Staff Picks

Simple Sabotage: A Modern Field Manual

Sally Haldorson

September 28, 2015


During World War II, the government issued a classified manual for identifying acts of sabotage. Now Robert M. Galford, Bob Frisch, and Cary Greene take that (since declassified) document and apply it to the workplace.

I'd like to share with you my Staff Picks for this week: Simple Sabotage: A Modern Field Manual for Detecting and Rooting Out Everyday Behaviors that Undermine Your Workplace. During World War II, the OSS (a precursor to the CIA) administrated a document to warn of sabotage that happened off the battlefield.
"The Manual detailed easy ways to disrupt and demoralize the enemy's institutions without being detected. The authors' [of the original manual] intentions were clear: "Slashing tires, draining fuel tanks, starting fires, starting arguments, acting stupidly, short circuiting electric systems, abrading machine parts will waste materials, manpower and time. Occurring on a wide scale, simple sabotage will be a constant and tangible drag on the war efforts of the enemy."
While this is a pretty broad list of methods, the authors did also address specific ways to attack within the enemy's organizations, and our authors—Robert M. Galford, Bob Frisch and Cary Greene—took that idea and ran with it, crafting this inspired take on the kind of 'friendly fire' that happens within companies, regardless if the number of employees is 2 or 200,000, and during any kind of communication. Our former President of 800-CEO-READ, Jack Covert, would label Simple Sabotage as the perfect "airplane read." It's light, it's quick, it's fun, and it's instantly applicable. Here are two examples from the book that I found illuminating: In the chapter on "Sabotage by Irrelevant Issues," the authors warn of people who, purposely, run a conversation or meeting off the road by introducing tangents, ideas or complaints that don't speak directly to the issue at hand.
Saboteurs make you think that what they're talking about is relevant and important when in reality what they're saying is tangential, unimportant, or even inappropriate. They don't know they're doing it, so their earnestness and honesty helps make their case. And the people on the receiving end are instantly, innocently swept off course because they believe what they think they see or hear.
Wait, what? Yes, the authors are saying that even when a person has good intentions—for example, reflecting back on the past under the guise that it's useful to apply lessons learned or using gossip about someone else in the organization to prove a point. Perhaps we don't always think about time wasting as sabotage, but if you don't get the agenda complete, then the work will not be done in good order. Another common issue around these parts is committing "Sabotage by Haggling" which essentially is when a conversation gets derailed by an obsession with minutiae and/or an inability to compromise over irrelevant details. Have you ever had an ongoing debate about whether the word "the" or the word "a" should be used before a noun? I have. And while that might be a good question for your editor, it's not a great way to spend precious meeting time.
When people quibble about the wording of these communications—social media messages, mission statements, policies, press releases, meeting minutes, or resolutions—significant angst, frustration, resentment, and scheduling delays can occur. If ever there was a situation where the saying "Don't let the perfect become the enemy of the good" fits, this is it.
Other types of "simple sabotage" included in this manual are Sabotage by...Obedience, Speech, Committee, Reopening Decisions, Excessive Caution, Is-It-Really-Our-Call, and "Modern Sabotage by CC: Everyone." Called modern because it is clearly not an issue that existed during WWII, the cc: is to many people a serious form of sabotage. (My aforementioned previous boss, Jack Covert, if he were writing this review, would highlight because he absolutely detests the CC.) What one person may deem as inclusive, these authors deem to be downright "evil."
When people cc a large group of people or hit "reply all," in reality, they are giving themselves cover. Once they hit "send," nobody can come back and say "you never told me" or "you should have asked me" or "why didn't you keep me informed?"
While that seems a bit dramatic (which is part of the fun of this book) it is also true that the cc: acts an escape from decision making. If I just cc: everyone, then I don't have to think about what is the appropriate information I should be sending to each individual. I end up avoiding work while making other people work harder through filling their in-basket. If you are looking for a way to educate your staff on how they could improve their productivity and communication, Simple Sabotage will do the trick. Most people, the authors make clear, have no idea they are employing these habits, so reading this entertaining book will help prick their awareness and make every conversation more efficient.

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