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IT is many years since I read Jared F. Harrison’s 1974 book on obstructionist techniques used by managers in organisations.

While written, I am sure, with tongue in cheek, it still rang enough bells for me in regard to “managers and organisations I have known” that it made for a great read.

Perhaps some of these techniques are still around? To find out I thought I would quote a few of them.

Strategic Myopia: Aiming at short-term gain in prestige or power while completely disregarding the long-range implications of a decision. (Based on the doctrine of linear extrapolation - what is going on now is bound to continue.)

Innovative Complacency: Cre-ates the illusion of innovation while clinging steadfastly to the principles of the status quo.

Flexible Rigidity: Recognises that main-taining the structure is more important than the work to be performed. It stresses that people have a chance to plan and suggest new ideas but doesn’t ever accept or implement them. “This is how we do it around here” reigns supreme.

Expeditious Filtration: Given a sufficient number of layers in a hierarchy, meaningful information can no longer flow upward or downward. Accompanied by oral rather than written instruction/direction the technique is infallible. The pattern of communication is like a W - a bouncing ball concept that can wreak havoc with operations.

Prolific Ponderousness: The presence of too much planning combined with delaying decisions as long as possible. Deliberately structure teams and committees so there is no chance they will function properly.

Synergistic Regress-ion: The action of two or more obstructive managers to achieve a regressive effect of which each is individually incapable.

Dynamic Lethargy: Create an environment in which the doing of work is more important than the output of the function. Work is carried out at a dynamic, fast-moving pace but, due to the lethargy of the leader, no significant accomplishments are ever produced.

Conscientious Incompetence:

1) To nit pick or exercise totally unnecessary controls over the work being generated within a department - the “it must be perfect” syndrome. 2) This is 1 exercised over more areas of the organisation. Takes the form of requiring a multitude of forms, reports, lists, questionnaires and surveys to be completed regularly - it is important to make sure form filling-in stifles per-formance

Diligent Indecisiveness: Com-pletely stifling an organisation’s ability to make decisions except at the highest levels by ensuring that workers and low-level managers are in constant fear of making a wrong decision. People are then OK with routine, but are totally indecisive in the face of exceptions.

Make sure that job descriptions spell out responsibility but not authority.

Free-Flowing Censorship: Pro-claim the desire for the free flow of information while at the same time methodically censoring all com-munication. E.g. “In order to ensure that all information is correct and gives a good impression, all memos must be signed by me.”

Effective Devaluation: The annual performance review is an opportunity to lower morale and decrease efficiency by damaging subordinates self-image.

It is, of course, important for obstructive managers to prevent their obstruction techniques from becom-ing obsolete. Membership of the Obstructive Managers Association is a must.

Any applications?

Roger Smith is from the Graduate School of Management.

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