In Lowballed Baseline, a manager steps into a new role—after joining the company or after being transferred or promoted—and immediately starts telling people that the department is in bad shape financially. By disparaging his predecessor, he sets low expectations that he is able to meet
or exceed, thus appearing to have “turned things around.” Some managers are highly skilled at playing this game, shading the facts just enough that their pessimistic projections feel accurate. They may well enlist others in this game, encouraging their direct reports to help them slant the facts negatively. A great deal of effort goes into creating this low baseline, and therefore not much effort has to be expended on actual work, as anything above the baseline will be considered a success.
Example: Elena was a new manager who joined a company that had just gone through an acquisition, and she was given a position of responsibility within the acquired group. Elena declared that the unit was a “mess”—that given its structure, its personnel, and its products, there was no way it could come close to the CFO’s financial projections for it. She seized on one negative factor—that a few people resigned
after the acquisition—and talked about how these were “indispensable” individuals and that the loss of their knowledge and expertise would make it impossible to operate effectively until new people were hired and trained. In fact, the people who left were B and C players, but Elena did a masterful job of portraying them as A players.