Tag Archives: people management

CIA-OSS Manual for Workplace Sabotage

Recently, the CIA declassified a document titled ‘Simple Sabotage Field Manual’. This manual was created by the Office of Strategic Services (OSS), the World War II–era precursor to the CIA. It is dated 1944, for use by CIA operatives in Europe who were trying to recruit civilians living in countries occupied by the Axis Alliance (Germany, Italy and Japan).

A scanned version of the document is available in the pdf form at the CIA’s website, here.

OSS-CIA Manual Cover

The documents has around 32 pages. The most interesting parts for me were in the last few pages in a section titled ‘General Interference with Organizations and Production.’

One sub-section of this part is reproduced here:

(a) Organizations and Conferences

(1) Insist on doing everything through “channels.” Never permit short-cuts to be taken in order to, expedite decisions.
(2) Make “speeches.” Talk as frequently as possible and at great length. Illustrate your “points” by long anecdotes and accounts of personal experiences. Never hesitate to make a few appropriate “patriotic” comments.
(3) When possible, refer all matters to committees, for “further study and consideration.” Attempt to make the committees as large as possible – never less than five.
(4) Bring up irrelevant issues as frequently as possible.
(5) Haggle over precise wordings of communications, minutes, resolutions.
(6) Refer back to matters decided upon at the last meeting and attempt to reopen the question of the advisability of that decision.
(7) Advocate “caution.” Be “reasonable” and urge your fellow-conferees to be “reasonable” and avoid haste which might result in embarrassments or difficulties later on.
(8) Be worried about the propriety of any decision -raise the question of whether such action as is contemplated lies within the jurisdiction of the group or whether it might conflict with the policy of some higher echelon.

The manual continues to other such sub-sections titled (b) Managers and Supervisors, (c) Office Workers, and (d) Employees. You can read all the sections in pages 28-32 of the manual available here.

What is amazing is that I see this behavior in most organizations, displayed by most people, though they may not have been recruited by the CIA (at least, I think CIA has better sense than to spend money when there is no need).

And that is why you have management gurus and management consultancy firms, much in demand, trying to reverse the situation, with maybe negligible effect. We have experts in OD, employee motivation, leadership development. operational efficiency, process management, organizational alignment, Balanced Scorecard, Six-Sigma, Lean, Agile, ISO, CMMI®, People CMM®, and so on…, but nothing seems to change.

The  beauty of the principles in the document are so inherently ‘aligned’ to human nature, that these principles have insidiously and organically crept into all aspects of all organizations, maybe even in the CIA.

I leave you to draw your own conclusions. Read pages 28-32 of the manual available here.

Please feel free to share your views, experiences, and queries, using the “comments” feature available. You may also forward the link to this post to your friends, colleagues, and anyone else who may be interested.


Nothing Official About It! – The views presented above are in no manner reflective of the official views of any organization, community, group, institute, or association. They may not even be the official views of the author :-).

Book Review – “The Checklist Manifesto: How to Get Things Right” by Atul Gawande

I had earlier read two engrossing books by Atul Gawande – Complications and Better. So when I saw The Checklist Manifesto while browsing in the neighborhood library, I decided to pick it up looking forward to an interesting read (some reviewers had strongly recommended it). The title also indicated that it may a good book to review for this weblog.

Well, I was partially right – it was suitable to post a review on this blog. So, here goes…

The main theme of the book/ book summary is as follows:

  • Over the years, many activities have become extremely complex.
  • Even experts struggle to master and remember all the tasks they have to perform.
  • Use of checklists can minimize human errors of oversight. In many cases this it can improve the performance significantly.
  • Use of checklists can also help the experts focus on the difficult, tricky parts of a situation, rather than worry about the mundane activities.
  • There is need to create better checklists, organize them for easy use and ensure that they are used.

The author uses examples from multiple industries and situations. The best ones are from hospitals and medical emergencies (Dr Gawande is a surgeon :-)). There are other examples from the airline industry (where pilots use checklists for normal as well as abnormal situations), construction industry, retail, and restaurants.

There is a whole chapter dedicated to research where the impact of the use of checklists in hospitals was studied. The research showed that there was a significant reduction in deaths (47% reduction) and major complications (36% reduction) for surgical patients. One interesting finding was that though only 80% of the hospital staff found the checklists useful, 93% of them said they would want a checklist to be used if they were themselves getting operated!

The book sometimes extends the concept of “checklist” beyond its normal usage. Here are a few examples of things that are treated under the concept of checklist in the book (though I believe they are different concepts, with their own place in “how to get things right”):

  • Preparing detailed project plans, dependencies, action items, schedules and list of deliverables (example of a building construction project)
  • Use of collaboration meetings (of experts) to handle non-routine situations (e.g., a building floor developing unforeseen problems)
  • Empowerment for doing something extraordinary (how Wal-Mart employees went beyond their formal authority to help people affected by Hurricane Katrina)
  • Use of focus, expertise and wits (how a pilot saved lives by crash landing on Hudson river in 2009 – by focusing on flying the plane, not on using a checklist!)

In trying to bring everything under the umbrella of “checklists”, the author dilutes the concept and utility of checklists as well as other equally important concepts of detailed planning, collaboration, empowerment, dedication, competence and focus. Maybe the title “The Process Manifesto” would have been more apt.

For people who are already convinced about the use of checklists, procedures, plans, collaboration meetings, etc., this book can provide you with interesting examples to relate to process skeptics in your organization. It can also provide process trainers with interesting case studies to relate to the class. You may also consider gifting this book to colleagues who resist the use of formal processes – the book is an easy read and is able to hold the reader’s attention reasonably well.

If you are looking for readymade checklists that will help you reach some level in CMMI®/ People CMM®, then this book is not for you :-).

Those who have read Gawande’s earlier books – Complications and Better may find The Checklist Manifesto a bit disappointing – it is not as engrossing as the earlier two. This is possibly because the earlier books focused primarily on hospitals, medicine and healthcare based scenarios, where Gawande has accumulated loads of experience. And in Checklist, he provides examples from other industries (aircraft manufacture, real estate, retail stores, restaurants, and so on) where he may not have had the same level of familiarity and insight.

Here are some details of the book, in case you want to get your hands on it:

By the way, you DON’T need a Kindle device to read a Kindle ebook.

Book Cover ImageBook Title: The Checklist Manifesto: How to Get Things Right

Author: Atul Gawande

ISBN-10: 1846683130

ISBN-13: 978-1846683138

Publishing Date: Jan 2010

Publisher: Profile Books

Available at: Amazon.com, Amazon.in.

Available as eBook in Amazon Kindle.

By the way, you DON’T need a Kindle device to read a Kindle ebook.

Why Can’t Metrics be Used for Performance Appraisals?

While discussing collection and usage of metrics, one often hears an emphatic “We should not use metrics for individual performance management!”. The statement is made as if it is an unquestionable tenant of the religion called process management.

“And pray, why not?” Why should the performance management process be deprived of metrics? A process oriented organization would definitely not like to boast that their performance management system is completely subjective.

Here are some reasons why metrics should be used for individual performance management.

*    An individual performance management (including the appraisal part) needs to be SMART – the “M” stands for measurable.

*    Most individual performance parameters are the similar to and derived from the project, product and process objectives, they typically relate to cycle time, quality (defects), meeting commitments (schedule) and productivity (cost, effort and usage of resources).

*    A strong metrics system, that provides accurate, precise and valid data can support the project, process and individual performance management requirements.

*    Using the same sources of data, we can create a more aligned organization – the individual objectives are aligned to the project, product and process objectives. In this manner, individuals know that meeting their individual goals helps in meeting the other goals (and vice versa); conflict of interest is minimized.

The situations where we may not want to use process/ project metrics for managing individual performance are:

*    The metrics collection system is not stable, and there questions on the credibility of the data. In such a case, the use of the data for managing the project/ process is also diluted.

*    Usage of the data for individual performance management may make the individuals sabotage the process and the accuracy of the metrics. In which case, we need to strengthen the process and make it sabotage proof.

In the old SW-CMM® days, most metrics collection systems were unstable, and hence many experts of that time were pretty insistent on the metrics not being used for performance appraisals – some organizations even have policy level statements for the same!

We have now moved on from the SW-CMM® days for process management, so we need to move on in other aspects too.

Your comments?