As some of you may know, my main profession is cartooning. It's a challenge for a cartoonist to write a whole book. Cartoonists are trained to be brief.
Most of the themes in my comic strip Dilbert involve workplace situations. I routinely include bizarre and unworldly elements such as sadistic talking animals, troll-like accountants and employees turning into dishrags after the life-force has been drained from their bodies. And yet the comment I hear most often is "That's just like my company."
No matter how absurd I try to make the comic strip I can't stay ahead of what people are experiencing in their own workplaces. Some examples for the so-called real world include:
- A major technology company simultaneously rolled out two new programs: (1) a random drug testing program, and (2) an "Individual Dignity Enhancement" program.
- A company decided that instead of raises it will give bonuses if 5 of 7 company goals are met. At the end of the year the employees are informed that they have met only 4 of 7 goals, so no bonuses. One of the goals they missed was 'employee morale'.
When I first started hearing these stories I was puzzled, but after careful analysis I have developed a sophisticated theory to explain the existence of this bizarre workplace behaviour: People are idiots. Including me. Everyone is an idiot, not just the people with the low SAT scores. The only difference is that we're idiots about different things at different times. No matter how smart you are, you spend much of your day being an idiot. I proudly include myself in the idiot category. Idiocy in the modern age isn't an all-encompassing 24-hour situation for most people. It's a condition that everybody slips into many times a day. Life is just too complicated to be smart all the time...
I can't replace the battery in my pager... Yet somehow I managed to operate a motor vehicle to the repair shop and back. It is a wondrous human characteristic to be able tp slip into and out of idiocy many times a day without noticing the change or accidentally killing innocent bystanders in the process.
"You seem like a bright fellow. Have you considered joining MENSA?"
"Is that the group with genius IQs?"
"Precisely correct. I'm president of the local chapter.
"If we're so smart, why do we work here?"
"Intelligence has much less practical application that you'd think."
- Dilbert is recruited for MENSA
* The Evolution of Idiots — I blame sex and paper for most of our current problems. Here's my logic: Only one person in a million is smart enough to invent a printing press. So, when society consisted of only a few hundred apelike people living in caves, the odds of one of them being a genius was fairly low. But people kept having sex, wand with the every moron added to the population, the odds of a deviant smarty-pants slipping through the genetic net got higher and higher. When you've got several million people running around having sex all willy-nilly the odds are fairly good that some pregnant ape-mom is going to squat in a field someday and pinch out a printing-press making deviant. Once we had printing presses, we were pretty much doomed. Because then, every time a new smart deviant came up with a good idea, it would get written down and shared. Every good idea could be built upon. Civilization exploded. Technology was born. The complexity of life increased geometrically. Everything got bigger and better. Except our brains. All the technology that surrounds us, all the management theories, the economic models that predict and guide our behavior, the science that helps us live to 80 — it's all created by a tiny percentage of deviant smart people. The rest of us are treading water as fast as we can. The world is too complex for us. Evolution didn't keep up. Thanks to the printing press, the deviant smart people managed to capture their genius and communicate it without having to pass it on genetically. Evolution was short-circuited. We got knowledge and technology before we got intelligence. We're a planet of nearly 6 billion ninnies living in a civilization that was designed by a few thousand amazingly smart deviants.
"My laptop computer is locked up. Can you help?"
"Remember you have to hold it upside down and shake it to reboot."
"Oh, that's right."
"...I wonder if he'll ever realize we gave him an 'Etch-a-Sketch'."
- The Boss, Dilbert and Wally
* The Peter Principle — In the annual Dilbert Survey to find out what management practices were most annoying to employees, the number-one vote-getter in this highly unscientific survey was "Idiots Promoted to Management." This seemed like a subtle change from the old concept by which capable workers were promoted until they reached their level of incompetence — best described as the "Peter Principle". Now, apparently, the incompetent workers are promoted directly to management without ever passing through the temporary competence stage. When I entered the workforce in 1979, the Peter Principle described management pretty well. Now I think we'd all like to return to those Golden Years when you had a boss who was once good at something... Back then, we all had hopes of being promoted beyond our levels of competence... We didn't understand it then, but the much underrated Peter Principle always provided us with a boss who understood what we did for a living. Granted, he made consistently bad decisions — after all, he had no management skills. But at least they were the informed decisions of a seasoned veteran from the trenches... Lately, however, the Peter Principle has given way to the Dilbert Principle. The basic concept of the Dilbert Principle is that the most ineffective workers are systematically moved to places where they can do the least damage: management. This has not proved the winning strategy that you might think.
"I need to promote one of you to the district manager position. Dilbert, your technical knowledge is too valuable to lose. Ditto for Alice. Neither of you can be promoted. The only logical choice is to promote Al because he has no valuable knowledge."
- The Boss
[Boss Types with Dogbert]
Hostage Taker: Traps you in your cubicle and talks your ears off.
Fraud: Uses vigorous head-nodding to simulate comprehension.
Motivational Liar: Has no clue what to do but says you're the best.
Over Promoted: Tries to mask incompetence with poor communication.
Weasel: Takes credit for your hard work.
Moses: Perpetually waits for clear signals from above.
Perfect Boss: Dies of natural causes on a Thursday afternoon.
"Evolution favors monkeys. Eventually, humans will be kept in cages as pets.
"Impossible! We humans will never allows ourselves to be treated like that. Now get out of my cubicle!"
- Zimba and Dilbert
* Humiliation — Employee morale is a risky thing. Happy employees will work harder without asking for extra pay. But if they get too happy, endorphins will kick in, egos expand, and everybody starts whining about the fact with their current pay they'll have to live in a dumpster after retirement. The best balance of morale for employee productivity can be described this way: happy, but with low self-esteem. Over the years, employers have developed a broad range of techniques that bring employees' self-esteem back into the 'productive zone' without sacrificing happiness. This chapter discusses the most important humiliation techniques: Cubicles; Hoteling; Furniture; Dress Clothes; Employee Recognition Programs; Undervaluing Employee Contributions; Making them wait.
"I think I'll invent some illogical policies to annoy employees. My diabolical new dress code will make them question their own sanity."
- Catbert the HR Director
"So casual clothes don't lower our stock value. But only if worn on Fridays. Unless somebody else sees us... got it?"
"I think I'm insane."
- Dilbert and Wally
"I don't understand your new dress code policy, Mr Catbert."
"It's simple. Fridays are 'Casual'. But you can't wear jeans because jeans look good and feel good and you already own several pairs."
- Alice and Catbert
"Well, it wouldn't be Friday if I didn't see Alice wearing her one pair of tan pants... I love the 'Business Casual' look for the way it combines unattractive with unprofessional while diminishing neither."
- Wally, coming around
"We will produce the highest quality products, using empowered team dynamics in a new Total Quality paradigm until we become the industry leader."
- A sample Mission Statement
* Mission Statement — If your employees are producing low quality products that no sane person would buy, you can often fix that problem by holding meetings to discuss your Mission Statement. A Mission Statement is defined as "a long awkward sentence that demonstrates management's inability to think clearly". Companies that don't have Mission Statements will often be under the mistaken impression that the objective of the company is to bicker among departments, produce low-quality products and slowly go out of business.
* Announcements — The purpose of a company announcement is to convey the message that something is happening — something that you aren't important enough to be informed about in any meaningful detail. But if you're clever, you can sometimes read between the lines and understand the true meaning, as in this example:"
"Tim will be leaving the company to pursue other opportunities. Note the absence of key phrases such as 'we regret' or 'years of dedicated service'. And notice that his new opportunity is not called 'exciting'."
"I think you're reading a little too much into that announcement."
"No, I'm reading the footnote."
- The Boss and Dilbert
"I made a few thousand suggestions on your first draft."
"Of all the pleasures in life, I think nit-picking is the best."
"That could explain the break-up of your marriage."
"You wouldn't believe what *she* thought was fun."
- Wally and Dilbert
* Great Lies of Management — For your convenience I have compiled and numbered the most popular management lies of all time:
(1) Employees are out most valuable asset; (2) I have an open-door policy; (3) You could earn more money under the new plan; (3) We're reorganizing to better serve our customers; (5) The future is bright; (6) We reward risk-takers; (7) Performance will be rewarded; (
We don't shoot the messenger; (9) Training is a high priority; (10) I haven't heard any rumors; (11) We'll review your performance in 6 months; (12) Our people are the best; (13) Your input is important to us.
It's not always easy to tell the difference between a scurrilous management lie and ordinary nitwittism. When confronted with an ambiguous situation you can usually sniff out the truth by a handy method that I call the "What Is More Likely" test.
Is it likely that the perpetual flow of rumors has suddenly stopped just at the time when the odds are highest that something might actually happen? Or is it more likely that your manager knows the news is so bad that the slightest whiff of the truth will make the employees less productive than a truckload of Chihuahua? *I've done extensive studies of Chihuahua work habits and discovered that a truckload of Chihuahuas is the least productive organizational size.
"I've got good news and bad news. The bad news is that huge companies like us can't compete against small, nimble companies. The good news is that at this rate we'll be the smallest company around."
- The Boss
People will judge you by the company you keep, especially during lunch. Never eat lunch with a person of lower salary — exceptions: your boss's secretary (indirect sucking up).
"Hey it's lunchtime. Would you like to join me in the canteen?"
"Oh... no. I couldn't do that. I'm on the management track. So I can't be seen eating lunch with you. If I'm seen with an ordinary employee then people will think I'm ordinary. I'd like to eat with senior executives, but of course they don't want to be seen with me. So I've perfected a method of slipping quietly away at lunchtime."
"...The scary part is that someday that man will be my boss."
- Dilbert and a junior exec
Your simpleminded relatives were technically correct when they told you "Two wrongs don't make a right". What they failed to mention is that tw wrongs can sometimes cancel each other out, and although it's not as good as a "right" it's much better than one wrong. If you're clever, you can neutralize any blunder through a series of offsetting destructive acts.
* Form Over Substance — If a document is over 2 pages long, few people will ever read it. And those who do read it won't remember it in 24 hours. That's why all your documents should be over 2 pages long. You don't want your readers to be influenced by a bunch of facts. You want them to look at your creative use of fonts and your inspired graphics. Good formatting leaves the reader with the clear impression that you are a genius and therefore whatever you're writing abut must be a good idea.
* Appeal To Greed — You can short-circuit the two or three neurons that people use for common sense by appealing their greed. Nothing defines humans better than their willingness to do irrational things in the pursuit of phenomenally unlikely payoffs. This is the principle behind lotteries, dating and religion.
* Intimidation By Loudness — Speak loudly and act irrationally. Coworkers and even bosses will bend to your will if you use this method consistently. Consistency is the key. Send a clear signal that you cannot be swayed by reason and that you'll never stop being loud and obnoxious until you get your way. This method is effective because the law prevents people from killing you and there's no other practical way to make you stop... After you get your way, turn instantly into the sweetest person your victim has ever seen... This widens the gap between the experience people have when they satisfy you and the experience they have when they don't.
* Manipulate The Media — Reporters are faced with the daily choice of painstakingly researching stories or writing whatever people tell them. Both approaches pay the same. Contrary to what you might believe, the quotes you see in news stories are rarely what was actually said and rarely in the original context. Most quotes are engineered by the writers to support whatever notion they had before the story. Avoid any mention of a name or topic that you wouldn't want to see yourself misquoted about... All news stories focus on something that is very good or very bad. help the writer determine what is very good about your situation; otherwise the default story is generally about something that is very bad.
* The Best Jobs — The best jobs are those that have results that cannot be measured. Stay away from jobs in which your value can be measured in quantity and timelines. You can exaggerate your impact on quality much more easily than you can exaggerate your impact on quantity.
Bad Jobs — Sales; Programming; Operations; Customer Service; Shipping.
Good Jobs — Strategy; Anything with 'Media' in the name; Marketing (for mature products); Long-term reengineering projects; Advertising; Procurement.
* Virtual Hourly Compensation — You're working more hours than ever. And if you're one of the so-called exempt employees you aren't getting paid for overtime. If might seem that your average hourly pay is shrinking like a cheap cotton shirt. Not true! Nature had a way of balancing these things out. You have to consider the total compensation picture, which I call 'Virtual Hourly Compensation' — the total amount of compensation you receive per hour, including:
Salary; Bonuses; Health Plan; Inflated Travel Reimbursement Claims; Stolen Office Supplies; Coffee; Donuts; Newspapers and Magazines; Personal Phone Calls; Office Sex; Illegitimate Sick Days; Internet Surfing; Personal Email; Free Photocopies; Resume Laser Printing; Training For Your Next Job; Cubicle Used as Retail Outlet; Telecommuting.
"I have an ethical question about telecommuting Dogbert. Do I owe my exemployer 8 productive hours, or do I only need to match the 2 productive hours I would have in the office?"
"Well, when you factor in how you're saving the planet by not driving, you only owe one hour."
"And this meeting counts."
- Dilbert and Dogbert
* Performance Reviews — Your boss will ask you to document your accomplishments as input for your Performance Review. To the unprepared employee, this might seem like being forced to dig one's own grave... The key to your manager's strategy is tricking you into confessing your shortcomings. Your boss will latch on to those shortcomings like a pit bull on a trespasser's buttocks. Once documented, your 'flaws' will be passed on to each new boss you ever have, serving as justification for low rates for the rest of your life... But performance reviews can be like a big bag of uncounted rubies. It doesn't matter how many rubies were originally in the bag; what matters is the number you report to your boss. Follow that simply philosophy when describing your accomplishments.
* Surround Yourself With Losers — Make sure you work in a group of losers. Losers are the ones who will get low raises, thus leaving ample budget funds for you... Losers are your friends (figuratively speaking). If you don't have any losers in your group, help your boss recruit some, preferably in areas that don't affect your life. You want losers to be within the same general budget area, but not close enough to annoy you on a daily basis.
"Since you won't go away, I'll make you an intern."
"Great! What's an intern?"
"You'll spend your day in a high-traffic cube trying to look busy. Your main function is to make the rest of us glad we're not you."
"...How did people ever look busy before computers?"
- Dilbert and Ratbert
* Complain Constantly About Your Workload — Take every opportunity to complain about the unreasonable demands that are being placed on you. Reinforce your message during every interaction with a co-worker or manager. Here are some time-tested phrases that you should insert into every conversation:
"I'm up to my ass in alligators"
"I've been putting our fires all day."
"I had 1500 voice mail messages today. Typical."
"It looks like I'll be here on the weekend. Again."
Over time, these messages will work themselves into the subconscious of everybody around you and they will come to think of you as a hard worker without every seeing a scrap of physical evidence to support the theory. In other words, don't be this guy:
"I need to identify unnecessary and unproductive employees so I can cut costs. Does anybody have spare time to join my task force on productivity?"
<Red-shirt puts up his hand>
"Good, good... anybody else?"
- The Boss
* Voicemail — Never answer your phone if you have voicemail. People don't call you because they want to give you something for nothing. They call you because they want you to do work for them. That's no way to lie. Screen all your calls through voicemail. If somebody leaves a voicemail for you and it sounds like impending work, respond during your lunch hour when you know the caller won't be there. That sends a signal that you're hardworking and conscientious even though you're being a devious weasel.
* Swearing — For men, swearing can help them bond with other men. But this contributes in only a tiny way to business success. Men are expected to swear, so it means little when they do. It had no shock value. For example, if a man comes to the office of another men and offers to show him a report, a typical response might be 'Ah, shove it up your ass and die'. Then both men laugh and spit and make passing references to 'hooters' thus creating a lifelong bond that cannot be broken (unless hooters are involved). It's not pretty, but swearing has its place among men. For women it's very different. Swearing can be shocking and attention-grabbing. It's a sign of female power and disregard for boundaries... Fortunately for women, all men are trained at birth to accept verbal abuse from women and get over it rather quickly.
* Use Sarcasm To Get Your Way — By definition, people with bad ideas cannot be swayed by logic. If they were logical, they wouldn't have bad ideas in the first place — unless the ideas were based on bad data. That leaves you with two possible strategies for thwarting an illogical and getting your way:
(1) Argue with data. Do exhaustive research to demonstrate the flaws in the person's assumptions.
(2) Use sarcasm to mock the idea and make the person look like a dolt.
If the 'exhaustive research' option looks good to you, you have way too much time on your hands. Plus, it can only work if you're dealing with a coworker who is logical and willing to admit error. And while you're at it, why not find a coworker who is an omnipotent supermodel — note the use of sarcasm to show the folly of this approach. Option two, sarcasm, is more flexible. It works whether the person you wish to manipulate had bad data ot a bad brain. Appeal to the person's sense of fear and insecurity. Use sarcasm to point out the potential for future ridicule.
* Dinosaur Strategy — The Dinosaur Strategy involves ignoring all new management directives while lumbering along doing things the same way you've always done them. What makes this strategy successful is that it usually takes 6 months for your boss to notice your rebellion and get mad about it. Coincidentally, that's about the length of time any boss stays in the same job... You can safely ignore any order from your boss that would take 6 months to complete... If you wait long enough, any bad idea will become extinct. And most good ideas too.
* Market Segmentation — Market segmentation might sound like a complicated thing, but it's the same process you used as a child to select players for a team. Each potential player is evaluated on objective characteristics, such as speed, skill and power. If those characteristics don't produce a conclusive choice, then the group is further segmented by their levels of acne and popularity. The children who rate high in the preferred characteristics are placed in the 'team segment' and those who rate lowest become the market segment most likely to grow up and purchase inflatable women. It's that simple.
* Advertising — Good advertising can make people buy your product even if it sucks. That's important, because it takes the pressure off you to make good products. A dollar spent on brainwashing is more cost-effective than a dollar spent on product improvement. Obviously, there's a minimum quality that every product has to achieve. It should be able to withstand the shipping process without becoming unrecognizable... Males are predictable creatures. That makes it easy to craft a marketing message that appeals to them. All successful advertising campaigns that target men include one of these two messages:
(1) This product will help you get dates with bikini models.
(2) This product will save you time and money, which you'll need if you want to date bikini models.
Compared to simpleminded, brutish men, women are more more intricate and complex... Specifically, your message has to say this:
(1) If you buy this product you'll be a bikini model.
"People enter the marketing profession after they realize that they have grown up without any particular skills."
- Dogbert's guide to understanding marketing people
* Marketing in History — Airline Survey (1920). If you had to travel a long distance, would you rather:
(a) Drive a car; (b) Take a train; (c) Allow yourself to be strapped into a huge metal container that weighs more than your house and be propelled through space by exploding chemicals while knowing that any one of a thousand different human, mechanical or weather problems would you to be incinerated in a spectacular ball of flame?
If you answered (c) would you mind if we stomped on your luggage and sent it to another city?
* Management Consultants — If the employees of your company are incompetent, you might want to get some consultants. A consultant is a person who takes your money and annoys your employees while tirelessly searching for ways to extend the consulting contract. Consultants will hold a seemingly endless series of meetings to test various hypotheses and assumptions. These exercises are a vital step toward tricking managers into revealing the recommendation that is most likely to generate repeat consulting business... Consultants will ultimately recommend that you do whatever you're not doing now. Centralize whatever is decentralized. Flatten whatever is vertical. Diversify whatever is concentrated and divest everything that is not 'core' to the business. You'll hardly ever find a consultant who recommends that you keep everything the same and stop wasting money on consultants... Instead they'll look for ways to improve to 'strategy' and the 'process'... Consultants have credibility because they are not dumb enough to be regular employees at your company. Consultants will return your calls, because it's billable time to them. Consultants eventually leave, which makes them excellent scapegoats for major management blunders.
"Here's the final script of the rest of your life. My supercomputer predicted it."
"Well, according to this I'll be kidnapped by evil squirrels and forced to work in their nut mines."
"They get me too."
"I didn't even know that evil squirrels had nut mines."
"It's probably too late to do anything about it."
- Dilbert and Dogbert
* Engineers — In contrast to 'normal' people, engineers have rational objectives for social interactions: (1) Get it over with as soon as possible; (2) Avoid getting invited to something unpleasant; (3) Demonstrate mental superiority and mastery of all subjects. These are sensible goals and ones that can produce great joy. The social skill of an engineer must be evaluated on the basis of these rational objectives, not on the basis of bizarre and nonsensical societal standards. Viewed in this light, I think you'll agree that engineers are very effective in their social interactions...
Clothes are the lowest priority for an engineer, assuming the basic threshold for temperature and decency have been satisfied. If no appendages are freezing or sticking together, and if no genitalia or mammary glands are swinging around in plain view, then the objective of clothing has been met. Anything else is a waste. If you think about it logically, you are the only person who doesn't have to look at yourself, not counting the brief moments you look in the mirror. Engineers understand that their appearance only bothers other people and therefore it is not worth optimizing. Another plus: bad fashion can discourage normal people from interacting with the engineer and talking about the cute things their children do...
Fortunately, engineers have an ace in the hole. They are widely recognized as superior marriage material: intelligent, dependable, employed, honest and handy around the house. While it's true that many normal people would prefer not to *date* an engineer, most normal people harbor an intense desire to mate with them, thus producing engineerlike children who will have high-paying jobs long before losing their virginity...
For humans, honesty is a matter of degree. Engineers are always honest in matters of technology and human relationships. That's why it's a good idea to keep engineers away from customers, romantic interests, and other people who can't handle the truth...
Engineers like to solve problems. If there are no problems handily available, they will create their own problems... Engineers will go without food and hygiene for days to solve a problem — other times just because they forgot. These types of challenges quickly become personal — a battle between the engineer and the laws of nature... If not for the compulsions of engineers, mankind would never have seen the wheel.
* Risk — Engineers hate risk. They try to eliminate it whenever they can. This is understandable, given that when an engineer makes one little mistake the media will treat it like it's a big deal or something. Examples of Bad Press for Engineers: Hindenburg; Space Shuttle Challenger; Hubble space telescope; Apollo 13; Titanic; Corvair.
The risk\reward calculation for engineers looks something like this:
Risk:- Public humiliation and the death of thousands of innocent people.
Reward:- A certificate of appreciation in a handsome plastic frame.
Being practical people, engineers evaluate this balance of risks and rewards and decide that risk is not a good thing. The best way to avoid risk is by advising that any activity is technically impossible for reasons that are far too complicated to explain. If that approach is not sufficient to halt a project, then the engineer will fall back on a second line of defense: "It's technically possible but it will cost too much." The quickest way to make a project uneconomical is by doubling the resources needed and using a cover story that you need to prevent failures.
* Ego — Nothing is more threatening to the engineer than the suggestion that somebody has more technical skill. Normal people sometimes use that knowledge as a lever to extract more work from the engineer. When an engineer says that something can't be done (a code phrase that means it's not fun to do), some clever normal people have learned to glance at the engineer with a look of compassion and pity and say something along these lines: "I'll ask Bob to figure it out. He knows how to solve difficult technical problems."
At that point, it's a good idea for the normal person not to stand between the engineer and the problem. The engineer will set upon the problem like a starved Chihuahua on a pork chop.
* Fear of Change — People hate change, and with good reason. Change makes us stupider, relatively speaking. Change adds new information to the universe; information that we don't know. Our knowledge — as a percentage of all the things that can be known — goes down a tick every time something changed. And frankly, if we're talking about a percentage of the total knowledge in the universe, most of us aren't that many basis points superior to our furniture to begin with.
* Content Free Communications — Faced with change, employees have one question: "What's going to happen to me?" A successful change management communication will avoid that question. Rarely does a business change result in everybody being happy and nobody getting the shaft. That can be a problem because change requires the participation of all parties, including the eventual shaftees. For management, the trick is to string everybody along until the change is complete and the losers can be weeded out.
* Budgeting — If you change the budget often enough, the employees will begin acting like gophers on a rifle range, afraid to do anything that draws attention. And where there is fear there is low spending. And where there is low spending there are huge stock options for senior management, followed by an eventual death spiral of the corporation. I had a point when I started all that, but I suspect it was not a compelling one... When you are forced to defend your budget there are two techniques to keep in mind: (1) lying and (2) lying.
"First you must understand how numbers changed reality. Some people think numbers merely reflect reality... but we believe that numbers create reality."
- The Accountant Troll teaches Dilbert how to be an accountant
* Anonymous Email to Scott Adams — Our company solicited ideas for cost cutting. Someone decided that we could save "X" amount of dollars by eliminating feminine hygiene products in the women's bathrooms. Our new gung-ho personnel director director decided that this was really neat, and announced the new proclamation to the whole company via email. Needless to say, the women in the company flamed the guy to a well-done crisp. The amount of estimated savings was close to the total amount we pay the janitorial service, which provides these products for no extra cost. The email got hotter: "The idea is sexist," "We should get rid of the coffee machines," "Eliminate executive bonuses..."
What finally shut everyone up and got the procedure reversed was an email from a manager who told about a female sales exec she knows. When she is involved in a deal with a prospective client, she always checks the feminine hygiene supplies in that company's bathrooms. if the supplies are missing, she knows the company is going down the tube.
"Your competitor was here an hour ago... He promised me a massage from Helga if I buy his company. What's your offer?"
"I'll give you my house for Helga."
"You're new at this."
- Dilbert The Salesman
"And our product has a 30 Terabit RAM cache, just like your company needs. Tell him, Dilbert."
"It has no RAM."
"And it's capable of detecting Tachion field emissions."
"You're confusing us with Star Trek again."
- A salesman and Dilbert
* Meetings — If you're new to the business world, you might mistakenly think that meetings are a boring, sadistic hell, populated by galactic-level morons. I had that same misperception when I joined the working world. Now I understand that meetings are a type of performance art, with each actor taking on one of these challenging roles: Master of the Obvious; Well-Intentioned Sadist; Whining Martyr Rumbling Men; Sleeper.
* Team Leader — The job of Team Leader is often viewed as a stepping stone to a management position. That's because anyone who is gullible enough to take on extra work without extra pay is assumed to have the 'right stuff' for management... The Team Leader is typically a person who has no special talent — must know how to make viewgraphs and must be a carbon-based lifeform. This characteristic serves the Team Leader well during long meetings. While all the skilled people are squirming around wishing they were out applying their skills, the Team Leader can sit serenely content in the knowledge that no personal talent is going to waste. The word 'leader' might be debatable in this context, since the job of a Team Leader involves asking people what they should be doing, then asking them how they're doing, then blaming them for not doing it.
"The project requirements are forming in my mind... Now they're changing... changing... changing... changing... okay. No, wait... changing... changing... done. Naturally, I won't be sharing any of these thoughts with Engineering."
"I budgeted for some goons to beat it out of you."
- Business User and Dilbert
* Downsizing — During the banking phase of my career I had the opportunity to work in a variety of jobs for which I was thoroughly unqualified. Fortunately, none of these jobs added value to the economy so my incompetence didn't do much damage to the local economy... It was during 1980 that I realized the world would run smoothly if companies employed far fewer people like me. In the years that followed, managers all over the world reached the same realization. It was the dawn of downsizing. The first round of downsizing erased people like me — people in jobs that sound good in concept but provide no legitimate value to anybody. The company improved its earnings and nobody worked harder because of it. The second round of downsizing was tougher. The employees who remained had to work harder to pick up the duties of departing workers. But in many cases these were 'overtime exempt' employees, meaning they would work extra hours without squawking too much about extra pay. Result: The companies improved their earnings. They knew they had a winning strategy here. For the third round of downsizing, essential jobs were eliminated in huge numbers, but mostly in areas where the impact wouldn't be noticed for at least a year. That includes areas like research, new systems development, business expansion, and training. Result: The companies improved their earnings. There didn't seem to be any bottom to the downsizing well.
"I hired a new director of Human Resources to handle the downsizing. I needed somebody who acts like a friend but secretly delights in the misery of all people."
- Dilbert, recommending Catbert to The Boss
"We need to talk, Paul. But first I'm going to bat your head and scratch you."
"Hee hee! That's so cute."
- Catbert prepares to downsize
* Brightsizing — Pessimists point out that the first people to flee a shrinking company are the bright people who can take the 'buy-out' packages and immediately get better jobs elsewhere.
"This will be a tough year for the company. It will take a special kind of team to get by. Specifically, it will take a much smaller team."
- The Boss
* Anonymous Email to Scott Adams — You know all about companies trying to get 'lean and mean'? A friend says her company has now transcended lean and mean. Now it's 'skinny and pissed'.
[How To Tell If Your Company Is Doomed]
* Cubicles — Assuming your computer hasn't made you sterile, someday your descendants will look back and be amazed that people of our generation worked in things called 'cubicles'. They will view our lives much the way we now view the workers from the Industrial Revolution who (I've heard) worked 23 hours a day making steel products using nothing but their foreheads... They might think it was the product of some cruel experiment... how we were forced to sit in big boxes all day, enduring a stream of annoying noises, odors and interruptions.
Scientist: "Whenever you start to concentrate, this device on the desk will make a loud ringing sound to stop you."
Employee. "Um. Okay."
Scientist: "If your stress levels begin to normalize we'll have your boss pop in and give you an assignment that sat on his desk until it was overdue."
...If your company already has cubicles that doesn't necessarily mean it's doomed. But if the direction of the company is toward smaller cubicles or more people in each cubicle, you're doomed.
* Teamwork — If you hear a lot of talk about teamwork at your company, you're doomed. The whole concept of 'teamwork' changed when it migrated from the world of sports to the world of business. In basketball, a good team player is somebody who passes the ball. If you put a businessperson on a basketball team he'd follow the player with the ball, saying things like "What do you plan to do with that? Can we talk about it first?" Teamwork is the opposite of good time management. You can't do a good job managed your time unless you can blow off your co-workers... An easy way to determine if you have enough teamwork to be doomed is simply to measure how long it takes from the time you decide to go to lunch together until you actually eat:
Five Minutes:- Teamwork is annoying but not yet dangerous.
Fifteen Minutes:- Danger, Red Alert.
Sixty Minutes:- Teamwork has reached critical pass; company doomed.
"We're waiting for Ted, then we can head to the restaurant."
"While we're waiting, I'll return a few calls."
"Let's go! Hey, where's Wally?
"I'll be in the ladies room."
"...The chain reaction has begun. Why can't we do this simple thing?"
- Dilbert struggles to get the Engineering team to lunch
* Presentations To Management — Your company is doomed if your primary product is overhead transparencies. A typical company has just enough resources to do one of the following:
(1) Accomplish something; (2) Prepare elaborate presentations that lie about how much is being accomplished.
The rational employee will divert all available resources away from accomplishing things and toward the more highly compensated process of lying about accomplishments. It's the same amount of work, but only one has a payoff.
"I'd like each of you to tell the team what you learned in my workshop."
"I learned to listen with my heart. I gained respect for others. I understand Sanskrit. I got my HAM radio license. I can divide by zero."
- Alice takes advantage of answering first in Dogbert's dysfunctional team workshop
* Leader Survival Skills — The most important skill for any leader is the ability to take credit for things that happen on their own. In primitive times, tribal chieftains would claim credit for the change in seasons and the fact that wood floats. They had the great advantage of the ignorance of the masses working in their favor. But television had largely filled the 'knowledge gap', so the modern leader must take credit for more subtle happenings. For example, if the company accountants predict that profits are going up because of a change in international currency rates, the good leader will create a company-wide 'Quality Initiative', thus having a program in place to take credit for the profit increase.
* Anonymous Email to Scott Adams — A manager suggested a way to keep meetings on time. For every minute late to a meeting the tardy person has to contribute $1 for every person present and kept waiting ($ = persons x minutes). This did not last long as soon as the instigator of this policy arrived 40 minutes late to a meeting with 30 people.
[New Company Model: OA5]
I developed a conceptual model for a perfect company. The primary objective of this company is to make the employees as effective as possible. I figure the best products come from the most effective employees, so employee effectiveness is the most fundamental of the fundamentals. The goal of my hypothetical company is to get the best work out of the employees and make sure they leave work by 5 o'clock. Finishing by 5 is so central to everything that follows that I named the company OA5 (Out of Five) to reinforce the point. If you let this part of the concept slip, the rest of it falls apart... The goal of OA5 is to guarantee that the employee who leaves at 5pm has done a full share of work and everybody realizes it. For that to happen, the OA5 company has to do things differently than an ordunary company. Companies use a lot of energy trying to increase employee satisfaction. That's very nice of them, but let's face it — work sucks. If people liked work they'd do it for free. The reason we have to pay people to work is that work is inherently unpleasant compared to the alternatives. At OA5 we recognize that the best way to make employees satisfied about their work is to help them get away from it as much as possible. An OA5company isn't willing to settle for less productivity from the employees, just less time. The underlying assumptions for OA5 are:
(1) Happy employees are more productive and creative than unhappy ones.
(2) The average person is only mentally productive for a few hours a day no matter how many hours are 'worked'.
(3) People know how to compress their activities to fit a reduced time. Doing so increases both their energy and their interest. The payoff is direct and personal — they go home early.
(4) A company can't do much to stimulate happiness and creativity, but it can do a lot to kill them. The trick for the company is to stay out of the way.
Here are the most useful activities I can tink of for a manager:
* Eliminate the assholes. Nothing can drain the life-force out of your employees as a few sadistic assholes who seem to exist for the sole purpose of making life hard for others. Unfortunately, assholes often have important job skills that you'd like to keep. My advice is that it's never worth the tradeoff. In an OA5 company if you're making your coworkers unhappy, then you're incompetent by definition. It's okay to be 'tough', and it's okay to be 'aggressive' and it's okay to disagree — even shout. Some conflict is healthy. But if you do it with disrespect, or you seem to be enjoying it, or you do it in every situation, guess what — you're an asshole. And you're gone.
* Teach employees how to be efficient. Do creative work in the morning, and do routine, brainless work in the afternoon. For example, staff meetings should be held in the afternoon.
* Keep meetings short. Get to the point and get on. Make it clear that brevity and clarity are prized.
* Respectfully interrupt people who talk too long without getting to the point. At first it will seem rude. Eventually it gives everybody permission to the same.
* Be efficient in little things. For example, rather than have some Byzantine process for doling out office supplies, add $25 a month to each employee's paycheck as a 'supply stipend' and let employees buy whatever they need from their local store. If they spend less, they keep the difference.
* If you create an internal memo with a typo, just line it out and send it. Never reprint it. Better yet, stick with email.
Look around your company and see how many activities are at least one level removed from something that improves either the effectiveness of the people or the quality of the product. When I refer to 'product' I mean the entire product experience from the customer's perspective, including the delivery, image and channel. Any activity that is one level removed removed from your people or your product will ultimately fail or have little benefit... If you're talking to a customer, that's fundamental. But if you're talking *about* customers, you're probably one level removed.
Companies tinker endlessly with the formula for employee compensation. Rarely does this result in happier and more productive employees. The employees direct their energies towards griping and preparing resumes, the managers redirect their energies toward explaining and justifying the new system... The company that focuses on fundamentals will generate enough income to make any compensation plan seem adequate.
A company with a good product rarely needs a Mission Statement. Effective employees will suggest improvements without being on a Quality Team. Nobody will miss the Employee Recognition Committee if the managers are effective and routinely recognize good performance.
A culture of efficiency starts with the everyday things that you can directly control: clothes, meeting lengths, conversations with co-workers, and the like. The way you approach these everyday activities establishes the culture that will drive your fundamental activities.
What message does a company send when it huddles its managers together for several days to produce a Mission Statement that sounds like this: "We design integrated world-class solutions on a worldwide basis."
Answer: It sends a message that the managers can't wrote, can't think, and can't identify priorities.
Managers are obsessed with the 'big picture'... I think the big picture is hiding in the details. It's in the clothes, the office supplies, the casual comments and the coffee. I'm all for working on the big picture, if your know where to find it.