Mountain out of a Molehill

Corporate life is all about survival. Some corporate executives look after their own survival. Many others constantly work to make sure that others don’t survive, as a presumed prerequisite for their own existence. A common strategy to achieve this could be the proverbial making a mountain out of a molehill.

Let us not fool ourselves by thinking that this is an easy-to-practice strategy. If you are someone who looks at a house on fire and simply states the fact as, ‘a house is on fire’, you are advised to skip the rest of this thesis and join the beginner’s course on “Corporate Strategies – 1001” (you would, no doubt, have noticed that this is a ‘1001’ course and not the ‘101’ course that is normally associated with an introductory course for a novice). On the other hand, if you, in the stated situation, naturally exclaim, “I just lifted my head and saw this most amazing, at the same time frightening, sight. An entire house was on fire – yes, the doors, windows, roof, the garage and what looked like an attached dog shelter were all ablaze, with the yellow flames seeming to reach the skies even as some aircraft were seen taking evasive action from the scorching heat”, you might be well qualified to benefit from further reading.

On a more serious note, I am sure you have all come across one or more of the following situations. A manager chastising his secretary with, “you have single-handedly spoilt the entire proposal” for an extra line space between two of the paragraphs in a 30-page document. Programmer-1 briefing her (clueless) boss, “I cannot believe that Programmer-2 delayed testing his program by 20 minutes putting at immense risk our system due two years from now; we all have to work 24/7 to make up for the lost time”. A VP, Sales barking at his Regional Managers, “Why are the monthly reports always late – this is the second time in the last 20 years?”

So, you get the trend. While much of such exaggeration may be harmless or, at worst, irritating, cunning use of this strategy may produce stunning results, usually negative in nature. A customer service rep, having had dinner with her personal friend during a business trip, might have forgotten to deduct a 10-dollar dinner charge while submitting her expense claim. The manager in-charge could well use this to admonish the rep for dishonesty, carelessness, stealing company money and a host of other things destroying the motivation and dedication of the rep who had made a genuine mistake. At a higher level in the corporate game, I mean hierarchy, the CEO of a company can be so nitpicky about the length of reports submitted by his VPs that each VP might start spending 10 minutes in preparing any report and 3 hours (including the time of all subordinates) in shortening the report to meet expected ‘standards’.

Sadly, higher the level at which the mountain-out-of-a-molehill phenomenon exists more difficult it is to correct – who will bell the cat?