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Dilbert's rules of management

By Bradford Senning
Arizona Daily Wildcat
March 23, 1999
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Arizona Daily Wildcat

Bradford Senning

Having once been a manager, I am fascinated by all the new management ideas published in books and magazines.

Managerial Buddhism, Employee Empowerment, Subliminal Management Messaging: "You are all winners. Let's show everyone our winning faces so that they know we are winners."

We're adapting to the complexities of the workplace by increasing the complexity of the rules of management. I remember going in to work having to ask other managers what the latest tips were so that I could try them out on employees. "It's burpees. Twenty every morning. Gets their energy up." And then there was once something about oat bran, that it increases productivity by keeping employees from having to use the bathroom so much.

The latest rules, which I found in a recent Newsweek, are Dilbert's Rules of Management. Dilbert, as you know, is a comic by Scott Adams about an employee named Dilbert who suffers the oppressive incompetence of his manager. Adams, despite his apparent disdain for management types has become a boss of some small companies. So now he's an expert on management and wants his insights disclosed to the world.

I would like to consider these rules, their strengths and weaknesses, and whether they can possibly replace the Desiderata as the favorite poster message in office cubicles. You should also take note of these rules because you are either going to be a boss or an employee when you get out of college. Best to be up on the rules before they quiz you.

Rule no. 1. The 80/20 rule. Eighty percent of good management is hiring the right people. The other 20 percent is getting out of their way.

This is a good rule of thumb. We can also use these percentages for other things. Employment: 80 percent complaining about work, 20 percent lunch. Socks: 80 percent cotton, 20 percent polyester. Health: 80 percent lactose intolerance, 20 percent rheumatoid arthritis.

Rule no. 2. Workers often assume the boss's decisions are wrong. Explaining the thinking and data behind them can season their assumptions with doubt.

Poets, artists and terrorists have known this rule for years and write manifestoes because the public is so far behind them in thought.

A manager's scheme can seem harebrained simply because there have been so many advances in logic by the time he or she uttered the plan. A down-to-earth explanation like terrorist Ted Kascynski's 1996 manifesto published in the New York Times telling us why he wants to kill our evil industrialists, saves us all a lot of headaches.

Rule no. 3. Give employees their own turf. People won't do their best work if they expect the boss will always change it.

I give this rule 30 seconds before someone decides that their best work is playing Asteroids.

Rule no. 4. Keep employees focused on goals beyond their current job. They'll be happier and more tolerant of daily frustrations.

I think this one comes close to what Malraux wrote about keeping the donkey fascinated with the carrot. He simply won't know how much work he is doing in order to get the prize right in front of him that he never reaches. Along these lines, I believe as did Almayer in Joseph Conrad's book, that hope is about dreaming of somewhere else while being stuck where you are.

Put us in a cubicle but give us a poster of the beach. That sounds good.

If I can add a rule to Scott Adam's otherwise completely post-Desiderata treatise:

Rule no. 5. Keep making more rules so that management will be kept so thoroughly occupied with making and understanding rules that workers can have more time to think about Donkey Kong.