locals, low-cost engineering centres abroad, and western expats are closing rapidly, and even if they’re not the industry is happy to accept lower standards. Looking down the road, I simply don’t see much opportunity for well-paid western-expat positions on oil and gas projects. There will be some for sure, but nothing like how it was, and with nothing like the pay either.

The second reason is even if major projects were being sanctioned and positions created, I have reached the conclusion there’s no place for someone like me in the modern oil industry. This isn’t just my opinion: I’ve had various managers tell me they’d made a mistake in employing me, and they’d probably be surprised to hear I couldn’t agree more. I’ve worked for several companies right through the oil and gas industry’s contracting chain and on many occasions I’ve wondered why they hired me. If I’d lied on my CV and claimed a competence I didn’t have, the fault would be mine. But it was more a case of the interview process selecting someone who is task-orientated, responsible, reliable, and can work independently then putting him in a role consisting of menial admin work micromanaged to a degree you’d not think possible. Like many industries with too much money, the oil business recruits for brains and character then put them in positions where the former is not required and the latter a severe handicap. I have no objection to the oil industry creating process-driven roles that serve little purpose other than to keep people employed, but they ought not to fill them with people who are manifestly unsuitable. I’ve been around long enough, and seen enough outfits big, small, and in between to know the part of the oil industry which employs western expats places a high value on keeping your mouth shut and showing blind obedience to the immediate hierarchy and not much on anything else. Why the hell anyone would think I’d fit in there I don’t know, myself included, and after 15 years of trying it’s time to chuck in the towel and do something else.

What that will be is a subject for another post; you’ll find out soon enough.

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Wrong Target

Today I received a press release from an engineering company boasting of a contract award. I decided to reply:

Congratulations!

Although it’s a little ironic that I’m receiving unsolicited press releases from a company which blocks employees from viewing my website.

They’ve not responded.

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Company Values

A year or so back my dad hired a builder to have a look at the roof of his house, and one of the first things the chap said was:

“I’m as honest as the day is long.”

Now if somebody feels the need to provide his own character reference immediately on meeting you, there’s a good chance he’s as dodgy as they come. I was recently reminded of this when somebody mentioned company values, which I’ve written about before. Every company has a set of values these days, presumably in the same way every tradesman who turns up at your house, takes a look, and sucks air in through his teeth is honest.

What amuses me, though, is company management see fit to assign these values to themselves. I don’t know whether they all sit around a table and come up with them, or they subcontract the job to a marketing firm, but every outfit ends up with pretty much the same set. A company’s values are therefore more about how the management want others to see them rather than a reflection of what the organisation is actually like.

If they’re going to make values a central part of a company’s image, management should really ask their customers, partners, and employers their opinion of what they might be. Instead they persist in assigning flattering values to themselves. There’s a good reason for this, and my dad’s roofer would probably recognise it.

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Why did you fire Charles?

“Sir, why did you fire Charles?”

The question was flat, neither aggressive nor amiable. The only other expatriate in the team had left the room, leaving just the Nigerians, eight in total, all men between 25 and 50 years of age. They looked at me sat at the head of the table in expectation. Legally they had no right to ask the question, but under Nigerian social norms they felt obliged to. Moreover, I was obliged to answer. The room fell silent and they waited.

Charles was an engineer I’d inherited from my predecessor, and I quickly found he wasn’t up to the job. I’d begun spotting mistakes in his work, serious technical errors that should never have been made. I asked him to explain them, giving him an opportunity to tell me of any mitigating circumstances of which I might be unaware. You’d be surprised what external factors can impact an engineer’s work in a country like Nigeria; family obligations are deep and far-reaching, and more than capable of intruding into a workplace. But Charles provided none, and after several iterations it was clear he simply didn’t have the knowledge and skills to do the work to the required standard.

I sat for a few seconds, gathering my thoughts. I’d been ambushed by my own team at the end of a weekly meeting, and I wasn’t prepared. Although they didn’t enjoy the protections of Nigeria’s infamously powerful labour unions, I couldn’t simply brush off the question or make a glib response if I expected to manage them effectively in future. They’d obviously conferred, elected a spokesman – a large and confident man by the name of Deji – and intervened in the hope of protecting their erstwhile colleague’s job, or at least seeing justice done. I’d need to choose my words carefully.

“The truth is,” I began. “Charles couldn’t do the work. He was making mistakes, lots of them. For example, I sent him to do something offshore and he got the measurements all wrong. This is simple stuff.” Nobody’s expression changed, so I went on. “Look, all of you here are experienced professionals, and you can do the work because you put in the necessary years of training and practice. Charles, for whatever reason, hasn’t done that; he’s never spent the time and effort to learn the basics of his trade. You guys have, but he hasn’t.”

One or two heads nodded slightly, and bodies relaxed a touch. I continued. “What he needs to do is find a job where he can learn the basics, with all the necessary training and support. Unfortunately, this isn’t the place to do that: we need experienced engineers who can deliver immediately, and we hire on that basis. That’s why you guys are here, and not a bunch of students. Charles is in the wrong job.”

I fell silent, letting them process what I’d said. After a few seconds Deji spoke up. “Sir, we understand, but can’t you give him a second chance? He has a family.”

I adopted the most sympathetic tone I could, and replied: “I can’t, for two reasons. Firstly, as a manager I’m paid to look after the company’s interests. I draw a salary in return for making decisions which are often difficult and at odds with what I’d like to do personally. Yes, it would be nicer and easier to let Charles stay, but I’d be failing in my own job if that happened. There’s a human aspect here for sure, but the job of a manager is to weigh those against the interests of the company. You guys understand that, right?”

“Yes sir,” Deji said. “We understand.”

“Okay,” I said. “And the other reason is this. You know how coveted the jobs are in this company, how many thousands of people in this country would kill to have your jobs. Somewhere there’s a guy out there who has put in serious time and effort to acquire the skills necessary to get a job here, but never got the opportunity. He’s standing on the street, unemployed or in a rubbish job, praying he gets a chance to work here. But he can’t, because the position is taken up by someone who isn’t up to it. How is that fair? Yes, Charles has a family but so has this other guy. You guys all earned your positions here; how would you feel if you were shut out because your posts were filled with people who lacked the basic skills for the job?”

“You make a good point,” Deji said. Everyone nodded in agreement.

“Charles will be replaced by someone more suited to the job, and more deserving of it,” I said. “Is that fair?”

“Yes sir, it is. Thanks for your time, and explaining it to us.”

“Okay, good. But guys, I can’t be ambushed like this every time I make a decision. I don’t mind justifying my decisions to you some of the time, but I’m not obliged to, and I can’t do it all the time. If you have a problem with something tell me, but don’t put me on the spot like this.”

“Okay sir,” Deji said. “That’s noted. Thanks again for your time.”

There are times where one needs more than the blunt instrument of authority to manage a team effectively. See also here.

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Conquest’s Second Law, Netflix Edition

Back when he was blogging, the Oilfield Expat wrote a piece on the management of Netflix in the early years (it’s worth reading the whole thing). His post was based on an article describing the techniques employed by the CEO Reed Hastings, according to the lady who was their chief talent officer between 1998 and 2012. Underneath, commenter dearieme added this remark:

I dare say that if netflix survives long enough to become a “mature” corporation it will become just as bad.

Well, Reed Hastings is still the CEO but this didn’t fill me with confidence:

Barack Obama and Michelle Obama are teaming up with Netflix to produce films and TV shows.

Netflix say the former US President and First Lady have “entered into a multi-year agreement” with the service.

It says the “films and series” will “potentially” include “scripted series, unscripted series, docu-series, documentaries and features.”

“Barack and I have always believed in the power of storytelling to inspire us,” said Michelle Obama.

Presumably there is a shortage of seasoned professional TV producers forcing Netflix to recruit former politicians and their wives. Or, it’s simply a way for wealthy liberals to bankroll the Obamas’ lifestyle to which they’re now accustomed:

This is third-world stuff, and I think it’s safe to say sensible management practices have left Netflix, along with the smart money. Give it a year or so and they’ll have gone full SJW.

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Collateral Damage

Back in January I wrote a post on the demise of Carillion, which generated so many good comments underneath it I wrote a follow-up post to discuss the points raised further. Of particular note was the fact that Carillion was notoriously bad at paying its suppliers and subcontractors, who were about to get clobbered. As regular commenter Bardon predicted:

The tragedy here will be all the competent subcontractor/suppliers that have been providing good services that simply will not be paid or at best get pennies in the pound for their debt in two to three years if they can survive that long. Just imagine that you have been strung along by Carillion and are now in 90 day arrears, had put in your December claim, paid all your staff and your suppliers including Christmas holidays and finding this out. And that is how it tends to go down.

This morning I read this:

Self-employed suppliers were among those most harmed by what a new joint report from two Commons Committees calls ‘recklessness, hubris and greed’ at Carillion.

Carillion was well known for its poor payment practices, extending its supplier payment period to 120 days despite signing up to the Government’s Prompt Payment Code. As the report notes, although it relied on its often self-employed suppliers, Carillion ‘treated them with contempt. Late payments, the routine quibbling of invoices, and extended delays across reporting periods were company policy.’

IPSE is calling on the Government to help stop this malpractice by expanding the powers of the Small Business Commissioner to include fining habitual late payers.

Self-employed suppliers will also lose significant income from the collapse of Carillion. The new report reveals that the company ‘owed around £2 billion to its 30,000 suppliers, sub-contractors and other short-term creditors’. They will get little back from the liquidation.

They don’t call him Bardon Soothsayer for nothing, you know? So what to do?

IPSE is calling on the Government to ensure self-employed workers cannot suffer from such a corporate catastrophe again.

Dave Jackson, Chair of IPSE’s Construction Advisory Committee commented: “If one good thing can come out of this review into Carillion, it needs to be better payment terms for those on public contracts.  Waiting up to five months to be paid impacts on everyone in the supply chain and is felt directly in the pockets of the freelance builders. The government needs to take action now and deliver on shorter payment periods on their contracts.”

Simon McVicker, IPSE’s Director of Policy, commented:“Carillion’s treatment of self-employed and other suppliers was nothing less than a disgrace. The company’s poor payment practices have even left many self-employed people out of pocket long after its collapse. At IPSE, we wholeheartedly back the report’s calls for urgent action to stop this ever happening again.

In the comments of my follow-up post, Bardon had this to say:

Australia has very effective laws to stop clients stuffing around with payment. Once an invoice is raised the client has two weeks to advise in writing on any deduction and reason to the claimed amount. The supplier then has two weeks to dispute the deduction by lodging a fast track adjudication. It takes a few days for an adjudicator to be appointed and both parties submit within two weeks. The adjudicator decides on the matter in say two weeks, based on the submissions and costs, the decision are binding on each party. I have used it a number of times and found it very effective, low cost and fast and haven’t lost one yet. The big guys are scared of it as the decisions are on the public record and it has stopped the whole scam of holding out on payment until the other party goes bust. It is a common threat that we use as well as long as you know what you are doing and dont submit spurious claims it is a fair system.

Will the UK adopt something similar? Probably not, in all honesty. The sorts of spivs who run outfits like Carillion have close, personal ties with the political classes, and if anyone is relying on the current Conservative party to pass sensible legislation to help independent suppliers deal with sprawling behemoths who boast of working “in partnership” with government, God help them. With their endless regulations and insanely bureaucratic outsourcing policies, governments are largely responsible for creating companies like Carillion and encouraging their behaviour in the first place; the government is therefore unlikely to step in and provide a solution now.

Instead, small, independent suppliers need to get smarter. It’s usually been the case that big companies dictate payment terms (and everything else) to their suppliers, who just have to accept them. The mentality in big companies has always been that contractors are desperate for the work and if they refuse to buckle under, they’ll just find another and there are always plenty more. However, I think as professionalism, competence, and delivery shifts from large companies to small suppliers, the latter are going to have more leverage than in previous eras.

In this new economy, it’s going to be imperative that small contractors can pick and choose the work they know will pay, and turn down jobs they know won’t. This is easier said than done of course, and all independent contractors dream of getting their first major contract with a big player especially if they have families to feed and bills to pay, but they’re going to have to get smarter if their clients are like Carillion. I once worked for a service-provider who refused to do lump-sum work for Korean companies because they simply wouldn’t pay. If the aim of the business is to make money, it is imperative you walk away from jobs which don’t. Another option is to insist on time-reimbursable work, or up-front payments, but this must be backed by a willingness to walk off the job if the client doesn’t pay the invoices on time. Naturally, the client will squeal and talk of blacklists, but in practice this rarely happens. I once had an absolute cretin of a manager who loudly told everyone he’d make sure I’d never work in the oil industry again. He seriously thought this sprawling global industry filled with charlatans, incompetents, serial liars, chancers, grifters, and arse-lickers was going to listen to what one man had to say about another. Unless you’re in an extremely niche industry with a small global footprint, you’re unlikely to find yourself frozen out for insisting a client sticks to the terms of the contract. And if are, then you ought to be hedging against this happening on every contract.

One obvious approach for small contractors is to keep their overheads very low, enabling them to go through lean periods. Another is for individuals to diversify their income sources, perhaps using the same skills but in different industries, so if there is no work in one area you can still be productive in another. There are obvious practical difficulties with this, but then there are practical difficulties with your client going bankrupt leaving you a hundred grand out of pocket, too.

Whatever the case, as these giant corporations become ever-more dysfunctional and prone to sudden collapse, the small fish feeding off them are going to have to get smarter. They should start by being more careful who they work for, and under what terms.

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Sabotage as Standard Practice

Again via Phil B, who appears to be angling for a coveted Research Assistant position, is this link to a manual written by the US office of strategic services in 1944 advising people how to bring occupied Europe to a grinding halt. Phil B says:

It seems to have been discovered by the HR and Managerial types as a template for good management practices, not as a way of destroying an organisation.

Is he right? Have a look at Section 11 which deals with the “General Interference with Organizations and Production” and judge for yourselves:

(a) Organizations and Conferences (1) Insist on doing everything through “channels.” Never permit short-cuts to be taken in order to expedite decisions.

(2) Make “speeches.” Talk as frequently as possible and at great length. Illustrate your “points” by long anecdotes and accounts of personal experiences. Never hesitate to make a few appropriate “patriotic” comments.

(3) When possible, refer all matters to committees, for “further study and consideration.” Attempt to make the committees as large as possible — never less than five.

(4) Bring up irrelevant issues as frequently as possible.

(5) Haggle over precise wordings of communications, minutes, resolutions.

(6) Refer back to matters decided upon at the last meeting and attempt to re-open the question of the advisability of that decision.

(7) Advocate “caution.” Be “reasonable” and urge your fellow-conferees to be “reasonable” and avoid haste which might result in embarrassments or difficulties later on.

(8) Be worried about the propriety of any decision — raise the question of whether such action as is contemplated lies within the jurisdiction of the group or whether it might conflict with the policy of some higher echelon.

At this point my jaw is on the floor at how well this describes major oil companies. Numbers 3, 5, 6, 7, and 8 are hard-wired into temployees and management within weeks of joining.

(10) To lower morale and with it, production, be pleasant to inefficient workers; give them undeserved promotions. Discriminate against efficient workers; complain unjustly about their work.

Which neatly describes career progression in a modern organisation.

(11) Hold conferences when there is more critical work to be done.

A practice perfected by governments everywhere. Climate change jamborees, anyone?

(12) Multiply paper work in plausible ways.

(13) Multiply the procedures and clearances involved in issuing instructions, pay checks, and so on. See that three people have to approve everything where one would do.

(14) Apply all regulations to the last letter.

Any budding saboteur would have his work cut out finding departments of a modern government where this behaviour was not already obligatory.

(1) Work slowly. Think out ways to increase the number of movements necessary on your job: use a light hammer instead of a heavy one, try to make a small wrench do when a big one is necessary, use little force where considerable force is needed, and so on.

(2) Contrive as many interruptions to your work as you can: when changing the material on which you are working, as you would on a lathe or punch, take needless time to do it. If you are cutting, shaping or doing other measured work, measure dimensions twice as often as you need to. When you go to the lavatory, spend a longer time there than is necessary.

Forget tools so that you will have to go back after them.

Are they describing sabotage techniques, or the local council?

(8) If possible, join or help organize a group for presenting employee problems to the management. See that the procedures adopted are as inconvenient as possible for the management, involving the presence of a large number of employees at each presentation, entailing more than one meeting for each grievance, bringing up problems which are largely imaginary, and so on.

Deployment of these techniques was so successful in occupied France they forgot to abandon them when the war ended.

(b) Report imaginary spies or danger to the Gestapo or police.

Such as Nazi pugs?

(c) Act stupid.

*Splutter*

(d) Be as irritable and quarrelsome as possible without getting yourself into trouble.

To be fair, I do the first half of this. I’m not so good at the second part, though.

(i) Cry and sob hysterically at every occasion, especially when confronted by government clerks.

…and demand safe spaces.

So who’s responsible for handing this to governments and organisations and telling them it represents best practices? If it was the Soviets, I’m going to credit them with winning the Cold War hands down.

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