Dumb Organization Stuff

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Organizations tend to beat up staff with silly rules or procedures. Email us your examples to paul@zuckersystems.com and we’ll put them here. Please indicate if you wish to remain anonymous.


Your Boss Asked You to Do What?
Overpaid Do-Nothings
Urban Planner Becomes Billionaire
Share Your Computer Password and Get Out of Jail Free – Not
Dumb Org Staff
Bikini Car Wash Reopens Despite City’s Efforts To Close It Down
Make Three Copies
Wrong Number
The Private Sector Can Be Dumb Also
Dumb Interviews
Dumb Invoice
Take this job and…

Overpaid Do-Nothings

By David Noer
Freelance Columnist

Having confided in me that the current layoff provided a good opportunity to get rid of those “overpaid do-nothings” in marketing, the newly appointed general manager stood on a table in the employee cafeteria and addressed his new employees. This is a paraphrase of his comments: “Since you were lucky enough to keep your jobs,” he shouted, “I expect you to work extra hard to make this organization lean and mean. This won’t be the last layoff. I’m good at cost control, and I personally intend to monitor everyone’s performance.”

Pausing and looking over the mute and stunned audience, he sternly continued, “I won’t tolerate any grousing and whining. Now let’s stop wasting time and get to work.”

As a consultant, I had what proved to be the impossible task of convincing him that “lean and mean” strategies often translated to “sad, angry and unproductive” employees and that he had become the poster child for three classic traps that prevent leaders from revitalizing downsized organizations. Because private and public organizations throughout Greensboro, Guilford County and our region are caught up in an international epidemic of layoffs and cost-cutting, understanding the dangers of these traps can be helpful to both managers and employees.

The Gunnysacking Trap

Gunnysacking is a term for storing up hurt feelings, anger, affronts and unresolved conflicts, and, when the weight of the psychological gunnysack becomes too heavy to bear, unloading it, often to an inappropriate degree in an inappropriate context.

We all gunnysack to some extent — think of your relationship with your spouse or significant other — but most of us find ways to keep our bags relatively light. Unfortunately, organizational leaders are not immune to gunnysacking, often burdened by heavy bags for years and using a crisis mode of operation as an authorization to unleash long-repressed feelings of anger and frustration by figuratively beating their fellow employees about the head with their overloaded gunnysacks.

In layoffs this takes the form of those in power “getting” both functions and people that frustrated them in the past but were protected by a more tolerant organizational culture. Often, leaders collude in their gunnysacking. Recent government examples are the “cost-saving” adventures of Guilford County Commissioners Melvin “Skip” Alston and Steve Arnold and attempts by some Greensboro City Council members to form a coalition to “get” City Manager Mitch Johnson.

Gunnysacking is unhealthy for both the leaders who practice it and for the prognosis of organizational survival. If you see it happening, help those wielding those heavy bags find better ways to lighten them. If, in the heat of the battle for organizational survival, you are tempted to form a coalition to “get” a person or a function for the wrong reasons, resist it.

If you find yourself the victim of gunnysacking, don’t try to get even; that only compounds the problem. Try to discover what past event lies unresolved in the leader’s bag and muster the courage to directly confront the issue.

The Cost-Cutting Activity Trap

An activity trap involves becoming so enmeshed in a task that one loses sight of more important, fundamental objectives. Leadership gurus such as Peter Drucker have long warned of the hazards of getting caught in activity traps.

However, in times of economic chaos, many action-oriented leaders, uncomfortable with omplexity and ambiguity, are driven to do something personal, immediate and tangible. They become heavily involved, often obsessed, with line-item budget cuts and the layoff process.

At the very time when their perspective, wisdom and creativity are needed to help the organization survive, they succumb to the seduction of micro-management. In today’s environment, cost-cutting and layoffs are sobering and necessary realities, but that’s not how true leaders spend their time. We need leaders to give us hope, inspire us and, difficult though it may be, navigate a strategic course that will ensure organizational productivity and survival.

The This-Is-What-Got-Me-Here Trap

Leading organizational growth is much easier and requires a different set of skills than leading organizational decline. Most definitions of management include the classic “ings”: “directing” “organizing” “evaluating” and “controlling.” And most leaders of public and private organizations got where they are by excelling in these “ings.”

However, in many years of working with organizations going through downsizing, I have yet to hear employees describe their best boss as one who excelled at directing, evaluating or controlling.

During troubled times, the best bosses are seen as those who are good listeners and straight communicators, and who have the ability to form empathetic relationships. Helping skills, not controlling or evaluating skills, are the leadership currency of the realm during troubled times.

That doesn’t mean that leaders are absolved of the responsibility to make hard decisions or can magically alleviate the pain of organizational restructuring. It does mean that, in order to revitalize organizations, it is necessary to re-recruit demoralized employees, and that is not accomplished through excessive control, evaluation or direction. It is done through the leadership “ings” of listening, empowering and coaching.

Leadership is not necessarily a hierarchical phenomenon. One does not need to be formally anointed as “boss” to exercise leadership in an organization. Families in Greensboro and our region are making uncomfortable lifestyle adjustments and belt-tightening. Political leadership in a time of reduced tax revenues and increased expenses is everyone’s business. We all need to work to avoid becoming ensnared in these leadership traps and help our families, communities and organizations rebound.

David Noer (dnoer@elon.edu) is the Frank S. Holt Jr. Professor of Business Leadership at Elon University and an honorary senior fellow at Greensboro’s Center for Creative Leadership. He writes a monthly column for the News & Record on leadership, organizational behavior and community issues.

Urban Planner Becomes Billionaire

Allegedly corrupt Spanish urban planner became billionaire

January 2009

By BEN SILLS
and SHARON SMYTH
Bloomberg News

SAN DIEGO – As an urban planning adviser in the sun-drenched Spanish resort town of Marbella, Juan Antonio Roca had after-tax income of less than 150,000 euros a year.

When he was arrested for corruption in March 2006, police seized assets worth 2.4 billion euros ($3.4 billion), including a century-old palace in Madrid, a country estate equipped with a helipad over-looking the Rock of Gibraltar and a stud farm guarded by a tiger.

According to a 451-page July 2007 indictment by Marbella prosecutor Miguel Angel Tones, Roca also owned a ranch to raise fighting bulls, a private jet, a helicopter and a painting by Spanish master Joan Miro.

Known in Marbella as “The Boss,” Roca has become Spain’s national symbol of municipal corruption amid the boom and bust of the country’s real estate industry.

“Marbella is a special case, but the conditions which allowed it to occur exist across the country,” says Jesus Sanchez-Lambas, a law professor and general secretary of Madrid’s Ortega y Gasset University Institute. “Corruption in town planning is institutionalized.”

Roca, 55, who was convicted of bribing a judge in August by the High Court of Andalusia in Granada, is currently standing trial at Spain’s National Court in Madrid where, along with five other defendants, he’s charged with embezzling 36 million euros of public funds.

Prosecutors are preparing to go to trial in connection with the 2007 indictment, dubbed Operation Malaya, against Roca and 85 others in Marbella, Madrid, Barcelona and San Sebastian. The charges include embezzlement, money laundering, dereliction of duty and bribery.

Roca’s lawyer, Jose Anibal Alvarez, said in December that none of the evidence proves that Roca took bribes, embezzled from city hall or laundered money. Spanish officials are making him a scapegoat for the corruption that’s widespread in city halls across Spain, he says.

Graft and bribery thrived along the Costa del Sol as the country rode a 15-year real estate boom, fueled by a plunge in interest rates, rising incomes and strong demand for second homes by sun-starved Northern Europeans.

The newfound wealth and borrowing power created a potential bonanza for Spain’s 8,111 town halls, which have limited powers to raise taxes yet have to pay for local police, garbage collection and sports facilities. Spanish law does give the municipalities power to grant all permits for new homes, shopping centers and factories.

Even many legal projects involve the mayor’s cutting a deal with developers, who may agree to build fire stations or put up street lamps in addition to paying for building permits.

Some officials also demand bribes.

“Local administrators have the power to decide who gets rich and who stays poor,” says Victor Tone de Silva, a professor of law at Madrid’s Instituto de Empresa business school. “There’s a great temptation to share in the wealth that you can create.”

That temptation may have ensnared Roca, who began his career as anything but wealthy.

A native of Cartagena in the region of Murcia, which neighbors Andalusia, Roca trained as a mining engineer and then set up a property development company called Comarsa that was declared bankrupt in 1990. The following year, he moved to Marbella.

At the time, the town was known for its celebrity residents, including King Fahd of Saudi Arabia, who built a palace modeled after the White House in Washington, except that the bathroom fittings were made of gold, according to Gorka Zamarreno, communications director of real estate company Aifos SA, who attended a party there.

Until shortly before Roca’s arrival, Marbella had also been known for the drug dealers and prostitutes who plied their trades on its streets.

Mayor Jesus Gil changed all that. Elected on a platform of cleaning up crime, Gil wanted to attract more wealth to the town whose population was then less than half the current 200,000.

Gil hired Roca, a stocky man with dark, greased-back hair splashed with white around the temples, as the head of a property management company owned by the city, Planeamiento 2000, in 1992.

The two men then used the company to siphon off 36 million euros from city coffers, according to a press note issued by the National Court on behalf of the prosecutors.

Roca took bribes for granting building permits and adjudicating public works contracts at inflated prices to bidders who would pay him under the table, according to Tones, the prosecuting magistrate in Marbella.

Roca also sold at a cheap price to his holding companies undeveloped land that belonged to the town, prosecutors say. He then reclassified it as suitable for development and resold it at a huge markup to another developer.

As demand for new construction grew, so did the power of municipal firms like Roca’s across Spain. In many places, it could take as much as four years before a developer had all the permits required to begin work on a site, Instituto de Empresa’s Torre says.

Builders such as Aifos would start work on projects under the assumption that they would get all of the necessary permits before it came time to occupy the building. Once the builder had spent heavily on the construction, Roca would demand a bribe in return for the permits, prosecutors say.

Aifos paid 5 million euros of bribes to Roca over two years in a bid to get him to license two hotel developments in Marbella and Puerto Banus, according to the indictment.

Aifos Chairman Jesus Ruiz Casado, who has been indicted for bribery, declined to comment.

The Roca years will have a long-term effect on the economy of Marbella, says Angeles Munoz, who was elected mayor in 2007.

In the race to build without permits, developers wrecked the coastline and city officials neglected infrastructure such as roads, Munoz, 48, says.

“People have lived very, very well here,” she says. “Imagine what it could have been like if they had invested as they should have.”

Source Code: 20090107tdg