From The Jolly Contrarian
Jump to navigation Jump to search
People Anatomy

A spotter’s guide to the men and women of finance.

Index — Click ᐅ to expand:

Get in touch
Comments? Questions? Suggestions? Requests? Sign up for our newsletter? Questions? We’d love to hear from you.
BREAKING: Get the new weekly newsletter here Old editions here

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 it is, the more likely it will 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 at least one. Even investment banks. Even Goldman.

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 among them laziness, evasiveness, defensiveness, a penchant for confusion and a taste for office politics. The surviver 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 magic ability to “manage upward” will not work on peers, all of whom will see the survivor for what he is, and bitterly resent his gamesmanship. But he won’t care about that: in a rotten borough, no-one cares what honest toilers think or do anyway.

That “basis” between colleagues and superiors is all he needs to execute his strategy: to cling out of sight to the underside of a bridge like a limpet, letting 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.

This over-developed instinct for self-preservation can 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: Laggards have been known to survive for decades in the capital markets by picking the right mediocre organisation in which to go unnoticed, staying unevaluated as long as possible, only to step off just before it implodes through exactly the kind of systematic mediocrity that saw it employing said survivor for fifteen years without question. There was once 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 Lloyd’s or The Royal Bank of Scotland where, for all we know they still lurk undetected in various regulatory roles;
  • Familiarity with HR: Coming to the attention of HR is considered poor practice among diligent employees, but the one who is prepared to game the inconstancy, timidity and ineptitude of the human resources department—a pretty good bet—may confuse those who make the termination decisions to such a point that they are frightened to act. Having a discriminable-against attribute (and these days it’s a broad church - age, disability, marital status, pregnancy, race, religion, sex, sexual orientation, gender and gender self-identity all get you home, so worst case scenario you can feign transvestism) certainly helps.
  • Key man” engineering: 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 knowledge and cultivating arcane and confusing procedures around it so that the function could not be carried out in his absence. Entreaties for simplification and syndication of knowledge will be met with solemn agreement but no action at all.

See also