Dilbertisms and Other Nonsense

Aug 12, 1996

Scott Adams, the creator of comic strip “Dilbert” and author of the best-seller “The Dilbert Principle,” is clearly familiar with the absurd, idiotic stuff some companies do in the name of “better management.” In fact, before I found out that he worked in the telecommunications industry, I was convinced that he must have worked in an A/E or environmental firm. Here are examples of some of the crazy stuff that I have seen firms in our business do: Operate under five different names simultaneously. MZ Architects, MZ Architects and Engineers, Mark Zweig Architects, Zweig Architects, and MZ Corporation. I don’t know why firms do this but I’ve seen it many times. Having lots of names and not using one of them in all communications is always a good way to confuse your clients and employees. It’s especially tough on receptionists or switchboard operators, who don’t even know how to answer the telephone. Develop a mission statement no one can remember. This is one of my favorites. There you are, at a retreat meeting in a hotel conference room somewhere to update the firm’s business plan. When the subject of the mission comes up, you find out that no one on the firm’s board can remember what the current mission statement says. Finally, someone breaks down and calls the office so “Barbara” can fax it (the mission from the plan done five years ago) to the hotel! Create an “Employee of the Month” program and then drop it after two months. The board is on the wall. There he is, “Bob Johnson,” senior technician and Employee of the Month in February, 1993. There hasn’t been another since! Hold meetings for the associates and provide no direction, no agenda, and no clear charge for what they are supposed to be talking about. A lot of good stuff comes out of these meetings, suggestions such as: “Change the bonus program so the principals get less, and we get more,” “Create a time bank so when someone works over 40 hours, the excess can be used as vacation,” or “Play country music on hold instead of soft rock.” The fact is, you put a bunch of alienated second-tier managers together in a room with no direction and they’ll come up with a list of gripes every time! Assign the person who can’t sell a job, can’t manage anyone, and can’t do a task properly within time or budget constraints the responsibility for company-wide quality control, contract administration, or better yet, make him “director of special projects.” This is a favorite tactic of firms that have a senior staff member personnel problem to deal with. Strip ‘em of all of their real responsibilities, make them report directly to the president because no one else can control them, and then listen for the staff jokes about a certain someone having “dirty pictures” of the boss! Plan to grow internally by 25% next year, but hold marketing expenses to 5% of net revenue because that’s the industry norm. This kills me: “The industry will grow by 3% or 4%, but we’ll do 7 times better without spending any more than that, because after all, you’ve got to minimize overhead.” Give stock to one of the key managers, but take it away when he does something to upset you. That way, the next time you want to motivate another of your key people by giving her stock, she’ll feel like it means a lot, right? Have a retreat to talk about selling and recruiting, but fail to invite the directors of marketing and human resources. Doesn’t everyone know that only principals should be at these things? After all, stock ownership is more important than having education and experience in the area when it comes to making a contribution, right? Spend $458,000 in one year on TQM and have nothing to show for it. I can see it now. Two of the principals go to an industry conference, and the next thing you know, the soft-spoken husband and wife consultants are in there facilitating staff meetings on TQM. Teams are created to analyze everything and report back to other groups. Isn’t this what most companies do? Buy a new $55,000 Lexus company car for the CEO, and then tell five engineers you can’t afford to put a computer on their desks until next year. “It’s not in the budget,” you say? “Anyway, the lease payments on the Lexus are less than what we were paying for my old 1994 Seville!” Put black boxes on copiers that require a 16-digit accounting code every time you want to make even a single copy. This always makes sense. That way, 25% of the copies run off the machine every day that are billable can make it a nightmare for the other 75% that are non-billable. Install voice mail with auto attendant, then give the operator a voice mailbox. Then, if a caller gets someone’s voice mail, he can dial “0” for the operator and get her voice mail, too! Let’s face it, folks. Scott Adams is a pretty smart guy. And our industry is like most others. If we keep doing things the same way— making the same mistakes over and over, we’ll give him and his successors an unlimited supply of material for cartoons and books about the idiocy of management. Originally published 8/12/1996

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