Sabotage at Work

I caught a link to the OSS’s Simple Sabotage Field Manual from David Perell. It was written as a guide to destroying organizations during WWII to be distributed to citizens of enemy states. The OSS later became the CIA, but their goal was to find ways to disrupt the governments of enemy states.

What was surprising to me was that some of the advice seemed to still be in use in places I worked in my career. Such as the advice for managers: ” To lower morale and production, be pleasant to inefficient workers; give them undeserved promotions. Discriminate against efficient workers; complain unjustly about their work.”

This might seem to be human behavior, and it is, but it also destroys organizations. Too many people in authority don’t seem to do a good job of evaluating those that perform well and drive our software forward. While I do think this is subjective, often the group view from workers and the managerial view of who is efficient can be quite different. Being transparent and open with expectations and evaluations can help here.

Working in committees and large groups is all too common, at least in US organizations. We hold meetings and have discussions with large groups instead of making decisions. I do agree with getting opinions from a large group, but discussions should be relatively short and then decisions made. We don’t want a dictatorship nor a large democracy of debate, but something in between.

Maybe one of the more interesting ideas is the work slowly. I don’t know of many workers that want to work slow. Some do, and sometimes we all struggle to get things done, but so often management doesn’t want to invest in tools for workers. Tools can make a job much easier, and much more efficient. Part of DevOps is learning to use tools and become better. Or fabricate your own tools, something we can do in software easily. Too many managers don’t want to budget time or money or build or buy tools.

It’s easy to self sabotage ourselves, and too often, it’s easy for managers to destroy an organization from within. This might be an interesting manual to review in a meeting and debate if our rules, protocols, and decisions are helping or hurting our organization. Unfortunately, too many managers aren’t willing to perform that self-evaluation.

Steve Jones

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