Most managers are rationale, logical, practical problem solvers when they first get promoted. Then, through organizational conditioning, they learn to play silly games. They are like the frog in a pan of boiling water. The change is so gradual, these silly games eventually begin to feel like “real world management.”
How many of these silly management games do you play? More importantly, do you have the courage to speak up and stop the insanity?
We’ll start with some silly budgeting games:
1. “Use it or lose it budgeting.” This is when you are getting close to the end of the year and your budget is running under your forecast. In previous years, when you underspent, your next year’s budget was set based on that year’s actual. So, in order not to have your budget cut again, you go on a shopping spree — buying stuff you really don’t need or stocking up just in case you might need it.
2. “Lowballing your forecast.” This one is kind of the opposite of No. 1. In this game, the idea if to “sandbag,” or undercommit to what you think you can actually do. That way, then the powers above ask you to increase your goal, you know you can do it. Then, you look even better for exceeding your target.
3. “The shell game.” This is when orders are given to cut expenses in one category, i.e., travel, so you increase spending in another catalog, i.e., conferences, and bury the costs. Or, management says to reduce money spent on postage, so you spend more money on bike couriers. There is a net gain of zero, perhaps even an increase in spending.
Human resources’ silly games (a category with infinite possibilities!):
4. “Pass the trash.” This is when you “encourage” an underperforming employee to apply for other jobs within the company. When you are asked for a reference, you give glowing reviews, or use code word phrases like “Oh, Wally is a great guy! He just needs an opportunity to leverage his skills in a new environment more suited to his strengths.”
5. “A warm body is better than no body.” Hiring freezes bring out a lot of silly management gamesmanship. This one is when you have an underperforming employee, but you won’t take action because you’re afraid you won’t be able to replace the headcount. So the rest of your employees get to suffer the consequences.
6. “Gladiators.” This is when you ask two employees to work on the same problem. Let ’em duke it out and let the best solution emerge!
Organizational silly games:
7. “Risk” (empire building). “Risk” is the game of conquest, where one army invades another country and captures the land in order to build up an empire. I’ve heard managers also call this game “a land grab.” The idea is to lobby to your boss and anyone that will listen that your department can do the other department’s job better than they can, so you should take it over.
8. “Shaking the bird cage.” Some employees call frequent, questionable reorganizations “shaking up the bird cage.” You get a lot of noisy chaos and ruffled feathers flying, and at the end of the day, the same bunch are sitting on different perches, albeit a little dizzy from all of the cage-rattling. Nothing else seems to change.
Strategy silly games:
9. “Trivial Pursuit.” This is when the company has no strategy, so the manager keeps everyone busy fighting day-today fires, jumping from one hot priority to the next.
10. “Clue.” This is when the company does have a strategy, but it’s such a secret or so high level and vague that the manager has to guess what it is or make up their own.
How about you? Any to add to the list?
Dan McCarthy is the director of Executive Development Programs at the University of New Hampshire and runs the Management & Leadership channel of About.com. He writes the award-winning leadership development blog Great Leadership and is consistently ranked as one of the top digital influencers in leadership and talent management. He’s a regular contributor to SmartBrief and a member of the SmartBrief on Workforce Advisory Board. E-mail McCarthy.
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