Militarized Incompetence or Unintentional Sabotage


In 1944, near the end of WW2, the Office of Strategic Services (the forerunner to the CIA) released a field guide called the “Simple Sabotage Field Manual.” The purpose of the suggestions in the manual was “to present suggestions for inciting and executing (sabotage)” for the citizen saboteur to “undermine organizations from within.”

I’d like to focus on three suggestions provided in the manual that I’ve routinely seen implemented in facilities across the nation.

Think about that for a second – these are suggestions on how to undermine an organization from a SPY AGENCY that employees are implementing TODAY in facilities – often, without intent or an understanding of how their behaviors are affecting the organization.

#1 – Don’t train the new technician or Share Information

oss2In an era where employees no longer feel any real loyalty from their employer, it’s not surprising that this is a problem. After all, if you train the new technician, what’s to stop them from taking your job? Now, I could explain all the ways that a trained technician would help your process (and you) be safer and more effective, but I’m going to assume you’ve already heard this before and it wasn’t enough to convince you. Instead, I’m going to appeal to something else: If nobody else can do your job, then you cannot be promoted.

#2 – Find reasons to fail


In dozens of compliance audits around the country I’ve witnessed horrible housekeeping and/or a lack of basic maintenance. When questioned, the maintenance employees usually give some version of:

  • We’re short-staffed and they won’t approve more hours/employees
  • Various capital projects are still waiting approval
  • Scheduling contractors to address some other issue is proving difficult

Note that none of these things are really reasons why you can’t pick trash up off the machine room floor (or not place it there in the first place.) What they are is an attempt to redirect your attention somewhere else – specifically to someone else.

Look, I understand. I’ve worked inside large (and small) bureaucracies before and the frustration is real. It’s unfortunately very easy to let someone else’s failures demotivate you. Don’t let someone’s inability to do their job stop you from doing your job. You can take time to complain about everyone else’s failures as soon as you’ve made sure all your stuff is taken care of.

#3 – Sabotage Paperwork oss4

Anyone with a PSM/RM Program has seen this issue. Common examples include:

  • An MOC filled out with a “Technical Basis for Change” that sounds more like an explanation given to a two-year-old than an engineering rationale. “We moved the air unit.” Ok. Why did you move it? Where did you move it to? Where did you move it from? How do we know the new area is acceptable? Etc.
  • An incident investigation that makes you think the author was being charged by the letter. “Leak in Au1 coil. Fixed.” Where was the leak? What was the extent of the leak? What were the repercussions of the leak? What happened during the investigation of / response to the leak? How was it fixed and by whom? What lead to the leak? What are we doing to stop this from happening again? Etc.

If you view MOCs and Incident Investigations as “filling out the paperwork” rather than documenting your work, you’ll routinely get poor results.

These are just three examples of employee actions that are disturbingly similar to suggestions from a SPY AGENCY on how to intentionally undermine an organization. I’m not suggesting that your employees are undercover agents from your competitors, but if they are exhibiting these behaviors, and you aren’t addressing them, what is the practical difference between militarized incompetence  or unintentional sabotage to your organization?

About Brian Chapin

PSM / RMP Compliance Consultant
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