During World War 2, the OSS (precursor to the CIA) created a manual to help its spies break down the efficiency and morale of enemy organizations.
The targets of these sabotage efforts were anything from strategic military planning departments to armaments manufacturers. The intent was to weaken the operational efficiency of organizations supporting the enemy’s war effort.
These sabotage techniques weren’t what you’d typically see in the movies – they didn’t require bombs or guns. Instead, the techniques used subtle behavioural ploys to slow decision making and progress. The techniques were as simple as asking irrelevant questions or seeking consensus where none was required. These techniques didn’t raise suspicion, because they simply spread bad business practices masquerading as productive work.
I’ve provided the list of techniques directly from the manual below. As you read through the list, what you’ll notice is that many of these sabotage techniques are things that happen every day in modern bureaucratic businesses.
Ever wonder why it’s so hard to get anything done at work?
Most people working in businesses today aren’t purposely trying to create inefficiencies. Yet, many people – including senior leadership – purposely behave in ways that align with the CIA’s suggestions for killing efficiency.
I believe this is because few people running businesses today pay attention to the actual science of running a business.
To get to their position, many leaders simply rose through the ranks after starting as functional experts with no real management training. While many of these people eventually get formal training, unfortunately business schools and corporate training programs do a poor job of actually teaching people how to run companies.
Consequently, many leaders go with their gut instead of their head. A combination of charisma, confidence and cunning make these leaders appear highly competent. The honest truth is in most bureaucracies it’s the blind who lead the blind. Few really know what they’re doing.
When you manage a business using your gut, you go with what feels right. Does it feel like work? Is it challenging? Does it involve a lot of people in high positions? We’re accustomed to equating these things with progress.
Corporate leaders and management inadvertently destroy their companies by adopting behaviours that feel like work, yet actually slow down their organizations.
Striving for consensus, doing everything by the book, creating committees, making speeches and haggling over minutia feel like the right things to do. However, you can spend 10 hours a day doing that stuff without actually moving the business forward.
Because many of these behaviours are ingrained in many corporate cultures, it takes intelligent, conscientious and honest leaders to cut activities that feel important to everyone yet produce nothing. Once indoctrinated into the corporate culture, these behavioural patterns are very difficult to change. This is why large companies can slowly drift right into an iceberg everyone sees coming from miles away.
For example, how can the big 5 Canadian banks – which essentially provide commoditized products and services – have varying degrees of success with some trading at persistent valuation discounts lasting years? It’s because the laggards have allowed corporate culture to fester into a gangrenous nightmare. This is not to say people hate working there, but that the culture supports (even enforces) inefficient and ineffective business practices.
If you want to build or lead an effective organization, I suggest reading the excerpt from the Simple Sabotage Field Manual below and doing the opposite.
I’ve pasted an image of the original text from the actual manual. If you find that difficult to read, I’ve also included the full copy below.
(Source: “Simple Sabotage Field Manual“)
(11) General Interference with Organizations and Production
(a) Organizations and Conferences (1) Insist on doing everything through “channels.” Never permit short-cuts to be taken in order to expedite decisions.
(2) Make “speeches.” Talk as frequently as possible and at great length. Illustrate your “points” by long anecdotes and accounts of personal experiences. Never hesitate to make a few appropriate “patriotic” comments.
(3) 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.
(4) Bring up irrelevant issues as frequently as possible.
(5) Haggle over precise wordings of communications, minutes, resolutions.
(6) Refer back to matters decided upon at the last meeting and attempt to re-open the question of the advisability of that decision.
(7) Advocate “caution.” Be “reasonable” and urge your fellow-conferees to be “reasonable” and avoid haste which might result in embarrassments or difficulties later on.
(8) 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.
(b) Managers and Supervisors
(1) Demand written orders.
(2) “Misunderstand” orders. Ask endless questions or engage in long correspondence about such orders. Quibble over them when you can.
(3) Do everything possible to delay the delivery of orders. Even though parts of an order may be ready beforehand, don’t deliver it until it is completely ready.
(4) Don’t order new working materials until your current stocks have been virtually exhausted, so that the slightest delay in filling your order will mean a shutdown.
(5) Order high-quality materials which are hard to get. If you don’t get them argue about it. Warn that inferior materials will mean inferior work.
(6) In making work assignments, always sign out the unimportant jobs first. See that the important jobs are assigned to inefficient workers of poor machines.
(7) Insist on perfect work in relatively un important products; send back for refinishing those which have the least flaw. Approve other defective parts whose flaws are not visible to the naked eye.
(8) Make mistakes in routing so that parts and materials will be sent to the wrong place in the plant.
(9) When training new workers, give in complete or misleading instructions.
(10) To lower morale and with it, production, be pleasant to inefficient workers; give them undeserved promotions. Discriminate against efficient workers; complain unjustly about their work.
(11) Hold conferences when there is more critical work to be done.
(12) Multiply paper work in plausible ways. Start duplicate files.
(13) Multiply the procedures and clearances involved in issuing instructions, pay checks, and so on. See that three people have to approve everything where one would do.
(14) Apply all regulations to the last letter.
(c) Office Workers
(1) Make mistakes in quantities of material when you are copying orders. Confuse similar names. Use wrong addresses.
(2) Prolong correspondence with government bureaus.
(3) Misfile essential documents.
(4) In making carbon copies, make one too few, so that an extra copying job will have to be done.
(5) Tell important callers the boss is busy or talking on another telephone.
(6) Hold up mail until the next collection.
(7) Spread disturbing rumors that sound like inside dope.
(1) Work slowly. Think out ways to in crease the number of movements necessary on your job: use a light hammer instead of a heavy one, try to make a small wrench do when a big one is necessary, use little force where considerable force is needed, and so on.
(2) Contrive as many interruptions to your work as you can: when changing the material on which you are working, as you would on a lathe or punch, take needless time to do it. If you are cutting, shaping or doing other measured work, measure dimensions twice as often as you need to. When you go to the lavatory, spend a longer time there than is necessary. Forget tools so that you will have to go back after them.
(3) Even if you understand the language, pretend not to understand instructions in a foreign tongue.
(4) Pretend that instructions are hard to understand, and ask to have them repeated more than once. Or pretend that you are particularly anxious to do your work, and pester the foreman with unnecessary questions.
(5) Do your work poorly and blame it on bad tools, machinery, or equipment. Complain that these things are preventing you from doing your job right.
(6) Never pass on your skill and experience to a new or less skillful worker.
(7) Snarl up administration in every possible way. Fill out forms illegibly so that they will have to be done over; make mistakes or omit requested information in forms.
(8) If possible, join or help organize a group for presenting employee problems to the management. See that the procedures adopted are as inconvenient as possible for the management, involving the presence of a large number of employees at each presentation, entailing more than one meeting for each grievance, bringing up problems which are largely imaginary, and so on.