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? rbrenPXzFifnnCPSRbHJuner@ChacPlOUwLrhXnzmhJVRoCanyon.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:

An old-fashioned punch clockThings We Believe That Maybe Aren't So True
Maxims and rules make life simpler by eliminating decisions. And they have a price: they sometimes foreclose options that would have worked better than anything else. Here are some things we believe in maybe a little too much.
A section of stone wall at Pueblo BonitoStonewalling: Part II
Stonewalling is a tactic of obstruction. Some less sophisticated tactics rely on misrepresentation to gum up the works. Those that employ bureaucratic methods are more devious. What can you do about stonewalling?
Polonius's Charge to Laertes, color wood engraving by Bernard Brussel-Smith (1914-1989)A Critique of Criticism: Part I
Whether we call it "criticism" or "feedback," the receiver can sometimes experience pain, even when the giver didn't intend harm. How does this happen? What can givers of feedback do to increase the chance that the receiver hears the giver's message without experiencing pain?
Abraham Lincoln as a young man about to become a candidate for U.S. SenateWorkplace Politics and Integrity
Some see workplace politics and integrity as inherently opposed. One can participate in politics, or one can have integrity — not both. This belief is a dangerous delusion.
Head of the philosopher Carneades (215-129 BCE)The Perils of Novel Argument
When people use novel or sophisticated arguments to influence others, the people they're trying to influence are sometimes subject to cognitive biases triggered by the nature of the argument. This puts them at a disadvantage relative to the influencer. How does this happen?

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

Forthcoming issues of Point Lookout

A vizsla in a pose called the play bowComing April 26: Why Dogs Make the Best Teammates
Dogs make great teammates. It's in their constitutions. We can learn a lot from dogs about being good teammates. Available here and by RSS on April 26.
A business meetingAnd on May 3: Start the Meeting with a Check-In
Check-ins give meeting attendees a chance to express satisfaction or surface concerns about how things are going. They're a valuable aid to groups that want to stay on course, or get back on course when needed. Available here and by RSS on May 3.

Coaching services

I offer email and telephone coaching at both corporate and individual rates. Contact Rick for details at rbrenemrhNudjXauVdfnfner@ChaceBsleQCGohVNZyjpoCanyon.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

Changing How We Change: The Essence of Agility
MasteChanging How We Change: The Essence of Agilityry of the ability to adapt to unpredictable and changing circumstances is one way of understanding the success of Agile methodologies for product development. Applying the principles of Change Mastery, we can provide the analogous benefits in a larger arena. By exploring strategies and tactics for enhancing both the resilience and adaptability of projects and portfolios, we show why agile methodologies are so powerful, and how to extend them beyond product development to efforts of all kinds. Read more about this program. Here's an upcoming date for this program:

Creating High Performance Virtual Teams
Many Creating High Performance Virtual Teamspeople experience virtual teams as awkward, slow, and sometimes frustrating. Even when most team members hail from the same nation or culture, and even when they all speak the same language, geographic dispersion or the presence of employees from multiple enterprises is often enough to exclude all possibility of high performance. The problem is that we lead, manage, and support virtual teams in ways that are too much like the way we lead, manage, and support co-located teams. In this program, Rick Brenner shows you how to change your approach to leading, managing, and supporting virtual teams to achieve high performance using Simons' Four Spans model of high performance. Read more about this program. Here's an upcoming date for this program:

The Race to the South Pole: Ten Lessons for Project Managers
On 14The Race to the Pole: Ten Lessons for Project Managers December 1911, four men led by Roald Amundsen reached the South Pole. Thirty-five days later, Robert F. Scott and four others followed. Amundsen had won the race to the pole. Amundsen's party returned to base on 26 January 1912. Scott's party perished. As historical drama, why this happened is interesting enough, but to organizational leaders, business analysts, project sponsors, and project managers, the story is fascinating. Lessons abound. Read more about this program. Here's an upcoming date for 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.
21st Century Business TravelAre your business trips long chains of stressful misadventures? Have you ever wondered if there's a better way to get from here to there relaxed and refreshed? First class travel is one alternative, but you can do almost as well (without the high costs) if you know the tricks of the masters of 21st-century e-enabled business travel…

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.