Do You Know Your Dilbert Premium?

Do you charge a premium for dysfunction?


I love Dilbert.

The classic comic strip by artist Scott Adams speaks to truths of the corporate environment.

As a matter of fact, the only people I have encountered who dislike Dilbert tend to be the ones whose behaviors the comic strip captures most perfectly.  In other words, they are offended.

What the Dilbert comics show best is the dysfunctions that crop up from management platitudes and organizational shortcomings.

They show the kind of dysfunction that overwhelms organizations…even some of the best organizations you know.  Leadership that believes “do something” is the answer exists in many, many forms.

I get a kick out of Dilbert’s send-ups of such stuff.  It puts on paper some of the rather ridiculous aspects of corporate environments (oh, and consultants) that make life miserable for people fighting the good fight.

Which has me thinking…

I like to think that a healthy part of running a healthy company is having people who value their own self respect and the dignity of others.  Those two things are really reciprocals of others.  I respect myself too much to be unethical, and I respect your dignity enough not to ask you to be.  Corporate environments that don’t foster self respect and dignity are worthy of leaving, as I’ve written before in many forms.  That’s a line that I won’t and I hope you won’t cross.

The real interesting question is about Dilbert dysfunction that falls short of the dignity line. How do you handle that? Do we need to define our own “Dilbert Premium” in our lives?  Do we need to place a price on dysfunction?

An anecdote

At a conference of consultants I recently attended, one of the participants related a story of a client.  It went something like this (and I’m quoting for effect, to be clear, I’m making up the quote):

“I was proposing on some work for a client who is known to be a real pain about fees and payment and scope. So, I was really careful to propose a lower than reasonable price for the work…”

What? Yes, that was my reaction.  What, you say?  You proposed a lower price for a potential client who is known as a pain in the rear?

Having served a few clients who were (a) known as jerks and (b) fulfilled that promise, I firmly believe that this guy didn’t have his Dilbert Premium worked out.

What is the Dilbert Premium? 

Think of the Dilbert Premium as the price of wading into dysfunction.  For a professional services provider, this is easy.  You know you have to go to the bottom of the septic tank to solve the problem?  Price accordingly.  Workers of this type are episodic.

The definition, then, of the Dilbert Premium is the increment or decrement you charge to your market value for dealing with particularly toxic or challenging environments or particularly attractive ones. 

Yes, that’s right, it works in reverse, too.  A lot of people make that calculation:  I like my job and the team, so I’ll take a pay cut. Still, it’s stunning to me how many people dislike the work, the people and the pay, and make no move whatsoever.  And by this, I mean seasoned professionals who are quite good at their jobs.

So, you work in a challenging business environment at a tough job with people you don’t like.  Name your price for your Dilbert Premium.  Is it higher pay? A better immediate working team?  Perhaps a change in job scope?  Those are all variables to consider.

How much do you charge to live with dysfunction? Do you just do your job, tolerate boors, and never ask for a raise? Are you expensive, or cheap?

I will write at some other point about how organizations’ cost of talent is directly related to reputation, growth, and leadership culture.  This one, however, is on you:  Do you price yourself appropriate to the dysfunction you will be asked to tolerate?

A second anecdote

I once took a lower paying role than an offered alternative on the theory (supported by historical evidence) that the Dilbert Premium would place the lower paying role far above the alternative; and, I was right.  The work, the people, and the pay were all fine. I never looked back.  If this is you, congratulations.

However, things do change, and as dysfunction mounts, you have to assess whether your assessed Dilbert Premium was, in fact, right.  If it was not…then look for the right time to make a change–a raise, a change in job scope, a change of team.

Ask yourself:  Do you charge a premium for dysfunction?  Should you start now?

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