Point Lookout: a free weekly publication of Chaco Canyon Consulting
Volume 11, Issue 6;   February 9, 2011: How Pet Projects Get Resources: Cleverness

How Pet Projects Get Resources: Cleverness

by

When pet projects thrive in an organization, they sometimes depend on the clever tactics of those who nurture them to secure resources despite conflict with organizational priorities. How does this happen?
Aggregating anemones (Anthopleura elegantissima)

Aggregating anemones (Anthopleura elegantissima). The Aggregating Anemone is the most common species of sea anemone along rocky shorelines on the Pacific coast of North America. It hosts endosymbiotic algae (algae living within its body) called zooxanthellae. The sea anemone benefits from the algae's photosynthesis, receiving oxygen and food as glycerol, glucose and alanine. The algae receive reliable exposure to sun, and protection from micro-feeders.

The anemone is analogous to the supervisor who supports the pet project of a subordinate, while the algae are analogous to the subordinate who nurtures the pet project. In the biological analogy, as in the organizational situation, both parties benefit from the relationship. Photo courtesy U.S. National Park Service.

It isn't surprising when some pet projects get resources — perhaps their nurturers answer to no one, or they abuse their authority. But some pet projects thrive even when their nurturers lack absolute power and seem to have done nothing wrong. Somehow they've found ways to feed their pets without violating organizational policy — or, at least, not much.

In last week's edition, we examined how nurturers of pet projects can abuse their authority to secure resources. Here are some methods that don't necessarily involve abuse of authority, but do depend on cleverness.

Legitimate circumvention of policy intent
Sometimes resources flow to pet projects by secretive redirection. In some cases this involves falsification of records, but sometimes the projects' nurturers have exploited flexibility or openings in organizational policy.
Since even the most primitive control systems involve several people, this technique usually requires collaboration among several individuals, which is difficult to arrange unless the activity is at least superficially legitimate. It's wise to regard these incidents as indicators of (possibly benign) policy defects.
Exchange of political favors
In an I-scratch-your-back-you-scratch-mine exchange, two people with access to resources trade those resources, nurturing each other's pets. On the surface, each resource-owner's contribution is legitimate.
Detecting this tactic is complicated when the exchange crosses supervisory boundaries, because it requires visibility at organizational levels higher than the supervisor of each party to the exchange. It's wise to regard these incidents as indicators of defects in compliance monitoring.
Scavenging, surplus and mistakes
Occasionally, possibly as a result of accounting errors, surplus or idle resources become available to anyone who wants them. For instance, some engineering consulting firms have internal R&D programs intended for development of expertise, but these programs can sometimes be deflected to pet projects.
In many Surplus or idle resources
sometimes become available
to anyone who wants them
instances, the losses to the organization resulting from deflecting these resources are acceptable. Detecting the deflection might not result in much advantage to the organization. But when internal development programs are a means of implementing important strategic decisions, monitoring the use of their resources to inhibit redirection to pet projects can add significant value to the program.
Gifts from above
At times — usually at the nurturer's request — the nurturer's supervisor might bestow a gift of resources on the pet project, knowing that the organization would not support the project to that extent through routine channels.
Motivations for such gifts can include a desire to assist the career of the subordinate, and a desire to see the pet project progress. Preventing these gifts might not be advisable, because prevention could conflict with the supervisor's appropriate independence.

By whatever means nurturers secure resources for their pets, they do so in contravention of organizational intent. Fortunately, pet projects do sometimes benefit the organization, and perhaps that's one reason why they're here to stay. First in this series  Go to top Top  Next issue: Finding the Third Way  Next Issue

303 Secrets of Workplace PoliticsIs every other day a tense, anxious, angry misery as you watch people around you, who couldn't even think their way through a game of Jacks, win at workplace politics and steal the credit and glory for just about everyone's best work including yours? Read 303 Secrets of Workplace Politics, filled with tips and techniques for succeeding in workplace politics. More info

Your comments are welcome

Would you like to see your comments posted here? rbrennQMVDIXIVzfGnWPUner@ChacPkCwyelAvEqJEAHDoCanyon.comSend me your comments by email, or by Web form.

About Point Lookout

Thank you for reading this article. I hope you enjoyed it and found it useful, and that you'll consider recommending it to a friend.

Point Lookout is a free weekly email newsletter. Browse the archive of past issues. Subscribe for free.

Support Point Lookout by joining the Friends of Point Lookout, as an individual or as an organization.

Do you face a complex interpersonal situation? Send it in, anonymously if you like, and I'll give you my two cents.

Related articles

More articles on Workplace Politics:

William Tecumseh Sherman as a major general in May 1865On Badly Written Email
Even those who aren't great writers do occasionally write clearly, just by chance. But there are some who consistently produce unintelligible email messages. Why does this happen?
Elia Kazan, award winning film directorOn Snitching at Work: I
Some people have difficulty determining the propriety of reporting violations to authorities at work. Proper or not, reporting violations can be simultaneously both risky and necessary.
A collaborative discussionAllocating Airtime: II
Much has been said about people who don't get a fair chance to speak at meetings. We've even devised processes intended to more fairly allocate speaking time. What's happening here?
The city walls of Dubrovnik, CroatiaProblem Displacement by Intention
When solving problems creates new problems, or creates problems elsewhere, we say that problem displacement has occurred. Sometimes it's intentional.
A blue peacock of IndiaThe Knowledge One-Upmanship Game
The Knowledge One-Upmanship Game is a pattern of group behavior in the form of a contest to determine which player knows the most arcane fact. It can seem like innocent fun, but it can disrupt a team's ability to collaborate.

See also Workplace Politics and Managing Your Boss for more related articles.

Forthcoming issues of Point Lookout

A review meetingComing December 13: Reframing Revision Resentment: II
When we're required to revise something previously produced — prose, designs, software, whatever, we sometimes experience frustration with those requiring the revisions. Here are some alternative perspectives that can be helpful. Available here and by RSS on December 13.
Raquel Welch (left) and Gilda Radner (right) from a @Cite{Saturday Night Live rehearsal, April 24, 1976And on December 20: Conceptual Mondegreens
When we disagree about abstractions, such as a problem solution, or a competitor's strategy, the cause can often be misunderstanding the abstraction. That misunderstanding can be a conceptual mondegreen. Available here and by RSS on December 20.

Coaching services

I offer email and telephone coaching at both corporate and individual rates. Contact Rick for details at rbrennYCGgLABrKcyrllyner@ChacinJmOxdDonoLLfWCoCanyon.com or (617) 491-6289, or toll-free in the continental US at (866) 378-5470.

Get the ebook!

Past issues of Point Lookout are available in six ebooks:

Reprinting this article

Are you a writer, editor or publisher on deadline? Are you looking for an article that will get people talking and get compliments flying your way? You can have 500 words in your inbox in one hour. License any article from this Web site. More info

Public seminars

Person-to-Person Communications: Models and Applications
When Person-to-Person Communications: Models and Applicationswe talk, listen, send or read emails, read or write memos, or when we leave or listen to voice mail messages, we're communicating person-to-person. And whenever we communicate person-to-person, we risk being misunderstood, offending others, feeling hurt, and being confused. There are so many ways for things to go wrong that we could never learn how to fix all the problems. A more effective approach avoids problems altogether, or at least minimizes their occurrence. In this very interactive program we'll explain — and show you how to use — a model of inter-personal communications that can help you stay out of the ditch. We'll place particular emphasis on a very tricky situation — expressing your personal power. In those moments of intense involvement, when we're most likely to slip, you'll have a new tool to use to keep things constructive. Read more about this program. Here's a date for this program:

Ten Project Management Fallacies: The Power of Avoiding Hazards
Most Ten Project Management Fallaciesof what we know about managing projects is useful and effective, but some of what we know "just ain't so." Identifying the fallacies of project management reduces risk and enhances your ability to complete projects successfully. Even more important, avoiding these traps can demonstrate the value and power of the project management profession in general, and your personal capabilities in particular. In this program we describe ten of these beliefs. There are almost certainly many more, but these ten are a good start. We'll explore the situations where these fallacies are most likely to expose projects to risk, and suggest techniques for avoiding them. Read more about this program. Here's a date for this program:

The Power Affect: How We Express Our Personal Power
Many The Power Affect: How We Express Personal Powerpeople who possess real organizational power have a characteristic demeanor. It's the way they project their presence. I call this the power affect. Some people — call them power pretenders — adopt the power affect well before they attain significant organizational power. Unfortunately for their colleagues, and for their organizations, power pretenders can attain organizational power out of proportion to their merit or abilities. Understanding the power affect is therefore important for anyone who aims to attain power, or anyone who works with power pretenders. Read more about this program.

Follow Rick

Send email or subscribe to one of my newsletters Follow me at LinkedIn Follow me at Twitter, or share a tweet Follow me at Google+ or share a post Subscribe to RSS feeds Subscribe to RSS feeds
Please donate!The message of Point Lookout is unique. Help get the message out. Please donate to help keep Point Lookout available for free to everyone.
Technical Debt for Policymakers BlogMy blog, Technical Debt for Policymakers, offers resources, insights, and conversations of interest to policymakers who are concerned with managing technical debt within their organizations. Get the millstone of technical debt off the neck of your organization!

Beware any resource that speaks of "winning" at workplace politics or "defeating" it. You can benefit or not, but there is no score-keeping, and it isn't a game.

303 Secrets of Workplace PoliticsIs every other day a tense, anxious, angry misery as you watch people around you, who couldn't even think their way through a game of Jacks, win at workplace politics and steal the credit and glory for just about everyone's best work including yours? Read 303 Secrets of Workplace Politics!
303 Tips for Virtual and Global TeamsLearn how to make your virtual global team sing.
My free weekly email newsletter gives concrete tips and suggestions for dealing with the challenging but everyday situations we all face.
A Tip A DayA Tip a Day arrives by email, or by RSS Feed, each business day. It's 20 to 30 words at most, and gives you a new perspective on the hassles and rewards of work life. Most tips also contain links to related articles. Free!
101 Tips for Effective MeetingsLearn how to make meetings more productive — and more rare.
Exchange your "personal trade secrets" — the tips, tricks and techniques that make you an ace — with other aces, anonymously. Visit the Library of Personal Trade Secrets.