By Robert M. Galford
and Cary Greene
YOU WORK HARD, and your employees do
too. But if you’re like a lot of small-business
owners, you’ve probably gone home at the
end of an extra-long workday more than once
thinking, “Why aren’t we getting more done?”
If that’s so, it may be because you—and
your employees—have become your own
worst enemy. Without realizing it, you’re all
probably engaging in at least a few “good”
behaviors that have gone bad.
Here’s why we think that might be the
case: A few years ago, we came across a declassified U.S. government document called the
Simple Sabotage Field Manual. Written during
World War II by the Office of Strategic
Services (a U.S. intelligence agency that was
the predecessor of the CIA), the manual was
designed to help individuals working behind
enemy lines disrupt enemy institutions.
One section of the manual was devoted
entirely to making organizations inefficient
and ineffective—and the tactics it offered
were all good behaviors taken to an extreme.
The Allies used these tactics to commit sabotage deliberately. But as we read the manual,
we realized that those same tactics are being
used unwittingly by a lot of people in organizations today, and their workplaces are suffering as a result.
Here are five sabotage tactics that you and
your employees might be engaging in without
meaning to, along with antidotes for each.
Four of them are straight out of the original
manual. The fifth is a tactic we’re sure would
have been included in the manual if the technology had existed at the time:
; Saboteurs never permit short-cuts to be
taken in order to expedite decisions. When
small businesses start to grow, owners often
find they need to establish formal rules and
procedures so things will be done correctly
even if they’re unable to supervise in person.
That’s smart policy. But those rules invite
sabotage—instantly—when they prevent
employees’ personal judgment from overriding processes that, for whatever reason, are
not working in the moment.
Review your rules. Look first for rules
that may be out of date entirely. But also look
closely for rules that shouldn’t always be followed to a tee. You may need to build some
leeway into your processes to create a more
; Saboteurs attempt to make the commit-
tees as large as possible—never less than five.
The bigger the committee, the more compli-
cated decision-making will be. Keep these
groups as lean as possible, and make sure the
people on a committee understand
exactly why they’re there and what
they’re supposed to do.
; Saboteurs refer back to matters decided upon at the last meeting and attempt to reopen the
question of the advisability of that
decision. When you’re faced with
this situation, ask for new facts.
What has changed since the decision was made? If nothing has,
then beware; the person asking to
reopen the decision may simply be
unhappy that they were overruled
to begin with.
; Saboteurs advocate caution.
Be “reasonable” and urge your fel-low-conferees to be “reasonable”
and avoid haste, which might result
in embarrassments or difficulties
later on. Yes, it’s true that haste
makes waste. But too much caution means no
action, and, often, missed opportunities.
Again, ask for facts. Why, exactly, does someone want to put off taking action?
; Saboteurs send updates as frequently as
possible, continually increasing the distribution list to anyone even peripherally involved.
This is the new “rule”—the one that wasn’t
possible back in the day when “cc” meant “
carbon copy.” Too often, these days, people think
that informing everyone is a good way to keep
everyone in the know. But if your mailbox is
flooded, aren’t you more likely to skip the ones
on which you’re only cc’d?
Tell your employees: If you want me or
anyone else to know something, send a direct
email. Make sure the subject line is up to date
and says exactly what the email is about. And
if it’s really important? Pick up the phone.
You can win the war against unwitting
sabotage—so long as you recognize when you
have a battle on your hands. C
Costco members Robert M. Galford and Cary
Greene are co-authors, with Bob Frisch, of
Simple Sabotage: A Modern Field Manual
for Detecting and Rooting Out Everyday
Behaviors That Undermine Your Workplace
(HarperOne, 2015; not available at Costco.).
© RUDIE STRUMMER / SHUTTERSTOCK
Five “good” behaviors
that can derail