10 Stupid Games that Managers Play

This post was recently published at Smartblog on Leadership:

Most managers are rationale, logical, practical problem
solvers when they first get promoted. Then, through organizational
conditioning, they learn to play silly games. They are like the frog in a pan of boiling
water
. The change is so gradual, these silly games eventually begin to feel
like “real world management.”

How many of these silly management games do you play?
More importantly, do you have the courage to speak up and stop the insanity?

We’ll start with some silly budgeting games:

1. “Use it or lose it budgeting.” This is
when you are getting close to the end of the year and your budget is running
under your forecast. In previous years, when you underspent, your next year’s
budget was set based on that year’s actual. So, in order not to have your
budget cut again, you go on a shopping spree — buying stuff you really don’t
need or stocking up just in case you might need it.

2. “Lowballing your forecast.” This one is kind
of the opposite of No. 1. In this game, the idea if to “sandbag,” or
undercommit to what you think you can actually do. That way, then the powers
above ask you to increase your goal, you know you can do it. Then, you look
even better for exceeding your target.

3. “The shell game.” This is when
orders are given to cut expenses in one category, i.e., travel, so you increase
spending in another catalog, i.e., conferences, and bury the costs. Or,
management says to reduce money spent on postage, so you spend more money on
bike couriers. There is a net gain of zero, perhaps even an increase in
spending.

Human resources’ silly games (a category with infinite
possibilities!):

4. “Pass the trash.” This is when you
“encourage” an underperforming employee to apply for other jobs within the
company. When you are asked for a reference, you give glowing reviews, or use
code word phrases like “Oh, Wally is a great guy! He just needs an opportunity
to leverage his skills in a new environment more suited to his strengths.”

5. “A warm body is better than no body.” Hiring
freezes bring out a lot of silly management gamesmanship. This one is when you
have an underperforming employee, but you won’t take action because you’re
afraid you won’t be able to replace the headcount. So the rest of your
employees get to suffer the consequences.

6. “Gladiators.” This is when you
ask two employees to work on the same problem. Let ‘em duke it out and let the
best solution emerge!

Organizational silly games:

7. “Risk”
(empire building)
. “Risk” is the game of conquest, where one army invades
another country and captures the land in order to build up an empire. I’ve
heard managers also call this game “a land grab.” The idea is to lobby to your
boss and anyone that will listen that your department can do the other
department’s job better than they can, so you should take it over.

8. “Shaking the bird cage.” Some employees
call frequent, questionable reorganizations “shaking up the bird cage.” You get
a lot of noisy chaos and ruffled feathers flying, and at the end of the day,
the same bunch are sitting on different perches, albeit a little dizzy from all
of the cage-rattling. Nothing else seems to change.

Strategy silly games:

9. “Trivial Pursuit.” This is when the
company has no strategy, so the manager keeps everyone busy fighting day-today
fires, jumping from one hot priority to the next.

10. “Clue.” This is when the company does have
a strategy, but it’s such a secret or so high level and vague that the manager
has to guess what it is or make up their own.

How about you? Any to add to the list?