Extracts from The Cynics’ Alphabet of Business Bollox

Here we explore the dark side and present a cynics guide to management fadology


A – Action Learning


Developed by Reg Revans, this small group based approach to learning from reflecting on action, is a hot bed of dubious assumptions. Firstly it assumes that people are willing to share dark secrets in a pseudo-supportive group environment often (in a commercial organisation) within a competitive culture. Participants have allocated time slots where they reflect on actions since the last meeting, explore a chosen issue or set of issues, then project actions to be achieved by the next meeting. As with OPEN SPACE these groups can become mini cults, encounter groups, more concerned with pleasing the facilitator (or pleasing or attacking each other, it doesn’t really matter which) than in engaging in real conversation. The dubious assumptions of AL are that spending an entire day reflecting and navel-gazing in a small group is a productive activity.


B – Business Process Re-engineering

Someone was surely joking when they cooked up this particular helping of bollox. Here we attempt to apply the metaphor of mechanics and engineering to humanly created and managed processes such as order processing. We flowchart processes, measuring them as if they were parts of a mechanical system ignoring all of the real stuff that goes on and explains why processes do not work well such as culture, values, mood swings and the fact that most managers cannot stand the sight of each other.


B- Bollox

The nature of bollox


Being comfortable with the idea that it is all bollox is not easy. For, of course, this statement about bollox is, in itself, bollox. whatever floows that is also bound to be bollox. Subjectivist who love the creed of “I’m sure you believe it’s true for you” are master purveyors of bollox. For, of course, even the idea that truth is bollox, or that bollox itself is bollox is of course, a heap of bollox.


C – Continuous Improvement (or ‘kaizen’)

This is a philosophy and a process aimed at creating a hopeless journey towards nowhere. An organisation committed to continuous improvement strives for perpetual innovation to its products, services, systems and processes. We never reach a destination. Best is the enemy of better. As soon as we want to arrive somewhere we discover that somewhere is simply not good enough. There is no hope for arrival. The vision for continuous improvement is an endless, relentless journey towards an unreachable destination (eternity). Ironically many of the managers who have cooked up this rubbish do not practice themselves, regularly rewarding their own arrival points (achievement of targets) with fat bonuses, or excellence awards.


C – Customer Care


Customer Care is a relatively old piece of business bollox. It involves a range of different approaches, training methods and ‘values’, which are introduced into an organisation in order to create a ‘culture’ of customer focus. The customer is seen as ‘king’ (enough bollox in that patronising term already!). There is even the ludicrous idea that greedy banks, or penny-pinching hotels have the serious aim of trying to ‘delight the customer’. Perhaps this is with their innovative sheep dip queuing systems at desks and cash tills, in closing branches, or in portion control at breakfast time. The tinkle of fountains in reception areas are supposed to delight customers as they queue to check in to rooms loaded with expensive mini bars and telephone charges designed to fleece those extra pennies out of you before you queue to check out in the morning. Perhaps the training in ‘customer care’ skills given to telephonists and bank clerks is designed to augment the hidden charges applied to your account.


E – Empowerment

This is another superficial and paradoxical buzz phrase. Managers talk about empowering their employees though the prefix “em” suggests something that arises from within. Most organisations should really be honest and called it “in”powerment, the injection of power (whether the employee wants it or not). “You WILL be empowered… or else. Many firms also should own up to the fact that what they really mean by empowerment is this: You are empowered to make your own decisions, so long as they agree with the decisions we want you to make.”


K – Knowledge Management


This is perhaps one of the most spectacular piece of bollox of the current (and past) century. Paying lip service to genuine insight and wisdom, managers create unworkable and dehumanising systems to essentially share INFORMATION. It is deemed a sign of effectiveness:

– To force people to exchange vast amounts of useless and irrelevant information under to guise of ‘knowledge’ and ‘experience’ sharing,

– To capture already out of date information and to store it on ‘intranets’

– To measure people’s effectiveness in terms of how much pointless communicating they do (instead of producing products and services)

All the better if we can hide this under the term ‘learning organisation’ and to force our customers and suppliers to engage in this insanity as well. Even better if we can create complex systems of storing and transmitting this information. This leads to:

– Systems for gaining customer and supplier feedback (which we never act upon except in a general way, usually too little too late)

– Systems for ensuring people are buried under piles of real and virtual paperwork

Underpinning knowledge management is the questionable notion of networking. This involves large numbers of people behaving like bees in a hive, only without any honey being produced.

Knowledge management then becomes a process of crating worlds of bounded possibility within which people follow present rules determined by information theory, where freedom is the ability to choose one predefined path in favour of another.



I – ISO9000-1-2-3-blah


ISO9000 along with other similar standards is a quality standard aimed at providing a structure and system allowing an organisation to document, detail and generally cast in stone all of its worst practices, as well as its best ones. An entire industry of consultants has grown up around service providers helping your organization to capture in minute detail everything that the organisation should refuse to cast in stone or put into stand procedures manuals. The purpose of an organisation should be to create a living document of its processes, with changing headings and subheadings as well as content, reflecting its dynamism and proacticity. Procedures tend towards fixedness and do not encourage creativity and innovation. Standards should be emergent properties of shared values, not symptoms or witnesses to organisational stuckness. The list of firms that have gone under with their ISO certificates the last ting to sink below the waves is ever growing.



M – Management by Objectives

Managers regularly set objectives, mainly to feel that they have a purpose in their organisation. I always like the quote: “Leadership is nature’s way of removing morons from the productive flow”. Hospitals deliver patient care despite the nonsense objectives of managers who have never even seen a bedpan. Factory workers transform materials into finished goods on a daily basis despite the “love-ins” senior managers have off-site. Salespeople sell the product despite the dreadful and patronising advertising slogans and objective set by the multi-coloured jacket brigade. Objectives serve no purpose other than to give apparent legitimacy to the bollox that constitutes 99% of management activities.


M – Managing Change

The underpinning assumption in the managing change field is that change can be managed. Some managers genuinely believe they can manage change. They really believe they can push a water fall back up a mountain, or that they can make a train move by pushing at one end of the carriage they happen to be standing in. Change is an existential concept. We can no more manage change than we can manage love or time. We can manage “in” change” but never change itself.



T – Total Quality Management


Total quality is a superficial and slightly crazy philosophy based on the attempt to attain perfection. Total Quality represents the striving for 100% quality and is paradoxically also described as a continuous journey of innovation and improvement. Thus, the goal of 100% should never be reached if the journey is to continue. Wonderful idiocy!


W – Win-win


Under the guise of co-operation comes a quasi-competitive approach known as “win-win”. Much the preserve of customer-supplier relationships, but also to be found in politics, win-win is based on the idea of two parties achieving an agreement whereby both parties benefit or achieve their specific objectives. However, in competitive environments, such win-win approaches are based on the idea: “You don’t bomb us and we won’t bomb you.” There is no win-win. In a true community there is only “win”.

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