Point Lookout: a free weekly publication of Chaco Canyon Consulting
Volume 10, Issue 34;   August 25, 2010: What Insubordinate Non-Subordinates Want: II

What Insubordinate Non-Subordinates Want: II

by

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?
Comparison of energy consumption of compact fluorescent bulbs with incandescent bulbs

A comparison of energy consumption of compact fluorescent (CFL) bulbs with incandescent bulbs. The ratio is about 9:1 when used identically. Even taking into account the possibility that higher efficiency leads to more profligate use, CFLs are an effective way to reduce energy consumption. Despite the obvious social benefits, it has been politically difficult in the U.S. to outlaw the use of incandescents, even in new installations. Advocates of CFLs would be unwise to view this as anything other than the results of attachment to the status quo, especially by the energy industry, which would suffer some short-term demand constriction if CFL adoption were accelerated. Nevertheless, some CFL advocates do view opposition to mandated adoption as evidence for an energy conspiracy. Similarly, some of those who benefit from elevated energy consumption view CFL advocates as either engaged in a conspiracy against them, or perhaps as unwitting dupes of clever conspirators, who are trying to disrupt the energy industry in the name of energy conservation. Photo courtesy Maryland Department of Natural Resources.

Last time we began exploring why people who don't report to you sometimes decline to cooperate in efforts for which you're legitimately responsible. Our goal is control of our emotions by finding alternative interpretations of uncooperative behavior — alternatives to "He hates me," or other simplistic conjectures. We began with the personal motivations of obstructers.

Let's now examine organizational concerns that might lead to uncooperative behavior. As I did last time, I use C as the name of the person who's championing the effort, and S for the person who's subverting it.

Objecting to the goal
Sometimes the subversion is actually objection to the overall goal. To someone who has been frustrated in modifying that goal, or eliminating it from the organizational agenda, being required to contribute to its achievement can be very bitter indeed. Simple non-compliance becomes a tempting tactic.
If S had previously expressed doubts about the goal, or had issued grave warnings against attempting it, failure might elevate S's status. In such cases, subversive activity isn't so much an attempt to target C as it is an effort to elevate S.
Attachment to what has been
If C's task is related to an organizational change effort, S's non-cooperation might actually be something often called resistance, which I prefer to call active persistence. See "Is It Really Resistance?," Point Lookout for January 24, 2001, for more.
It's useful to identify these attachments, because others might be similarly affected. The behavior suggests that the change effort itself is the source of the problem, rather than S.
Delaying tactics
Sometimes the goal of non-cooperation is simple delay. Delay might prevent exposure of other problems, or it might conceal delays in seemingly unrelated efforts.
What appears to be sabotage or intentional subversion might actually be a less malevolent attempt to prevent on-time or early completion. Consider not only who might benefit from failure, but also who might benefit from delay.
Favors and deals
S's behavior might What appears to be sabotage
or intentional subversion
might actually be a less
malevolent attempt to prevent
on-time or early completion
be less important to S than it is to someone else. That is, S might be acting on behalf of one or more others, as part of a deal or as a favor. This is rare behavior in most organizations, because it requires a relatively toxic political atmosphere where people believe that such behavior is permissible.
Deals have prices attached to them. If you can outbid the person with whom S has struck a deal, you might gain S's cooperation for a time. Remember, though, that political prices come in both positive and negative forms — as incentives and disincentives, and as rewards and punishments. If S's political partner has a bigger budget for deals — that is, if S has more clout than you have — you probably can't compete in the auction.

Next time we'll examine the role of supervisors in non-compliance situations. First in this series | Next in this series Go to top Top  Next issue: What Insubordinate Non-Subordinates Want: III  Next Issue

303 Secrets of Workplace PoliticsIs 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, filled with tips and techniques for succeeding in workplace politics. More info

Your comments are welcome

Would you like to see your comments posted here? rbrenNQPHiWdGbuUlKlXYner@ChacVWefRkAiFVnNuWvloCanyon.comSend me your comments by email, or by Web form.

About Point Lookout

Thank you for reading this article. I hope you enjoyed it and found it useful, and that you'll consider recommending it to a friend.

Point Lookout is a free weekly email newsletter. Browse the archive of past issues. Subscribe for free.

Support Point Lookout by joining the Friends of Point Lookout, as an individual or as an organization.

Do you face a complex interpersonal situation? Send it in, anonymously if you like, and I'll give you my two cents.

Related articles

More articles on Workplace Politics:

A field of Cereal RyeApproval Ploys
If you approve or evaluate proposals or requests made by others, you've probably noticed patterns approval seekers use to enhance their success rates. Here are some tactics approval seekers use.
President Harry S. Truman, and Gen. Douglas MacArthur, meeting at Wake Island, 14 October 1950Ground Level Sources of Scope Creep
We usually think of scope creep as having been induced by managerial decisions. And most often, it probably is. But most project team members — and others as well — can contribute to the problem.
Timber blowdown in the Beaverhead-Deerlodge National ForestCoercion by Presupposition
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.
Rofecoxib, the active ingredient of VioxxBefore You Blow the Whistle: I
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.
Donald Trump, as a candidate for the nomination of the Republican Party for President in 2016Is It Arrogance or Confidence?
Confusing arrogance and confidence can cause real trouble — or lost opportunities. What exactly is the difference between them?

See also Workplace Politics and Conflict Management for more related articles.

Forthcoming issues of Point Lookout

The Jolly RogerComing 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.
RMS Titanic departing Southampton on April 10, 1912And 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.

Coaching services

I offer email and telephone coaching at both corporate and individual rates. Contact Rick for details at rbrenXTKjUnXxHYHllsPAner@ChacsctfkhosJFXqeNFWoCanyon.com or (650) 787-6475, or toll-free in the continental US at (866) 378-5470.

Get the ebook!

Past issues of Point Lookout are available in six ebooks:

Reprinting this article

Are you a writer, editor or publisher on deadline? Are you looking for an article that will get people talking and get compliments flying your way? You can have 500 words in your inbox in one hour. License any article from this Web site. More info

Public seminars

The Power Affect: How We Express Our Personal Power
Many The Power Affect: How We Express Personal Powerpeople 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.

Follow Rick

Send email or subscribe to one of my newsletters Follow me at LinkedIn Follow me at Twitter, or share a tweet Follow me at Google+ or share a post Subscribe to RSS feeds Subscribe to RSS feeds
Please donate!The message of Point Lookout is unique. Help get the message out. Please donate to help keep Point Lookout available for free to everyone.
Technical Debt for Policymakers BlogMy blog, Technical Debt for Policymakers, offers resources, insights, and conversations of interest to policymakers who are concerned with managing technical debt within their organizations. Get the millstone of technical debt off the neck of your organization!

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.

303 Secrets of Workplace PoliticsIs 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!
303 Tips for Virtual and Global TeamsLearn how to make your virtual global team sing.
My free weekly email newsletter gives concrete tips and suggestions for dealing with the challenging but everyday situations we all face.
A Tip A DayA Tip a Day arrives by email, or by RSS Feed, each business day. It's 20 to 30 words at most, and gives you a new perspective on the hassles and rewards of work life. Most tips also contain links to related articles. Free!
101 Tips for Effective MeetingsLearn how to make meetings more productive — and more rare.
Exchange your "personal trade secrets" — the tips, tricks and techniques that make you an ace — with other aces, anonymously. Visit the Library of Personal Trade Secrets.