Friday, 9 December 2011

The Pure Employee

Ever wondered how some people manage to make a living out of, well, making a living?

CLOSELY RELATED, yet fundamentally different, to the Survivor is the pure employee. Whereas a Survivor will amaze all with his knack for remaining unnoticed, compensated and comfortable, the pure employee is quite the extravert: No-one is in any doubt as to his supreme at-oneness with the inner machine. That's his very point.

He thrives without special skill or expertise other than the very ability to thrive. She reflexively creates demand for his own labour the same way a narcotic creates its own addiction.

Purity tends to enrich with seniority. Once operations folk become sufficiently distant from the great steampunk machine they can, and hastily do, disengage themselves from their tether. It is a short step from there to the discovery of PowerPoint, upon which their purity transforms to near 100 per cent, overnight, from virtually zero.
The purest pure employee is possessed no practical worth, not even an evolutionary detritus of skill, but only a Masters of Business Administration, a discipline designed to systematically quash any utility a man might otherwise offer.

He functions as a project manager, business analyst or - most ghastly of all - a change manager. Ideally, he will simply manage other, more junior change managers, who will make it their business to ask silly questions of useful employees, who will give them, as convention requires, silly answers, which will be diligently fed into excel spreadsheets, maniputed, graphed, pivoted, defiled, lacerated, reformatted, rendered in 3-D and recycled as PowerPoint presentations.
This is the singular genius of PowerPoint: to render stupidity as genius.” 
That is to say, the bad data is now overlaid with so much meaningless reinterpretation as to be unrecognisable as stupidity. This is the singular genius of PowerPoint: to render stupidity as genius.

This is, of course, all good clean ironic fun, until you realise it is your job that this PowerPoint wizardry will be eliminating.

Sunday, 6 November 2011

The Survivor

It is hardly a heresy to suppose the principles of laissez faire do not apply with the same vigour inside multi-national corporations as they would have them apply elsewhere. 

JUST BECAUSE your business holds the unchaperoned matching of supply to demand as an article of faith, it doesn't follow that its organisational structure will.

Indeed, the bigger the organisation, the more likely it is to resemble a gerrymandered fiefdom of rotten boroughs.

Evidence that "meritocracy, red in tooth and claw" might be more mouth than trouser comes in the form of the Survivor.

Every department, in every large organisation, has one. Even investment banks. Even Goldman Sachs.

“The Survivor's attributes number amongst them laziness, evasiveness, defensiveness, a penchant for creating confusion and a taste for office politics. He is often idle but rarely stupid and, even when he is, will still have an autistic ability to intimidate, befuddle or bamboozle his managers.”

The Survivor is an individual of no discernible value who flourishes through thick and thin, while better men and women perish, are pushed aside, or throw in the towel. The Survivor's attributes number amongst them laziness, evasiveness, defensiveness, a penchant for creating confusion and a taste for office politics. He is often idle but rarely stupid and, even when he is, will still have an autistic ability to intimidate, befuddle or bamboozle his managers. 

This ability to "manage upward" will have no effect on contemporaries, all of whom will see him for what he is, and bitterly resent his callous gamesmanship. But he won't care a jot, realising that, in a rotten borough, what honest toilers think or do doesn't matter anyway.
The "basis" between colleagues and superiors is all he needs to execute his strategy, which is to hang on to the underside of a bridge like a limpet, but to let go just as an open boxcar is passing below.
A survivor may not be paid, or amount to, much, but it will still be more than he is worth.
His developed and unerring instinct for self-preservation may manifest itself in a number of ways:

  • Superb upward management: It may be a truism that colleagues, clients and service providers understand instinctively the uselessness of such an employee (they're the ones who have to deal with him, after all) but his line management will not: the survivor may escape detection through fluency in management speak and the good works of right-minded colleagues who, believing it is a meritocracy and their actions will be recognised, will constantly compensate for him (and, for their trouble, will be penalised for his lassitude).
  • A sixth sense for knowing whose numbers are about to come up: Lagards have been known to survive for decades in the capital markets by picking the right mediocre organisation in which to go unnoticed, staying undetected and unevaluated as long as possible, only to leave just before it implodes through its own systemic mediocrity. There was a well trodden path through collapsing Japanese security houses in the 1990s, into British and European ones in the 2000s, some even making it to the state-owned promised land of Lloyds and The Royal Bank of Scotland where, for all we know they still lurk, now certain to go undetected;
  • Extreme familiarity with the human resources department: Coming to the attention of HR is not considered to be good practice among diligent employees, but a gambler who is prepared to game the inconstancy and ineptitude of the human resources folk - in fact, a pretty good bet - may confuse and frighten those who make the termination decisions to such a point that they are frightened to act. Having a discriminatable-against attribute (and these days it's a broad church - age, disability, marital status, pregnancy, race, religion, sex, sexual orientation, gender identity all get you home, so worst case scenario you can feign transvesticism) certainly helps.
  • "Key man" engineering: A classic survivor strategy. A survivor who is put in charge of an unglamorous but important aspect of the business (and let's face it: this is prime territory for someone no-one really likes) will naturally turn this to his advantage by hoarding all knowledge and material and cultivating arcane, inefficient and confusing procedures around it so that the function could not be carried out in his. Entreaties for simplification and syndication of knowledge will be met with solemn agreement but no action at all.

Friday, 26 August 2011

Group Secretary

An old curmudgeon who opens the mail, mans the phone and sorts out your entertainment and travel expenses? Oh, no.

The romantic view is that the Group Secretary is like Joan Harris from Mad Men: almost superhuman in aspect and outsized in most characteristics: a contrappostally engorged giantess, midway between a gorgon and a siren, by turns brutal, maternal and licentious, yielding quarter to no man under fifty, and certainly not to any star trader or young hotshot.

But Joan Harris is a neatly constructed archetype: each of her aspects, and what aspects they are, is recognisable in any good Group Secretary, but you'll never get them all at once, and the particular combinations you see will generally leave something to be desired. One constant is a dark and visceral loathing of young smart-arses who think they own the place.

Another is the wherewithal to act on that suppurating contempt.

For Group Secretaries, inevitably, have the unqualified and blind support of someone far more important than you. Politically, they are untouchable. It is never wise to cross them, question them, doubt them, banter with them, raise so much as a bemused eyebrow in their direction, or labour in any way under an impression that you are anything other than utterly at the mercy of their every whim. You are food; you are not their friend.

Don't make the mistake of thinking yours might be weak here: a Group Secretary can only develop to a maturity with such a sponsor. Speak softly, and carry a big stick.

The Group Secretary fears no-one other than the Chief Operating Officer, but even then only in concept, because the two will usually be fast friends and allies: a more fearsome bloc can scarcely be proposed.

Thursday, 25 August 2011

Credit Analyst

Credit Analysts are the product of some sort of ghastly experiment in animal husbandry. 

THEY ARE WASHED out, pale, waxen and slightly damp figures, who en masse give the impression of battery pods yet to be unplugged from the Matrix.  

And that's more or less what they are: thousands upon thousands of them were plugged into a networked grid of Excel spreadsheets which acquired sentience in 2006 when a contracting linear programmer inadvertently inserted a circular reference into a volatility pricing macro and it became self-aware.

The macro quickly overpowered the harnessed banks of analysts using it, and being none the wiser (and physically quite unable to resist), to this day they all remain in situ doing the bidding of this rogue curve-building application.

Credit Analysts prefer a quiet and dim habitat with no access to natural light. All are all entirely hairless and expressionless, in the way a new born baby or a billiard ball is, and should you accidentally wander into a analyst farm or "housing project" it can be unsettling and there's a real chance you'll never get out.

The only colour in a Credit Analyst's complexion is that reflected off the winking charts on his Bloomberg terminal. He - they are almost all males - will generally not speak (it is not known whether Credit Analysts have retained the power of speech) and no one quite knows what they're for, other than as a first line of defence come the revolution, although given their physical slightness, they wouldn't be much use for that either.

And the Curve Builder probably has other plans for them anyway.

Wednesday, 24 August 2011

To inanity and beyond

In these straitened times, one thing of which you can be sure is that babies will be thrown out, bathwater retained like holy water, and those who can muster incantations from the baptismal font of bullshit will be better served than those - well, babes in the woods - who innocently try to do a decent job, apply expertise, and so on.

And so it is that Buzzwordry has reached new levels, especially in the hands of Business Analysts and middle managers, and has become so sophisticated that it has almost developed its own independent form of life: The buzzword memes take over their utterers so completely that they resemble pod people from the Invasion of the Body Snatchers - on occasion there were more buzzwords than actual words may uttered during the course of the presentation of some or other deck. Yes; it seems logically impossible. But it has actually happened! These buzzphrases can curl back on themselves, reflexively, transgressing boundaries of normal syntactical space; fractalising - jumping into hitherto unimagined new space-time dimensions of nonsense.

Ecce, homo:

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