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Merit as a means of getting up the corporate ladder is grossly overstated. A bit of deft packaging of oneself, a lot of self-promotion and an ability to outmanoeuvre colleagues can get the same desired results.
All this without the individual even having to break into a sweat in the game of one-upmanship. Call it manipulative or whatever, but it sure can yield results.
Welcome then to the rarefied world of 'bargepole management', as described by Dubai-based Mitch Vandell who has brought out a whole book on using this technique of 'minimal input' for 'maximum gain'.
''Societies have practised this throughout history to varying extents using very distinctive markers as to who qualifies for this unfair advantage, for instance, based on social class, education, etc,'' Vandell said. ''What is different in our day and age is how these criteria have been 'democratised' and anyone can rise to the top regardless of personal background and work performance.
''Being a 'Bargepoler' is a form of merit in and of itself, (and) oftentimes, the most important and valuable merit. The scary part is when it becomes the only merit that matters in an organization...''
According to Vandell, even businesses have their own version of such practices and a long-standing one at that. ''Companies want maximum gain from charging customers the highest possible prices with employees accepting the lowest possible wages,'' he added.
''Bargepole management uses the same logic and reasoning... but from an individual's perspective. It sheds light on behaviours that are universally seen as negative, yet are among the best rewarded and least confronted career strategies.''
So, which professions are best suited to getting ahead via bargepoling? Any business where ''technical skills and innovation are secondary'', according to Vandell. ''Alternatively, where results are not easily linked to productivity or efficiency, as in the creative fields or legal representation.''
The author believes the hierarchy within the Mafia provides an apt illustration. ''The Don didn't get there by taking the boldest risks... he got there by manipulating people to his advantage by paying in the currency of making vague promises of lavish rewards in an unspecified future,'' Vandell said.
''Many sales dominated organisations today function in this exact same way. This does not exclusively benefit the bargepolers personally but is often even the only viable way to run such organisations successfully.''
Also, it is not as if these are isolated instances. ''It is a sliding scale and an uncomfortable truth is that — whether we realise it or not — most of us who work in large organisations are forced to use these tactics at one point or another,'' Vandell said.
''Many companies stigmatise mistakes to the degree that being able to avoid taking decisions is a better career strategy than taking on responsibility and leading initiatives.
''When done right, no failure can be traced back to the bargepoler and their contribution to the organisation goes both unquestioned and is made impossible to accurately gauge the value of.''
Trust the bargepoler to cover his tracks...
Get tips on how a lifetime and career can be well spent
Source: Manoj Nair, Associate Editor, gulfnews.com