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.