Artful Dodgers: How Some Keep the Boss Happy

Don't underestimate the usefulness of creativity in keeping up appearances in front of management.

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I recall a story about an FBI agent who learned that J. Edgar Hoover was coming to his field station. The news initially frightened the man because Hoover had launched a fitness program for agents and this agent was, to put it delicately, a person of size. The man dieted and exercised, but as the day of the visit approached, he was nowhere near the appearance expected by the Director of Directors.

Then, inspiration struck. The agent went out and purchased a suit several sizes too big. When he finally got to meet J. Edgar, he apologized for his baggy outfit and noted that darned fitness program was going to force him to get a new wardrobe. Hoover beamed and congratulated him on his progress.

All of which goes to show that employee creativity should never be underestimated when it comes to evasion of what are perceived to be worthless rules and requirements.

Think of the ocean wave of "acting busy" that rolls just ahead of any chief executive who walks a factory floor. Think of how quickly people learn inspection schedules and proclivities. A corporate executive who'd been based in the Philippines once told me how his team perfected the art of having just enough defects to satisfy the hunger of inspectors from headquarters and yet none so serious that trouble would ensue. If no defects were found, he said, the inspectors would assume there was a cover-up and would stay longer. It was easier to throw them some red meat so they would go away and write up their findings.

You need to consider all of the unwritten rules that make a workplace operate. There is the formal organization chart and the real one. There are procedures that are strictly followed and ones that are routinely ignored. And there are outstanding employees who have, when needed, the skills of an artful dodger.

Michael Wade writes Execupundit.com, an eclectic combination of management advice, observations, and links. A partner with the Phoenix firm of Sanders Wade Rodarte Consulting Inc., he has advised private and public-sector organizations for more than 30 years.

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