5 things I’ve actually been told off for at work



5 things I have actually been told off for that could only happen in a command and control organisation.

  1. Saying “I don’t know
  2. Asking “What’s the purpose of this report I am writing?
  3. Saying “I don’t understand
  4. Sending around the team an article on how to use a statistical tool. I was told “This is not a university“.
  5. Coming to work in a toga Having a small pile of books on the corner of my desk about my line of work.

These aren’t the only ones, but the things that reoccur most, or the most easily. To be clear, the things above were not done to get a reaction.
I’m not some kind of corporate rebel on purpose.

If I had been trying to get a rise out of someone deliberately, I would have been as much a slave to the thinking as if I had gone along with it unthinkingly.

“Never give anyone the power to make you submit or rebel.”

That’s a brilliant phrase I came across this week from a video about Non-violent Communication.
I take it to mean that both responses are equally instinctual reactions to a system of compliance.


But if it came with a uniform?

The perceived rebelling has a common thread of trying to get more knowledge by asking questions, and this prompting an angry or annoyed response as it interferes with the execution of a task.

As a response it perfectly locks people into a cycle of strictly single-loop learning as questions, thinking or reflection are seen and labelled as a form of immature cheek or negativity.

I think the most dangerous person in a command and control organisation is a manager with a reputation for getting things done.
These are the ones who view work like a combine harvester views a field of corn, if anyone stands in their way they’ll be mown down.

This entry was posted in command and control, learning, systems thinking, thinking. Bookmark the permalink.

17 Responses to 5 things I’ve actually been told off for at work

  1. bulldozer00 says:

    Please please tell me that you don’t work there anymore.


    • ThinkPurpose says:

      I DO still work there, but it is a LOT better now.
      A Local Authority (city council, you might call them?) isn’t really one organisation, it’s like a Portuguese Man of War, an organism made of many smaller ones. They are all different, so anything I say about my place is often just local conditions.
      Also, I think that working in a corporate performance management team is basically the most command and control part of a command and control organisation. It is distilled bullshit.
      But, as I said, there are differences everywhere. Just adjacent to my team was/is the corporate policy team, and that was different to mine.
      My list of offences were compiled by my previous managers who have now left. I think if you live by the sword, you die by it.


    • ThinkPurpose says:

      ALSO, without looking on the bright side, I got some of my best blogging from that period
      Like being a war correspondent, it’s not something you’d want to happen but when it does it’s brilliant material.


  2. My funniest was “You are too concerned with charts and data!”
    I replied with “You are not concerned enough with charts and data!”


  3. Marcin Floryan says:

    Could you please include a link to the aforementioned NVC video?

    And thank you for a great post. Somewhat unexpectedly challenged some of my personal behaviours.


    • ThinkPurpose says:

      Its VERY LONG but very good.
      I put it on whilst doing the ironing. Don’t worry that there are glove puppets and an acoustic guitar song right at the beginning. Work your way through that. There is a wry self-aware comedy in there, it’s not earnestly brown-ricey


  4. Dan S says:

    All of these assume that employees should “know” and just “do”. If an employee has to think or research or look something up or otherwise learn, it is perceived as failure. It’s like criticizing a Judge for thinking and researching rather than just typing out the decision or opinion.


    • ThinkPurpose says:

      The first day I moved to my current team the (then) manager was very keen to tell me about all the things that the team were “expected to deliver”, so there was no nonsense to be brooked from the likes of me. I suspect that the fish head was rotting from above her.


  5. Oh dear, a local authority – I know exactly what you mean in my occasional dealings with them – see this post on Medway Council and Kent CC http://humandynamics.wordpress.com/2013/02/11/indecent-proposals/


  6. John Rudkin says:

    You might find this rather strange, but my Manager (well, my Manager’s Manager) was a Systems Thinking “addict”. He initially took up the ideas, but became obsessed and even took on a religious air. He had a regular statement which went something like this: ” You don’t need to tell me anything, all already know all about it” and “I know everything about everything, so you don’t need to tell me”. The best was “I’ve studied it (whatever it was) and this is my direction”. At first I didn’t understand why, but it became blatantly obvious that he was hiding behind Systems Thinking. Sadly this person did the good in Systems Thinking no good at all. We ended up with some staff manipulating data just to please him. He used ST language to confuse and alienate people. It was the worst experience I have had of Local Authority mis-management. Why can I comment on this? Apart from seeing all this happen, I was trained in Design Education – and practice Design Thinking as a matter of course. I think this was a threat to this person. I agree totally with the Portuguese-Man-of-War analogy. Alas its reach is far, and many can become entangled and hurt. They did.


    • ThinkPurpose says:

      ooh, that sounds EVIL quite frankly
      There was a very clever ST style lady who told me that she regrets helping a small handful of people that she came across over the years learn about ST. She gave the same reason, that they used the language but didn’t change their thinking one iota.
      She was very keen on avoiding jargon and language and always repeated that it was “all about the thinking”. This sounds very much like your situation


  7. John Rudkin says:

    I’m pretty certain I know her (and some of her colleagues). Good organisation…code for maybe I do, maybe I don’t. With this guy he used language as a trap, laid to entrap. There was nothing you could do, because HE knew everything, and you didn’t – end of. He is now consulting and speaking on ST. Frightening indeed. He’s no longer in public sector though. Just advising the public sector. On dear, oh dear, oh dear. Water under the bridge, but seemed like a sunami at the time.


  8. Nik says:

    Oh goodness. Sad, and funny.

    It does raise a question, though. Much of the above seems to me plain old bad management (or bad managers). Can these things really only happen in a command and control organisation? Can’t they appear in any imperfect organisation which has a poor manager?

    To clarify where I’m coming from, my prejudice in arriving at this blog is that around here ST represents all that is good, and C&C represents all that is bad. In reality I’d have thought it’s not so black and white, and that most organisations fall somewhere in between C&C and ST. And those organisations which are not entirely enlightened are capable of generating the above stupidity.

    I do of course welcome any corrections you might throw at me.


  9. ThinkPurpose says:

    yup, around here it certainly does fall as black and white as that as this is all mine. MINE I tell you! hahah! [maniacal laughter echoing round dark columned halls]


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