Pass The Buck

While some skills to prosper in the corporate world might be considered optional extras, passing the buck is a fundamental trait that one cannot do without. In fact, if you don’t have this skill you probably don’t belong there – and most certainly will not be climbing the organizational ladder any time soon.

An amateur manager says, “I will do it”, while the professional (which, for ease of reference, is what we will call our pass-the-buck veteran) will always come up with a quick, “I will get it done”. First and foremost, you need to get rid of any thoughts of doing any task yourself – if you can do so this without batting an eyelid, you are half way there.

Often, passing the buck is referred to by its more respectable name – delegation. While delegation is meant to give authority to someone else to act on your behalf, without absolving yourself of ownership and responsibility for the issue on hand, the professional would brush aside such nuances with a dismissive wave of the hand.

With sufficient practice and experience, the pass-the-buck game can be played in multiple dimensions/ directions. You can pass laterally or vertically, up or down, within the organizational chain. Passing down any and all tasks that come your way to your subordinates is the easiest of the three and can be done with some degree of legitimacy, in the name of carrying out your ‘managerial duties’. It helps if you have a sizable department(s) under you.

Passing horizontally in the organization requires intricate knowledge of real and imaginary duties of different sections of the organization. The more complex the organization structure the easier this task becomes. For example, if you are asked to organize a conference call, your response should be, “Yes, as soon as I can get Facilities Management to allocate a conference room for this; then, I will get the Procurement department to get us a telephone instrument with speaker; and then ask the Networking department to install and verify connectivity – I will chase these things down”.

Passing the buck upwards requires the skills of a grandmaster. Even to think of assigning blame, sorry responsibility, to your boss, most likely a more accomplished professional than you, requires above-average courage. Such an act might involve saying something like this to your superior: “I have completed the sales report for one of the hundred territories under you; you can easily incorporate the figures for the other ninety-nine as the figures have not changed much from last month”.

Passing the buck is a skillful game that must necessarily defy the common saying – ‘What goes up must come down’. If it comes down, you have obviously failed!

The Seagull Manager

The seagull manager is such an integral part of the corporate scene that it is difficult to separate the two with any reasonable or even unreasonable force.

Those unfortunate souls who are not up to speed on corporate nuances, please educate yourself here. The seagull manager is sort of fun to watch from the periphery, if you have managed to stay outside the sphere of influence which, I hasten to add, is considerable and, more often than not, includes the entire organization. It is definitely prudent to assume that you would be showered with you-know-what sooner or later and be prepared with suitable cleansing agents.

The seagull manager descends on meetings in the blink of an eye. Let us say you are discussing the layout for a new office and attempting to logically divide the space based on departments and who needs to work with whom. In comes the seagull manager (call him ‘SM’ for ease of reference) and the conversation goes like this:

SM: Hi guys, what are you all up to?

Staff-1 (trying to hide the papers in front of her): Well, not much…..just reviewing some stuff …….

SM (quickly glancing at some other papers on the table): Oh, I notice some layouts being worked on…… let us see….. is this the space for the HR folks? Why are they next to the Payroll people?

Staff-2 (desperate to avoid the reset button in the layout exercise): We were told they needed to interact …. Moreover, this was finalized in our last meeting and ……..

SM (already looking at a text message on his phone): No, no….. that is not correct.. you need to revisit and review this.

Staff-1 (panic clearly showing on her face): So, what would you suggest?

SM: Come on guys, learn to work smart – you know the requirements, don’t you? I can’t be doing your job for you…..I need to deal with other things now… (runs off).

There you have the seagull effect – intrude, criticize, confuse and leave!

Seagull managers have a very distinguishing trait in their armor – deliberate lack of knowledge, making them eminently incapable of offering any solutions even if they wanted to. But they are quick to pounce on opportunities to point out imaginary problems and non-existent risks. For instance, in a project review meeting, when everything looks good and under control, the SM can put the brakes on, if not put the entire project in reverse gear, with something like, “But what if Peter goes on vacation from tomorrow? We should build an effective backup for everyone’s activities before we move forward with the product launch. Jane, could you look into mitigating this (non) risk?”

Seagull managers ply their trade globally and are immune to changes in location, departments and roles – mere feeble attempts by organizations to limit their sphere of damage. The only known way to counter their attack is to buy good raincoats!