When we solve one problem by creating other problems somewhere else, we're Dumping. Most of the time, we dump problems without the permission of the people who end up receiving them. Some examples:
- Finance announces a lower maximum for petty cash purchases — $50. Some purchases that formerly came from petty cash must now use the requisition process.
- To expand employee parking, visitor parking is eliminated. When you expect visitors, explain to them which part of the Fire Lane to park in while they run inside for a visitor pass that lets them into the employee parking area.
- I say we ship the product as it is. Let Customer Service deal with the bug reports until the bug-fix release.
Why do we dump?
Shortcomings in accounting systems insulate problem-solvers from the problems they dump. For example, many organizations know the cost of processing requisitions, but few know the cost of preparing them. Since these costs lie outside the Finance department, Finance rarely knows the impact of lowering the petty cash limit, which might actually increase organizational expenses.
In the parking lot example, the gain of spaces is lower than it seems, because visitors now use the employee lot. And since cars now park temporarily in the Fire Lane, there's more risk of fire damage and injury. Unrecognized costs make the parking change less attractive than it seems, but we don't know by how much.
In the product release example, Marketing is free to press for premature shipment, because the increased cost of customer complaints comes not from Marketing but from Customer Service.
from the problems
they dump on othersSometimes there's a positive incentive to dump. In the petty-cash example, we can expect an increase in purchase requisitions, which lowers the average cost of processing them. Cynical financial managers can thus improve their own organizational performance by depressing the performance of their internal customers.
Here are three ways to deal with dumping.
- Don't dump
- When you devise solutions to problems, avoid dumping. Collaborate. If others play a role in the solution, they should play a role in devising that solution.
- Educate others about dumping. When everyone understands the concept, problem solutions are less likely to involve dumping.
- Require impact statements
- Require authors of procedural changes to prepare impact statements that estimate total organizational costs. Shift the focus from local departmental accountability to global impact.
- Compensate dumpees
- When costs shift, adjust budgets. You might have to be a manager or executive to do this, but if you are, recognize your responsibility. Don't permit one part of your organization to shift burdens to others without paying for the privilege.
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More articles on Workplace Politics:
- The Politics of Lessons Learned
- Many organizations gather lessons learned — or at least, they believe they do. Mastering the political
subtleties of lessons learned efforts enhances results.
- How to Create Distrust
- 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.
- Bottlenecks: II
- When some people take on so much work that they become "bottlenecks," they expose the organization
to risks. Managing those risks is a first step to ending the bottlenecking pattern.
- Grace Under Fire: II
- When we debate at work, things sometimes turn unpleasant. Out of control, one party might maneuver the
other into losing control. If we have better tools for recognizing these tactics, we're better able
to maintain self-control. Here's Part II of such a toolkit.
- Appearance Antipatterns: II
- When we make decisions based on appearance we risk making errors. We create hostile work environments,
disappoint our customers, and create inefficient processes. Maintaining congruence between the appearance
and the substance of things can help.
Forthcoming issues of Point Lookout
- Coming January 22: Disjoint Awareness: Bias
- Some cognitive biases can cause people in collaborations to have inaccurate understandings of what each other is doing. Confirmation bias and self-serving bias are two examples of cognitive biases that can contribute to disjoint awareness in some situations. Available here and by RSS on January 22.
- And on January 29: Higher-Velocity Problem Definition
- Typical approaches to shortening time-to-market for new products usually involve accelerating problem solving. Accelerating problem definition can also help. Available here and by RSS on January 29.
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- The Power Affect: How We Express Our Personal Power
Many people 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.
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.