How to spot a City Slacker

2006

So how do you spot a city slacker? It's not easy. In the olden days you had to be good to get to the top, everyone knew that. Careers were built upon success: product innovations, successful marketing campaigns, finding a gap or niche in a sector and launching into it. People had clearly defined responsibility and they were accountable.

The move from corporate hierarchical structures to more flexible project teams and outsourcing services to third parties has brought with it a world of ambiguity.

Audit any medium sized organisation today and you will quickly find a surprising number of people who command a great deal of authority, but none have genuine accountability for anything. The edges have been blurred and as a result nobody is quite sure where the buck stops. For city slackers this is a very good thing.

The moment the city slacker actually starts doing the job, they run the risk of exposure. In a society where presentation is everything it's no longer about what you do: it's about how you look like you're doing it. The new breed of urban professional might appear to the ultimate 'yes' men and women; never challenging superiors, always putting the company first, but be on your guard - these will be always be cleverly undermining the boss, because promotion can't come soon enough, and it literally pays a city slacker to keep moving.

They will be armed with all the latest industry buzz-words, which will be rotated regularly to make them look well informed. The city slacker is big on 'strategic re-alignment', 'corporate re-branding' and 'brand re-positioning' - anything with 're' at the front is good, it means he doesn't have to innovate.

Many companies will believe a city slacker is their biggest asset

You will usually find mature versions "up to their neck" in a soft project with high visibility and no real chance of evaluation, for example, leading the team charged with redesigning the company's logo. This is a highly visible project, which will elicit a strong emotional response internally, but will have zero impact on the performance (for good or ill) of the business. For the slacker, this is perfect.

Many companies will believe a city slacker is their biggest asset: a rising star who's never put a foot wrong, but the truth is they will never have delivered anything.

They might be big on the conference and networking scene, but that's because they're looking for their next gig. You will find city slackers appearing regularly in the pages of your trade press, but that's probably because they've used charged the company's PR agency with boosting their own profile, rather than the CEO's – who will be oblivious to this and simply lap up the great coverage.

A city slacker is always busy. Everything about them will seem to have a sense of urgency: holding folders wherever they go, always on the mobile yet, ironically, virtually impossible to get hold of because they're always in meetings.

If you work alongside one, you will find they are a great source of ideas for your project: the kind of person you can expect to send you and email outlining a few 'blue-sky ideas' at 11.00pm at night or slap in the middle of the weekend. You know they are always thinking about the company, even when they're asleep.

The reality is very different.

The folders are no more than a prop; the city slacker carries files home every night. They are never opened. The mobile calls will be mostly personal, but they may concern the organisation of an out of hours social event or may even be some 'consultancy' for a competitor.

Those great ideas will be carried out at your own risk, to be immediately reclaimed in the unlikely event they succeed (usually by sending a congratulatory email to you that is cc'd to the boss with the initial idea attached to the bottom as evidence). Those late night emails are most probably the result of a few subtle changes to his internal PC clock and mail set up, courtesy of a helpful soul in the IT department.

The cost of city slacking can be measured in billions. Taking the UK IT sector alone, last year £10 billion was wasted on products that either never saw the light of day or were unfit for the purpose intended.

It's certainly paying many people to be busy doing nothing.

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About The Author

Steve McKevitt
Steve McKevitt

Steve McKevitt began his career in the music industry in 1988 and has many years of senior management experience in the entertainment and media sectors. He is the author of City Slackers. His second book Why The World Is Full Of Useless Things is published in October 2006.