Being a bad boss isn’t easy. It takes effort and skill. At first blush it may seem that being a bad boss is the easy way out and the path of least resistance. But, like most things in life, being a truly extraordinary bad boss takes a lot of commitment and hard work. There’s no such thing as a free lunch!
Sure, a lot of countries still allow employers to legally kill their employees, and you can certainly take that route, if you wish. But be honest. There isn’t much sport in giving an employee a love tap with a Luger to the skull. Real destruction takes a little more finesse and effort. Most employees have the potential to be worthy prey. Why waste that potential on a mere head shot?
–Excerpt, How To Destroy Your Employees, by Tom B. Taker, 2010
Today we examine a textbook example of bad bossiness. There’s a lot of bad bosses still on the fence. With any luck, by the time we’re done, they’ll have the tools to be the worst that they can be!
If you read Chapter One, then you already know that one of the 7 Deadly Principles (tm) is “Always Do The Opposite.” This means that not only do you ignore employee ideas and suggestions, you go out of your way to do the exact opposite. This is a time-honored technique for breaking down employee moral.
If an employee says, “We should balance our books,” you respond by banning all accounting software from the office. If an employee has ideas on how to conserve office supplies, you grab a ream of paper and give yourself a ticker tape parade in the parking lot.
It works a lot like The Untouchables. “You wanna know how to get your employees? They pull a knife, you pull a gun. They send one of yours to the hospital, you send one of theirs to the morgue. That’s the capitalism way! And that’s how you get your employees. Now do you want to do that? Are you ready to do that? I’m offering you a deal. Do you want this deal?” Yes, it is exactly like that.
Now, on to our case study. A few years ago the boss had an idea. He wanted a central repository for company knowledge and lore. A place to store important information that needed to be accessible to all himself and all staff. Things like contact information, procedural notes, passwords, logins, specifications and standards, etc.
He came to me and asked my opinion. This is one of the Key Moments of Employee Destruction (tm). Will the employee take the bait? Some have the uncanny ability to sense danger.
But not this time. I thought it over and said, “How about a wiki? It can be web-based, so it’s automatically accessible to everyone. And it can be secured with passwords and encryption. I’m pretty sure it’ll be a zero-cost solution, too.”
The boss told me to get on it.
In less than a day, on top of my other duties, I had finished the project. I used a version of the very same open source software that powers Wikipedia. The solution was free and had the added bonus of already being familiar to everyone. It looked and worked jut like Wikipedia. I installed and configured the software on one of our existing domain names and web servers at no additional cost. I locked it all down with two layers of passwords and a security certificate we already had. (Again, no cost.) The system would do everything he asked and more. For example, all document revisions would be maintained, timestamped, and logged by user. And any of us could edit and add to it at any time.
“Can you set deadlines? Will it manage work groups? Does it support project timelines? Does it create synergies? Peer-based collaboration? Will it make a soufflé that never falls? Can it answer questions like: Which came first? The chicken or the egg?”
Wow. For being a blubbering idiot you sure know a lot of useless jargon that doesn’t mean jack shit. And keep in mind that none of those things had been mentioned as project requirements. Ever.
“Don’t worry,” he said. “I’ll handle this myself. I’ll find something that works.”
The motherfucker hadn’t even given it a try.
So it was that the boss dropped everything he was doing at the time. Fixing my stupidity was now the “low-hanging fruit” in his existence and the most productive use of his time.
A day later and the boss called everyone to huddle at his desk. I hate the huddles. He had something to show us. We were about to be educated and bask in the life-giving warmth of his greatness.
“This is called Base Camp,” he revealed with a flourish. It’s a web-based product that facilitates online collaboration. Pricing started at $20/month for up to 10 projects. And he had already signed up.
“This will be our solution,” he said. “You’ll all have to create logins and school up. They have tutorials so you can learn how it works.”
Staff wasn’t happy about learning yet another new thing. And for the next few weeks we’d hear the boss on the phone. He might be speaking with a customer, supplier, salesperson, friend, or even someone from his church. Invariably he’d find a way to work Base Camp into the conversation in a very inelegant way. “Yeah, I have software that allows me to run my company now. I’m the decider. I get all the information together then make decisions. Then I use Base Camp to delegate to my resources*. Then I manage the whole thing to success.” Except for the delegate part, that was all one big lie.
* That’s his word for “employees.”
He was always very careful to have these conversations in front of us employees, sitting a mere six feet away, in a loud, clear voice. And yes, the word “delegate” ruled the office for about six months. You wouldn’t believe how often he dropped the D-word. He really got off on it.
But, over time, something funny happened. The company wiki I had established kept growing and growing. The word “wiki” entered the company vernacular. Staff resisted the Base Camp tool. They resented learning something new and didn’t find it as helpful as the wiki. Gradually the teeter-totter flipped and the wiki became a living, breathing and vibrant resource for the whole company. Base Camp began gathering more and more dust.
As I write this, it has been well over a year since the last time anyone used or heard anything about Base Camp. That doesn’t mean the boss doesn’t keep paying for it. Every month he forks over his $20 tithe to the gods of employee destruction.
And he’s still never expressed one iota of appreciation for the wiki.
The only reason I remembered Base Camp at all is because yesterday the company learned that we’ve been paying $199 a month to a customer ratings service for a long, long time. And they just raised their price to $499 a month. The boss acted really surprised about that because he ignored the 30-day notice email they sent. It turns out that what we get from the service is about 1.6 customer testimonials per month. By Grabthar’s Hammer, wow, what a value!
The boss, of course, had absolutely no clue about any of this. If there’s one thing that makes him cry, it’s wasting money. By strange coincidence that’s also exactly what he’s in charge of. Somehow the great decider failed to gather all of the information and make the great decisions. Who knew? The system broke down, which, of course, is a direct result of his involvement. Bar far he’s the largest error rate in the operation. He’s not so good on the little details and minutia like giving away $199 a month for years for absolutely nothing.
Naturally the whole office had to go on tilt during this “emergency.” You’d have thought it was Normandy Beach from the way the boss reacted. Damn your regular duties, man. This is important!
Of course, acting like a big baby is another great employee destruction technique, but for more about that you’ll have to buy the book.