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- Provide only outdated equipment. Even better: make people share outdated equipment.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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More articles on Workplace Politics:
- Workplace Politics Is Not a Game
- We often think about "playing the game" — either with relish or repugnance. Whatever
your level of skill or interest, you'll do better if you see workplace politics as it is. It is not a game.
- Dismissive Gestures: II
- 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.
- Mitigating Risk Resistance Risk
- Project managers are responsible for managing risks, but they're often stymied by insufficient resources.
Here's a proposal for making risk management more effective at an organizational scale.
- Failure Foreordained
- 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?
- Power Affect
- Expressing one's organizational power to others is essential to maintaining it. Expressing power one
does not yet have is just as useful in attaining it.
See also Workplace Politics for more related articles.
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- Coming August 22: Dealing with Credit Appropriation
- Very little is more frustrating than having someone else claim credit for the work you do. Worse, sometimes they blame you if they get into trouble after misusing your results. Here are three tips for dealing with credit appropriation. Available here and by RSS on August 22.
- And on August 29: Please Reassure Them
- When things go wildly wrong, someone is usually designated to investigate and assess the probability of further trouble. That role can be risky. Here are three guidelines for protecting yourself if that role falls to you. Available here and by RSS on August 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.