Performance appraisal practices and project retrospectives both rely on evaluating performance after outcomes are known. Unfortunately, a well-known bias — hindsight bias — can limit the effectiveness of many organizational processes, including both performance appraisal and project retrospectives. Available here and by RSS on May 29.
And on June 5: Pariah Professions: Part I
In some organizations entire professions are held in low regard. Their members become pariahs to some people in the rest of the organization. When these conditions prevail, organizational performance suffers. Available here and by RSS on June 5.
Practitioners of workplace politics intent on gaining unfair advantage sometimes use misinformation, disinformation, and other information-related tactics. Here's a short catalog of techniques to watch for.
When organizations become aware of negligence, miscalculations, failures, wrongdoing, or legal infractions, they often try to conceal the bad news. People who disagree with the concealment activity sometimes decide to reveal what the organization is trying to hide. Here's Part II of our catalog of methods used to suppress the truth.
When organizations know that they've done something they shouldn't have, or they haven't done something they should have, they often try to conceal the bad news. When dealing with whistleblowers, they can be especially ruthless.
The Eisenhower Matrix is useful for distinguishing which tasks deserve attention and in what order. It helps us by removing perceptual distortion about what matters most. But it can't help as much with some kinds of perceptual distortion.
Agreements between people at work are often the basis of resolving conflict or political differences. Sometimes agreements collapse spontaneously. When they do, the consequences can be costly. An understanding of the mechanisms of spontaneous collapse of agreements can help us craft more stable agreements.
Coercion, physical or psychological, has no place in the workplace. Yet we see it and experience it frequently. We can end the use of presupposition as a tool of coercion, but only if we take personal responsibility for ending it.
Performance Improvement Plans help supervisors guide their subordinates toward improved performance. But they can also be used to develop documentation to support termination. How can subordinates tell whether a PIP is a real opportunity to improve?
When we manage risk, we usually focus on those risks most closely associated with the tasks at hand — content risks. But there are other risks, to which we pay less attention. Many of these are outside our awareness. Here's Part II of an exploration of these non-content risks, emphasizing those that relate to organizational politics.
When project teams and their sponsors manage risk, they usually focus on those risks most closely associated with the tasks — content risks. Meanwhile, other risks — non-content risks — get less attention. Among these are risks related to the processes and politics by which the organization gets things done.
When groups can't reach agreement on all aspects of an issue, the tactics of some members can actually exacerbate disagreement. Here's Part II of an exploration of impasses, emphasizing two of the more toxic tactics.
Groups sometimes find that although they cannot agree on the issue at hand in its entirety, they can agree on some parts of it. Yet, they remain stuck, unable to reach a narrow agreement before moving on to the more thorny areas. Why does this happen?
In well-facilitated meetings, facilitators work hard to ensure that all participants have opportunities to contribute. The story is rather different for many meetings, where getting into the conversation can be challenging for some.
When we must say "no" to people who have superior organizational power, the message sometimes fails to get across. The trouble can be in the form of the message, the style of delivery, or elsewhere. How does this happen?
When a questioner repeatedly attacks someone within seconds of their starting to reply, complaining to management about a pattern of abuse can work — if management understands abuse, and if management wants deal with it. What if management is no help?
Someone asks you a question. Within seconds of starting to reply, you're hit with another question, or a rejection of your reply. Abusively. The pattern repeats. And repeats again. And again. You're being attacked. What can you do?
What we fail to notice about any situation — and what we do notice that isn't really there — can be the difference between the outcomes we fear, the outcomes we seek, and the outcomes that exceed our dreams. How can we improve our ability to notice?
When we feel that our freedom at work is threatened, we sometimes experience urges to do what is forbidden, or to not do what is required. This phenomenon — called reactance — might explain some of the dynamics of micromanagement.
We have choices about how we conduct social transactions — greetings, partings, opening doors, and so on. Some transactions require that we collaborate with others. In social transactions, how do we decide whose preferences rule?
When your boss misspeaks — innocently, as opposed to deviously — what should you do? Corrections are not always welcome, but failing to offer corrections can be equally dangerous. How can you tell what to do?
Deception at work probably wasn't invented at work. Most likely it is a continuation of deception in the rest of life. But the technologies of the modern workplace offer new opportunities to practice the art. Here's Part II of a handy guide for telephonic self-defense.
People have been deceiving each other at work since the invention of work. Nowadays, with telephones ever-present, telephonic deceptions are becoming more creative. Here's Part I of a handy guide for telephonic self-defense.
Understanding Power, Authority, and Influence depends on familiarity with the kinds of authority found in organizations. Here's Part II of a little catalog of authority, emphasizing informal authority.
Much of what we call work is about as effective and relevant as rearranging the deck chairs of the Titanic. We continue our exploration of futile and irrelevant work, this time emphasizing behaviors related to strategy.
Much of what we call work is as futile and irrelevant as rearranging the deck chairs of the Titanic. We continue our exploration of futile and irrelevant work, this time emphasizing behaviors that extend task duration.
Among the most futile and irrelevant actions ever taken in crisis is rearranging the deck chairs of the Titanic, which, of course, never actually happened. But in the workplace, we engage in activities just as futile and irrelevant, often outside our awareness. Recognition is the first step to prevention.
Bullying is unlike other forms of toxic conflict. That's why the tools we use to address toxic conflict simply do not work for bullying. In this Part I, we contrast bullying and ordinary toxic conflict.
A trusting environment is critical to high performance. That's why it's important to recognize behaviors that erode trust in others. Here's a little catalog of methods people use — intentionally or not — to create distrust.
To make the bullying stop, many targets of bullies try to defend themselves. But defense alone is not sufficient — someone must make the bully stop. That's why counterattack is much more likely to work.
Most targets of bullies just want the bullying to stop, but most bullies don't stop unless they fear for their own welfare if they continue the bullying. To end the bullying, targets must turn the tables.
Workplace bullies who succeed in carrying on their activities over a long period of time rely on more than mere intimidation to escape prosecution. They proactively shape their environments to make them safe for bullying. The OODA model gives us insights into how they accomplish this.
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?
Pet projects thrive in many organizations — even those that are supposedly "lean and mean." Some nurturers of pet projects abuse their authority to secure resources for their pets. How does this happen?
Pet projects are common in organizations, including organizations with healthy and mature planning processes. They usually consume resources at levels beyond what the organization intends, which raises the question of their genesis: Where do pet projects come from?
People at work often make agreements in which they commit to cooperate — to share resources, to assist each other, or not to harm each other. Some agreements work. Some don't. What makes agreements durable?
The Critical Path of a project is the sequence of dependent tasks that determine the earliest completion date of the effort. We don't usually consider tasks that are already complete, but they, too, can experience the unique politics of the critical path.
Management debt, like technical debt, arises when we choose paths — usually the lowest-cost paths — that lead to recurring costs that are typically higher than alternatives. Why do we take on management debt? How can we pay it down?
The Critical Path of a project or activity is the sequence of dependent tasks that determine the earliest completion date of the effort. If you're responsible for one of these tasks, you live in a unique political environment.
When teams solve problems together, discussions of proposed solutions usually focus on combinations of what the solution will do, how much it will cost, how long it will take, and much more. Disentangling these threads can make discussions much more effective.
When you're responsible for an organizational function, and someone not reporting to you won't recognize your authority, or doesn't comply with policies you rightfully established, you have a hard time carrying out your responsibilities. Why does this happen?
When you're responsible for an organizational function, and someone not reporting to you won't recognize your authority, or doesn't comply with policies you rightfully established, you have a hard time carrying out your responsibilities. Why does this happen?
When everyone is thinking something that no one dares discuss, we say that there is "an elephant in the room." Free-ranging elephants are expensive and dangerous to both the organization and its people. Here's Part II of a catalog of indicators that elephants are about.
The expression "the elephant in the room" describes the thought that most of us are thinking, and none of us dare discuss. Usually, we believe that in avoidance lies personal safety. But free-ranging elephants present intolerable risks to both the organization and its people.
Communication can be problematic for any team, especially under pressure. But virtual teams face challenges that are less common in face-to-face teams. Here's Part II of a little catalog with some recommendations.
Political Praise is any public statement, praising (most often) an individual, and including a characterization of the individual or the individual's deeds, and which spins or distorts in such a way that it advances the praiser's own political agenda, possibly at the expense of the one praised.
Some of us have roles at work that expose us to unwanted hugs from people we don't know. After a while, this experience can be far worse than merely annoying. How can we deal with unwanted hugs from strangers?
People write to me occasionally that their bosses undermine them, but I know there are bosses who want to do more undermining than they are already doing. So here are some tips for bosses aspiring to sink even lower.
When targets of bullies decide to stand up to their bullies, to end the harassment, they frequently act before they're really ready. Here's a metaphor that explains the value of waiting for the right time to act.
Mastering the art of delegation can increase your productivity, and help to develop the skills of the people you lead or manage. And it makes them better delegators, too. Here are some guidelines for delegation.
For many of us, the typical workday presents a series of opportunities to take action. We often approach these situations by choosing among the expected choices. But usually there are choices that exploit situational momentum, and they can be powerful choices indeed.
When a bully targets you, you have three options: accept the abuse; avoid the bully or escape; and confront or fight back. Confrontation is a better choice than many believe — if you know what you're doing.
We all engage in interpreting the behavior of others, usually without thinking much about it. Whenever you notice yourself having a strong reaction to someone's behavior, consider the possibility that your interpretation has outrun what you actually know.
The workplace bully is a tragically familiar figure to many. Bullying is costly to organizations, and painful to everyone within them — especially targets. But the situation is worse than many realize, because much bullying is covert. Here are some of the methods of covert bullies.
Taking responsibility and a willingness to be held accountable are the hallmarks of either a rising star in a high-performance organization, or a naïve fool in a low-performance organization. Either way, you must know the more popular techniques for avoiding responsibility.
To make things better, we criticize, but we often miss the mark. We inflict pain without meaning to, and some of that pain comes back to us. How can we get better outcomes, while reducing the risks of inflicting pain?
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?
Opportunities come along even in tough times. But in tough times like these, it's especially important to sniff out true opportunities and avoid high-risk adventures. Here are some of the finer points to assist you in your detective work.
Opportunities come along even in tough times. But in tough times, it's especially important to distinguish between true opportunities and high-risk adventures. Here are some of the attributes of desirable political opportunities.
Recent research has uncovered a human tendency — possibly universal — to believe that we know others better than others know them, and that we know ourselves better than others know themselves. These beliefs, rarely acknowledged and often wrong, are at the root of many a toxic conflict of long standing.
Most of us believe that our own opinions are widely shared. We overestimate the breadth of consensus about controversial issues. This is the phenomenon of false consensus. It creates trouble in the workplace, but that trouble is often avoidable.
In organizational politics, one class of toxic tactics is framing — accusing a group or individual by offering interpretations of their actions to knowingly and falsely make them seem responsible for reprehensible or negligent acts. Here are some strategies framers use.
In organizational politics, one class of toxic tactics is framing — accusing a group or individual by offering interpretations of their actions to knowingly and falsely make them seem responsible for reprehensible or negligent acts. Here are some communications tactics framers use.
Negotiation skills are increasingly essential in problem-solving workplaces. When incentives are strong, or pressure is high, deception is tempting. Here are some of the deceptions popular among negotiators.
Many professions have entry-level roles that combine education with practice. Although these "newbies" have unique opportunities to learn from veterans, the role's relatively low status sometimes conflicts with the self-image of the new practitioner. Comfort in the role makes learning its lessons easier.
The path to the pinnacle of many professions leads through an initiate or intern stage in which the new professional plays a role designed to facilitate learning, especially from those more experienced. For some, this role is frustrating and difficult. Comfort in the role makes learning its lessons easier.
In workplace politics, attackers have significant advantages that explain, in part, their surprising success rate. In this third part of our series on political attacks, we examine the psychological advantages of attackers.
In workplace politics, attackers are often surprisingly successful with even the flimsiest assertions. Often, they prevail, in part, because they can choose the time and venue for their attacks. They also have the advantage of preparation. How can targets respond effectively?
Lateral micromanagement is the unwelcome intrusion by one co-worker into the responsibilities of another. Far more than run-of-the-mill bossiness, it's often a concerted attempt to gain organizational power and rank, and it is toxic to teams.
In workplace politics, attackers sometimes prevail even when the attacks are specious, and even when the attacker's job performance is substandard. Why are attacks so effective, and how can targets respond effectively?
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?
Stonewalling is a tactic of obstruction used by those who wish to stall the forward progress of some effort. Whether the effort is a rival project, an investigation, or just the work of a colleague, the stonewaller hopes to gain advantage. What can you do about stonewalling?
Reporting is the process that informs us about how things are going in the organization and its efforts. Unfortunately, the people who do the reporting often have a conflict of interest that leads to misleading and unreliable reports.
Often, at work, we make interpretations of the behavior of others. Sometimes we base these interpretations not on actual facts, but on our perceptions of facts. And our perceptions are sometimes erroneous.
Teams and groups depend for their success on highly effective cooperation between their members. If even one person is unable or unwilling to cooperate, the team's performance is limited. Here's Part II of a little catalog of tactics.
Teams and groups depend for their success on highly effective cooperation between their members. If even one person is unable or unwilling to cooperate, the team's performance is limited. What tactics do obstructors use?
Prudent risk management begins by accepting the possibility that unpleasant events might actually happen. But when organizations try to achieve goals that are a bit out of reach, they're often tempted to stretch resources by revising or denying risks. Here's a tactic for managing risk revision.
Animosity between two people at work is often attributed to "personality clashes." While sometimes people can't get along, animosity can also be a tool for accomplishing strictly political ends. Here's a short catalog of some of its uses.
The hands-on project manager manages the project and performs some of the work, too. There are lots of excellent hands-on project managers, but the job is inherently risky, and it's loaded with potential conflicts of interest.
When organizations suffer painful losses, their responses can sometimes be destructive, further harming the organization and its people. Here are some typical patterns of destructive responses to organizational loss.
Workplace threats come in a variety of flavors. One class of threats is indirect. Threateners who use the indirect threats aim to evoke fear of consequences brought about not by the threatener, but by other parties. Indirect threats are indeed warnings, but not in the way you might think.
When an exchange between individuals, or between an individual and a group, goes wrong, threats often are either the cause or part of the results. If we know how to deal with threats — and how to avoid and prevent them — we can help keep communications creative and constructive.
Threats are one form of communication common to many organizational cultures, especially as pressure mounts. Understanding the varieties of threats can be helpful in determining a response that fits for you.
Some practitioners of workplace politics use an assortment of devious tactics to accomplish their ends. Since most of us operate in a fairly straightforward manner, the devious among us gain unfair advantage. Here are some of their techniques, and some suggestions for effective responses.
Scope creep — the tendency of some projects to expand their goals — is usually an unintended consequence of well-intentioned choices. But sometimes, it's part of a hidden agenda that some use to overcome budgetary and political obstacles.
Scope creep is the tendency of some projects to expand their goals. Usually, we think of scope creep as an unintended consequence of a series of well-intentioned choices. But sometimes, it's much more than that.
In the past twenty years in the United States, we've changed from a relatively hug-free workplace culture to one that, in some quarters, seems to be experiencing a hugging tsunami. Knowing how to deal with hugging is now a valuable skill.
Micromanagement is too familiar to too many of us. Less familiar is inappropriate interference in the reverse direction — in the work of our supervisors or even higher in the chain. Disciplinary action isn't always helpful, especially when some of the causes of reverse micromanagement are organizational.
Some of what we believe is true about work comes not from the culture at work, but from the larger culture. These beliefs are much more difficult to root out, but sometimes just a little consideration does help. Here are some examples.
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.
Sometimes collaboration with people we hold in low regard can be valuable. If we enter a hostile collaboration without first accepting both the hostility and the value, we might sabotage it outside our awareness, and that can render the effort worthless — or worse. What are the dynamics of hostile collaborations, and how can we do them well?
Stuck in uncomfortable situations, we tend to think of ourselves as trapped. But sometimes it is our own actions that keep us stuck. Understanding how these traps work is the first step to learning how to deal with them.
Sometimes we use dismissive gestures to express disdain, to assert superior status, to exact revenge or as tools of destructive conflict. And sometimes we use them by accident. They hurt personally, and they harm the effectiveness of the organization. Here's Part III of a little catalog of dismissive gestures.
In the modern organization, since direct verbal insults are considered "over the line," we've developed a variety of alternatives, including a class I call "dismissive gestures." They hurt personally, and they harm the effectiveness of the organization. Here's Part II of a little catalog of dismissive gestures.
Humans are nothing if not inventive. In the modern organization, where verbal insults are deprecated, we've developed hundreds of ways to insult each other silently (or nearly so). Here's part one of a catalog of non-verbal insults.
By now, we've all heard of micromanagers, and some have experienced micromanagement firsthand. Some of us have even micromanaged others. But there's a breed of micromanagers whose behavior is so outlandish that they need a category of their own.
Pressed repeatedly for "status" reports, you might guess that they don't want status — they want progress. Things can get so nutty that responding to the status requests gets in the way of doing the job. How does this happen and what can you do about it? Here's Part III of a set of tactics and strategies for dealing with pressure.
When projects falter, we expect demands for status and explanations. What's puzzling is how often this happens to projects that aren't in trouble. Here's Part II of a catalog of strategies for managing pressure.
Pressed repeatedly for "status" reports, you might guess that they don't want status — they want progress. Things can get so nutty that responding to the status requests gets in the way of doing the job. How does this happen and what can you do about it? Here's Part I of a little catalog of tactics and strategies for dealing with pressure.
Although many of us value directness, indirectness does have its place. At times, conveying information indirectly can be a safe way — sometimes the only safe way — to preserve or restore well-being and comity within the organization.
In meetings, telemeetings, and email we sometimes ask questions that aren't intended to elicit information. Rather, they're indirect attacks intended to advance the questioner's political agenda. Here's part two of a catalog of some favorite tactics.
Some of the questions we ask each other aren't intended to elicit information from the respondent. Rather, they're poorly disguised attacks intended to harm the respondent politically, and advance the questioner's political agenda. Here's part one a catalog of some favorite tactics.
After the boss commits even a few enormous blunders, some of us conclude that he or she is just incompetent. We begin to worry whether our careers are safe, whether the company is safe, or whether to start looking for another job. Beyond worrying, what else can we do?
Do you think you're overdue for a promotion? Many of us do, judging by the number of Web pages that talk about promotions, getting promoted, or asking for promotions. What you do to get a promotion depends on what you're aiming for.
Taking political risks is part of the job, especially if you want the challenges and rewards that come with increased responsibility. That's fair. But some people manage political risks by offloading them onto subordinates. Be certain that the risk burden you carry is really your own — and that you carry all of it yourself.
If your boss is truly incompetent, or maybe even evil, organizing a coup d'etat might have crossed your mind. In most cases, it's wise to let it cross on through, all the way. Think of alternative ways out.
Some employees deliver performance episodically, while some deliver steady, but barely adequate performance. Either way, they keep their managers drained and anxious, on the "knife edge" of terminating them. How can you detect knife-edge performers, and what can you do about them?
Truly paying attention to Trust at work is rare, in part, because we don't fully appreciate what distrust really costs. Here's Part II of a little catalog of how we cope with distrust, and how we pay for it.
We usually think of Trust as one of those soft qualities that we would all like our organizational cultures to have. Yet, truly paying attention to Trust at work is rare, in part, because we don't fully appreciate what distrust really costs. Here are some of the ways we pay for low trust.
When you find yourself in a tough spot politically, what can you do? Most of us obsess about the situation for a while, and then if we still have time to act, we do what seems best. Here's Part II of a set of approaches that can organize your thinking and shorten the obsessing.
When you find yourself in a tough spot politically, what can you do? Most of us obsess about the situation for a while, and then if we still have time to act, we do what seems best. Here's Part I of a set of approaches that can organize your thinking and shorten the obsessing.
When we seek those accountable for a particular failure, we risk blaming them instead, because many of us confuse accountability with blame. What's the difference between them? How can we keep blame at bay?
Empire builders create bases of power within the larger organization. Typically, they use these domains to advance personal or provincial agendas. What are the characteristics of empires? How can we navigate through or around them?
Threatening as a way of influencing others might work in the short term. But a pattern of using threats to gain compliance has long-term effects that can undermine your own efforts, corrode your relationships, and create an atmosphere of fear.
Politics is a dirty word at work, as elsewhere. We think of it as purely destructive, often distorting decisions and leading the organization in wrong directions. And sometimes, it does. Politics can be constructive, though, and you can help to make it so.
While most leaders try to achieve organizational unity, some do use divisive tactics to maintain control, or to elevate performance by fostering competition. Here's Part II of a series exploring the risks of these tactics.
While most leaders try to achieve organizational unity, some do use divisive tactics to maintain control, or to elevate performance by fostering competition. Understanding the risks of these tactics can motivate you to find another way.
The quality of an organization's culture is the key to high performance. An organization with a blaming culture can't perform at a high level, because its people can't take reasonable risks. How can you tell whether you work in a blaming culture?
Organizations often pretend that feuds between leaders do not exist. But when the two most powerful people in your organization go head-to-head, everyone in the organization suffers. How can you survive a feud between people above you in the org chart?
Cutouts are people or procedures that enable political operators to communicate in safety. Using cutouts, operators can manipulate their environments while limiting their personal risk. How can you detect cutouts? And what can you do about them?
If you're a manager who micromanages, you're probably trying as best you can to help your organization meet its responsibilities. Still, you might feel that people are unhappy — that whatever you're doing isn't working. There is another way.
When the boss or supervisor of the chair of a regular meeting "sits in," disruption almost inevitably results, and it's usually invisible to the visitor. Here are some of the risks of sitting in on the meetings of your subordinates.
What happens when you learn that your new boss is younger than you are? Or when the first two applicants you interview for a position reporting to you are ten years older than you are? Do you have a noticeable reaction to org chart age inversions?
When we offer a contribution to a discussion, and everyone ignores it and moves on, we sometimes feel that our contribution has "plopped." We feel devalued. Rarely is this interpretation correct. What is going on?
The Three-Legged Race is a tactic that some managers use to avoid giving one person new authority. Some of the more cynical among us use it to sabotage projects or even careers. How can you survive a three-legged race?
Workplace politics can make any environment dangerous, both to your career and to your health. This excerpt from my little catalog of devious political tactics describes the false opportunity, which appears to be a chance to perform, to contribute, or to make a real difference. It's often something else.
Managers and supervisors who take credit for the work of subordinates or others who feel powerless are using a tactic I call Credit Appropriation. It's the mark of the unsophisticated political operator.
To solve problems, we change existing policies or processes, or we create new ones. We try to make things better and sometimes we actually succeed. More often, we create new problems — typically, for someone else.
You just made a great suggestion at a meeting, and ended up with responsibility for implementing it. Not at all what you had in mind, but it's a trap you've fallen into before. How can you share your ideas without risk of getting even more work to do?
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Is 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!
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