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Simple Sabotage - An Interview with Robert Galford

Ask your employees: "What's the stupidest rule we have around here?"

Managing Partner, Center for Leading Organizations-TotalPicture Radio interviewRobert Galford

A simple set of "rules" that can cost you your job, your next promotion, and even block you from a new career.

Would you like to know why the U.S. Congress gets nothing done? Is constantly stuck in gridlock? Has an approval rating of 17 percent? In 1944, at the height of World War II, the United States' Office of Strategic Services (OSS) - predecessor of the CIA - published The Simple Sabotage Field Manual, a classified document to help the European resistance movements destroy the Axis powers from within. Now, three business strategists argue that this little-known manual is more than a fascinating piece of history - it sheds enormous light on what's wrong with the modern workplace, and offers insight on how to stamp out the behaviors that breed dysfunction in organizations.

In Simple Sabotage: A Modern Field Manual for Detecting and Rooting Out Everyday Behaviors That Undermine Your Workplace (recently published by HarperOne;), Robert M. Galford, Bob Frisch and Cary Greene revisit a list of OSS tactics designed to thwart the internal processes of organizations, with tips for wasting time (e.g., "Insist on doing everything through channels") and bringing efficiency to a halt (e.g., "Refer all matters to committees"). The OSS believed that these small acts of barely detectable sabotage would wear down the enemy over time and help the Allies win the war.

In Simple Sabotage, the authors show that these same behaviors are rampant in organizations today, from global corporations to PTA committees, yet people typically have no idea they are even taking place. They are insidious, corrosive, widespread and difficult to detect - which is why the OSS chose to teach Resistance fighters to deploy them behind enemy lines:

  • Sabotage by Obedience. Insist on doing everything through "channels." Never permit short-cuts to be taken in order to expedite decisions.
  • Sabotage by Speech. Make "speeches." Talk as frequently as possible and at great length. Illustrate your "points" by long anecdotes and accounts of personal experiences.
  • Sabotage by Committee. When possible, refer all matters to committees, for "further study and consideration." Attempt to make the committees as large as possible - never less than five.
  • Sabotage by Irrelevant Issues. Bring up irrelevant issues as frequently as possible.
  • Sabotage by Haggling. Haggle over the precise wordings of communications, minutes, resolutions.
  • Sabotage by Reopening Decisions. Refer back to matters decided upon at the last meeting and attempt to re-open the question of the advisability of that decision.
  • Sabotage by Excessive Caution. Advocate "caution." Be "reasonable" and urge your fellow-conferees to be "reasonable" and avoid haste which might result in embarrassments or difficulties later on.
  • Sabotage by Is-It-Really-Our-Call? Be worried about the propriety of any decision - raise the question of whether such action as is contemplated lies within the jurisdiction of the group or whether it might conflict with the policy of some higher echelon.

Rob Galford Biography:

Robert Galford is a managing partner of the Center for Leading Organizations. He divides his time across teaching on Executive Education programs and working with senior executives at the world's leading firms on the leadership issues that lie at the intersection of strategy and organization. He has taught on the Executive Programs at the Columbia University Graduate School of Business, the Kellogg Graduate School of Management at Northwestern University, and most recently Harvard University.

Rob was formerly a managing partner with the Center for Executive Development. Earlier in his career, Rob was Executive Vice President and Chief People Officer of Digitas (NASDAQ:DTAS), a marketing services firm based in Boston, with offices across the U.S. and Europe.

He was also a Vice President of The MAC Group and its successor firm, Gemini Consulting, focusing largely on the strategic and organizational challenges facing professional and financial services firms and Fortune 100 Companies. While there, he worked for a number of years in Western Europe prior to returning to the U.S., where he took on a variety of firm administrative and managerial responsibilities.

Peter Clayton

About Peter Clayton

Peter Clayton, Producer/Host, is an award-winning producer/director of radio, television, documentary, video, interactive and Web-based media who has created breakthrough media for a wide array of Fortune 100 clients.


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