What sort of beast are you working for?

Is he (or she) a rhino, toad, cuckoo or sloth? William Hartston knows the answer
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The Independent Online
Monday: work: 6 ltrs typd thnking corspndnts fr thr enqrs & assurng thm thr cases r being gvn srious consdrtn. 2 mtngs attndd that rchd no dcsns on anythng. 1 interim rprt typd, copyd, bound, crclatd, & lft on shlvs nvr to be lkd at agn. 8 brlnt ideas rjctd by mngmnt.

Is that a fair summary of your typical working day? In the culture of incompetence that passes for British management training, you may find yourself being given pointless orders by jobsworths whose highest aim is to preserve the status quo - or, worse, being given pointed orders by near-manic types who just love using the words "synergy" and "proactive" but always seem to have time for lunch themselves, while minions are acting out their fantasies for them.

Would you like to change things for the better? Then here is just the right quiz to help you identify what type of mediocrity your boss really is. Only then will you be able to choose the right route to bypass the traffic jams caused by his actions.

For each of the following questions, you are asked to rank the possible answers in order of appropriateness from 1 (least appropriate) to 7 (most appropriate). If the most appropriate item strikes you as an outstandingly good answer, upgrade it from 7 to 10.

1. Which of the following mottoes best fits your boss's management philosophy?

a) leap before you look

b) flattery is the mother of promotion

c) never cross your bridges without pushing a rival in the water

d) if at first you don't succeed, give up

e) never do today what someone else may do for you tomorrow

f) if a job's worth doing, it's worth spending a long time over

g) a change is as good as a failure

2. Which of the following tasks is your boss most likely to saddle you with:

a) getting on with the mundane tasks that best support his own work-avoidance programme

b) carrying out long and tedious jobs that cannot have any possible benefit to anyone

c) helping him perform some simple task in the most time-consuming and inefficient manner imaginable

d) filling in forms concerning performance criteria, a cost-benefit analysis of form-filling, or similar management objectives attainment twaddle

e) something completely incompatible with, or directly contradictory to, the instructions he gave you yesterday

f) writing an ingratiating or self-protective internal memo to his superiors

g) writing internal memos making excuses critical of the work of his subordinates, or shifting the blame for his own mistakes

3. Which of the following cliches is your boss most likely to utter:

a) I cannot be expected to produce the goods if other departments are unable to get their act together

b) Let's see if we can establish the parameters of the situation at this moment in time

c) We'll try to squeeze it in but I'm making no promises

d) It's essentially there, but there's still a lot of fine-tuning to be done

e) That would put us in a whole new ball-game

f) Off the top of my head, I'd say ...

g) I think we see completely eye to eye on this issue

4) What would you say is the dominant feature of your boss's essential incompetence:

a) inconsistency

b) toadyism

c) evasiveness

d) laziness

e) general worthlessness

f) small-mindedness

g) obstructiveness

5) How do you imagine your boss would most like to spend an average evening:

a) falsifying company records

b) watching television at home

c) supervising the cooking and the washing-up

d) sticking stamps into his album

e) exactly the same way he spent the previous evening

f) deciding what to do, then changing his mind

g) entertaining his boss at dinner

You should have written the numbers 1-7 (or 1-6 and 10) by each of the sets of answers. Now transfer those numbers to the following grid. (So whatever rating you have given to answer "d" of question 1 goes in the S column, and so on.)


Q1. d e f g a b c

Q2. a b c d e f g

Q3. b c d e f g a

Q4. d e f g a b c

Q5. b c d e f g a

Add up the totals for the seven vertical columns - for each column corresponds to one of the seven deadly sinners of British management. Now consult the section below that corresponds to the letter at the top of the column with the highest total.

S: If your highest score was in this column, your boss is a Sloth. Work-shy, ineffective and a time-waster, he likes to get things done "in due course" and "in the fullness of time". He will never settle to anything if he can initiate a feasibility study first and he is exceptionally good at moving things from one pile to another and back. Your best strategy is to do his job for him in a way that he doesn't understand, then take a week off. Unpredictability is the one thing sloths cannot cope with. They will either be forced to work harder, in order to avoid the terrible threat of being forced to work harder, or they will move aside and let someone else (ideally you) take over their job. The important thing, though, is not to do their work for them in a manner that makes them look efficient.

C: The Cuckoo is a Sloth with an empire. He lays his eggs in other Sloths' nests - in other words, he creates utterly pointless projects for other people to work on. And since he cannot possibly be expected to make progress in his own work until his staff have made their contribution, the more eggs he lays the more peaceful a life he gains for himself. If he is lucky his eggs grow into more cuckoos, who need further staff. When he has thus sub-contracted the task of useless work creation, the sloth can relax. Cuckoos can be contained only by constant harassment. Make subtle improvements to their projects to ensure they become useful. By doing more than your brief, you can lay eggs in the cuckoo's nest.

D: The Drone is the trainspotter among managers: he really enjoys tedious tasks. It's the drones who process all those forms the cuckoos and sloths have been spreading round the office. And they expect you to be as dull as they are. They are best dealt with by acting in a creative manner. If you do that, they will do anything they can to avoid ever having to talk to you. Sloths, cuckoos and drones fill most of the forest of middle management mediocrity, but occasionally one of them gets promoted to a higher level. Which is when we meet ...

R: The Rhino, simultaneously pushy and negative. He's the one who stops any good idea ever being implemented because "that's not the way we do things around here". He sanctions all the cumbersome systems designed to stifle initiative and barricades himself in against the threat of change. Fortunately, he's so blinkered that he won't realise that you've been having good ideas behind his back. But don't make the mistake of asking him for permission to do things. He'll not only turn you down, but you'll be forever branded, in his eyes, as ...

H: The Hare, who darts about unpredictably and unreliably, bouncing ideas around and never following them up. Which is probably a good thing, because the vast majority of them will be bad ideas anyway. He thinks he a great innovator, but most of his ideas are half-baked versions of things picks up from others. Fortunately, the hare has such a short attention span that he can be completely ignored because whatever idea he is obsessed with today will bounce out of control by tomorrow.

T: The Toad is a crawler, the office sycophant, unashamed flatterer and fellow-traveller, concerned only to ensure that everyone else sees him as a friend and ally. Having no qualities to secure success of his own, he clings to others' coat-tails, hoping to associate himself with their triumphs. The toad is no problem; he's so busy ingratiating himself with people he sees as important that he'll scarcely have time to sicken you with his sliminess. But don't let him realise how deeply you scorn him, or he may turn into ...

W: The Weasel, who shares the Toad's policy of self-advancement, but tries to secure it not by improving his own reputation, but by wrecking that of his rivals. By blaming others even before things go wrong, he will cover his own back and never be held responsible. For him, success in itself is no great achievement - unless it is accompanied by the failure of others. Weasels can, however, be badly stung by drones. If you go in for the drone-ish behaviour of copious memo-writing, minute-taking and record-keeping, he'll steer well clear of you. If there's one thing a weasel can't stand, it's evidence.

The real problem, though, is that mediocrity spreads, demanding the recruitment of more mediocrities to run ever more mind-numbing systems. For the untalented shall inherit the bureaucracy. You can moan and let them get on with it, or you can fight them with their own weapons. For the sake of individualism, it's time to regain the keys to the stationery cupboard and declare war on the mediocracyn