The Arbitrary Nature of Authority-A case study

Hi Allon,

I run a think-tank with 75 scientists. Most of the staff have PhD’s or MScs; about one third come from 8200 (Israeli crypto-spying unit).

Of course, as a manager, I allow our staff a great deal of freedom. We have 8  units with independent, almost unlimited  budgets. There are no timetables, and each unit  gets a very broad mandate to produce anything they want in such areas as “bridges and railway infrastructure protection”.

As a manager, I face one major problem. Everything is an argument. I get push back about our taxi-policy; our pension plans are ridiculed although they are very fair, the restaurants we order from are decimated by our staff on social media. No caterer wants to work with us anymore!

All of our rules and procedures are very flexible and when I get push back, I go to great lengths to explain the rationale after the unit managers throw up their hands in despair.  Last year, we  trained all unit managers in “managing creative people” but it was a colossal failure.

Things are out of hand;  no one wants to be a unit manager anymore. Three unit managers have resigned; I fear  a meltdown of all authority. All the shit floats up to my desk.

Can we meet and discuss this?

Prof Noa D.

My work with Professor Noa lasted 3 meetings.

In our first meeting, I recommended that Noa implement one rule which was arbitrary in nature, and provide no explanation yet very severe consequence for non-compliance.

The rule was expenses had be given in by 900 AM by the 27th of each month; if not, staff  would be reimbursed 80 days later, not immediately upon the next paycheck. Since the law calls for reimbursement within three months, this rule was kosher, albeit “out of the blue” and not all logical;  the IT system was equipped to reimburse expenses at anytime in real time. 

Prof Noa was instructed not to be provide any explanation whatsoever, except “that’s the way it is.”

In our second meeting, Noa reported that the rule was extremely unpopular but was strictly implemented. Two scientists had suggested that Noa see a shrink, and she had ignored their comments, and told them “do as you are told”.

In our final meeting six months later, Prof Noa told me that compliance with all regulations was far better than it ever was in the past. “And Allon, you were right; authority needs to be seen as somewhat arbitrary, otherwise one doesn’t stand a chance”.

Noa then invited me out to long lunch in the Yemenite Quarter of Tel Aviv. 












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7 thoughts on “The Arbitrary Nature of Authority-A case study

  1. I enjoyed this tale…like a parable where there is a lesson at the end. What is the lesson in this one? When the troops are out of control, get them back in line through designed mystery.

  2. Another option, one I would be much more likely to recommend, would be grounded in Rabbi Friedman’s self-differentiation. In this case make rules that matter and don’t indulge any whining.

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