Management by Confusion

Management by Objectives is taught at Harvard. Management by confusion can only be learnt and perfected through churning the wheels in the corporate world.

One of the best ways of evading decisions is to create confusion. Take for example the new intern, Beth, approaching her supervisor with the question, “For the upcoming team meeting, should I create this report customer-wise or product-wise?” You would have thought the answer is a pretty straightforward one – customer or product. Wrong! The supervisor, a veteran of corporate confusion for decades, responds with, “That is an interesting question – I am glad you are applying your mind to the task on hand. Let us see ….. Have you considered the needs of all sections of the audience reading your report? Should there be a time/aging factor built into the report?  How about a geographic, territory wise matrix? It is best to review all requirements and then come up with a format for the report”. This, needless to say, is guaranteed to send the intern on a wild goose chase of finding out all reporting needs and formats (items that were finalized months ago)– with no obvious end in sight. A logical end is not the goal, anyway, to start with.

Confusion, in many situations, is also a passport to avoiding accountability. You can usually get away with not being responsible for a bad move if there is a minimum quantum of confusion around the subject. If you know that you would not be able to finish a customer proposal on time, you create a list of ‘clarifications’ required from others in your organization as inputs to your proposal; email the list to the wrong person first; then, with a, ‘oh! I did not know that she was no longer in that role’; send it to the right person and copy the mail, for good measure, to several other people; get conflicting responses from multiple people; then call for a meeting to discuss the various responses; and so on ….. you get the point!

Confusion is also an excellent tool for keeping your subordinates and, quite often, your superiors too, on tenterhooks. You might even come out with flying colors in the process. Let us say that you are responsible for introducing a new invoicing system in your company. On the eve of the system going live, you come out with a new checklist and unleash it on an unsuspecting audience. “Does this take care of international billing?”; “Has all the historical data for the past 10 years been migrated to the new system?”. Ironically, all these questions would have been asked several months ago, when the project was first initiated, and deliberate decisions taken not to include these features in the new system. But raising these questions now makes it appear that you are the one with a keen eye for minor details. Consequently, while your team runs around in circles to check the system, you can use the opportunity to gain a few brownie points with your superiors.

Creating confusion of biblical proportions in the organization takes a lot of experience and planning.  An essential requirement is to be armed with irrelevant statistics (more commonly passing under the phrase, ‘facts and figures’). When the CEO seeks advice from the Vice President, Sales on setting sales goals for the coming year, the latter can spin a web around the hapless CEO by quoting various economic indicators from far flung locations where the company has no operations, percentages and market trends in sectors unrelated to the company’s product line and quotes from a variety of market research reports with complex graphs and dubious predictions. The key here is to provide data, in large quantities, but with very little, if any, information and analysis. This is sure to keep the corporate wheel spinning, literally and figuratively, in circles!

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