If your organization aspires to high performance, it's useful to know who avoids responsibility or the risks of being held accountable. Unless you're astute and alert, you'll eventually be a recipient of responsibility shifted by these shirkers. This little handbook is for you.
And if you're among the unfortunate majority who don't work in high-performance organizations, responsibility-shifting skills are essential to survival. Until you find a job somewhere better, this little handbook is for you.
Here are some popular techniques people use for avoiding responsibility. I've written it as a handbook for shirkers, but it's also useful for those who want to know how shirkers operate.
- Working from a remote site makes anyone more difficult to reach, especially in emergencies. Evading responsibility is easier when you aren't there.
- Fend it off
- The best approach is to have the requestor ask someone else. If that doesn't work, inform the requestor that Mortimer is in charge of such things. Be creative. If all else fails, delegate.
- Defer the request
- Tell the requestor to come back later. Offer a particular time only if necessary. As time passes, the request might be overtaken by events, or forgotten, or the requestor might find somebody else to take responsibility.
- Drag your feet
- Accept the request, but send the requestor away with "Leave it on my desk," "Send me email," or even better, "Leave it with Melvin," if Melvin is your assistant. (Remember to use your assistant's actual name.) Leave-it-with-my-assistant is best because it makes you seem more important. Only later, apply the techniques below.
- Demand the broomstick of the wicked witch of the West
- Tell the requestor that Mortimer must deal with the request first, and after Mortimer does whatever he does, you'll review it. This protects you somewhat in case of later disaster, because you can say that you relied on Mortimer's input. Of course, again, use Mortimer's actual name.
- Demand more information
- In low-performance cultures,
are essential to survival
- Ask the requestor for more information — preferably information that takes time to acquire. During that time, you can prepare to use one of these other techniques.
- Excuses, excuses
- If somehow the request reaches you despite your best efforts, find excuses to delay or to send it back. Be too busy. Play dumb. Make something up. The best excuses involve travel, or people high in the org chart, or travel with people high in the org chart. The requestor must then either find someone else to deal with the request, or go ahead anyway somehow. Either way, you're off the hook.
Probably the most famous master of avoiding responsibility is Major Major Major, a character in Joseph Heller's Catch-22. Major Major avoids all contact with anyone who might want anything. Clever. Sorry, no time for questions, gotta go now. Top Next Issue
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More articles on Workplace Politics:
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- 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
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- Extrasensory Deception: I
- 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.
- The Power and Hazards of Anecdotes: II
- Anecdotes are powerful tools of persuasion, but with that power comes a risk that we might become persuaded
of false positions. Here is Part II of a set of examples illustrating some hazards of anecdotes.
- Problem Displacement and Technical Debt
- The term problem displacement describes situations in which solving one problem creates another.
It sometimes leads to incurring technical debt. How? What can we do about it?
- I Don't Understand: I
- When someone makes a statement or offers an explanation that's unclear or ambiguous, there are risks
associated with asking for clarification. The risks can seem so terrifying that we decide not to ask.
What keeps us from seeking clarification?
Forthcoming issues of Point Lookout
- Coming 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.
- And on February 5: Unrecognized Bullying: I
- Much workplace bullying goes unrecognized. Three reasons: (a) conventional definitions of bullying exclude much actual bullying; (b) perpetrators cleverly evade detection; and (c) cognitive biases skew our perceptions so we don't see bullying as bullying. Available here and by RSS on February 5.
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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.