The mythology about best practices is that they universally improve every organization. The truth is more likely that organizations are so idiosyncratic that any practice born elsewhere probably needs tailoring before it can be imported. My old shoes are very comfortable for me, but they probably aren't for you.
Worst practices are different — they're almost universally disastrous. We know this because, sadly, nearly everyone tries them. Here's a short list of some worst practices.
- Provide only outdated equipment. Even better: make people share outdated equipment.
- For security, lock all portable computers to desks
- Never, ever train anybody
- Use training as a reward. Provide it only to those who need it least.
- To increase productivity, increase pressure
- Let acrimony persist until it's truly injurious
- Leave in place people who are clearly incapable of doing much of anything
- Assign blame
- Spend time defending yourself in case someone, someday decides to assign blame
- Take credit for work done by subordinates or colleagues
- Give credit to one person for what was a team effort, ignoring everyone else's contributions
- Kill the messenger: punish people who deliver bad news
- Kill the non-messenger: after you get bad news, punish those who knew about it but didn't tell you because you have a reputation for killing the messenger
- Force consensus by shaming or punishing those few souls foolish enough to disagree with the "correct" position
- Force consensus without allowing time for sufficient discussion
- Make decisions autocratically even when there's time for consensus
- Have favorite subordinates who can do no wrong
- The worst thing about
worst practices isn't their
consequences; it's that we
keep using them despite
their consequencesHave troubled subordinates who can do no right, even when they do right
- As team owner, publicly castigate team members
- Publicly overrule a subordinate manager, citing information obtained from one of his or her subordinates
- "Sit in" on a subordinate's meeting unannounced
- Make the problem excessively complicated by raising herds of ancillary minor issues
- Angrily say things that hurt people, damaging the group's ability to collaborate
- Add new people to the team. Even better: do it in a way that raises questions about the abilities of incumbents
- "Temporarily" transfer some team member(s) to another effort
- Conduct "emergency" project reviews regularly
- Increase the budget without warning
- Decrease the budget
- Circulate rumors that maybe we'll be cutting the budget
- Tighten project scope to maintain schedule
- Use (faked) schedule urgency as a way of managing spending
- Remove or relax some requirements
- After work is well underway, add new requirements or tighten existing requirements
- Reassign some work from one team member to another
- Assign the same work to two people (or teams) without their knowing it
- Assign to one person work already completed by another
- Assign work to two people, together, without designating either one as lead
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Forthcoming issues of Point Lookout
- Coming December 11: The Rhyme-as-Reason Effect
- When we speak or write, the phrases we use have both form and meaning. Although we usually think of form and meaning as distinct, we tend to assess as more meaningful and valid those phrases that are more beautifully formed. The rhyme-as-reason effect causes us to confuse the validity of a phrase with its aesthetics. Available here and by RSS on December 11.
- And on December 18: The Trap of Beautiful Language
- As we assess the validity of others' statements, we risk making a characteristically human error — we confuse the beauty of their language with the reliability of its meaning. We're easily thrown off by alliteration, anaphora, epistrophe, and chiasmus. Available here and by RSS on December 18.
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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.