When you're responsible for a task in the critical path of an effort, you can be subject to scrutiny and pressure that others are not. Preparing yourself for this environment helps in two ways. First, you'll perform better. More important though, political operators are more likely to leave you alone if they believe that you're prepared and able to deal with political tactics. So let's get prepared.
There are different ways to be in the critical path. Your task can be waiting, unable to begin or suspended, because it depends on other tasks not yet complete, or is waiting for something else not yet available. Or it can be already completed, having delivered something essential to another task that is in the critical path. These different states give rise to different politics.
In this issue, we examine what happens when a task is waiting for a resource, information, or a critical piece of infrastructure. In three weeks, we'll look at what can happen to completed tasks.
A task might be in a wait state for a variety of reasons. Some examples:
- It depends on a deliverable from a previous task, and that task isn't yet complete
- It needs the assistance of someone who isn't yet available
- It needs some other unavailable resource
- It needs information from a previous task, or a vendor, and that information isn't available.
Even if the task is unable to begin work, it's susceptible to pressure tactics.
- Waiting for a deliverable or for information
- If the task needs a deliverable from another task, or information not yet available, you might hear, "Assuming that they will give you result X, can't you start building from there? Then if they give you something different, you can always change it."
- Cooperating is risky unless the item in question is absolutely predictable. Usually it's not predictable — it might be very different from what was expected. If that happens, "you can always change it" could become a very expensive and time-consuming strategy.
- Waiting for people or access to resources
- If lack of access Even if a task is
unable to begin work,
it's susceptible to
pressure tacticsto specific resources is the issue, political pressure usually takes the form of insistence on the equivalence of some alternate resource: "Use this/him/her instead." Rarely are the substitutes actually sufficient.
- Accepting the substitute is usually unwise. If the substitute is a less experienced or less skilled person, the result can actually be negative progress.
To respond to these pressures effectively, demonstrate with plausible projections the real risks of using the suggested tactics. Then request appropriate contingency reserves to cover those risks. The size of those reserves might not persuade those exerting pressure to relent, but you will have achieved some level of political protection by making a solid case for a more prudent course.
Is 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
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More articles on Workplace Politics:
- Managing Pressure: The Unexpected
- When projects falter, we expect demands for status and explanations. What's puzzling is how often this
happens to projects that aren't in trouble. Here's Part II of a catalog of strategies for managing
- Projects as Proxy Targets: I
- Some projects have detractors so determined to prevent project success that there's very little they
won't do to create conditions for failure. Here's Part I of a catalog of tactics they use.
- The End-to-End Cost of Meetings: II
- Few of us realize where all the costs of meetings really are. Some of the most significant cost sources
are outside the meeting room. Here's Part II of our exploration of meeting costs.
- How to Deal with Holding Back
- When group members voluntarily restrict their contributions to group efforts, group success is threatened
and high performance becomes impossible. How can we reduce the incidence of holding back?
- Is It Arrogance or Confidence?
- Confusing arrogance and confidence can cause real trouble — or lost opportunities. What exactly
is the difference between them?
Forthcoming issues of Point Lookout
- Coming October 17: Overt Belligerence in Meetings
- Some meetings lose their way in vain attempts to mollify a belligerent participant who simply will not be mollified. Here's one scenario that fits this pattern. Available here and by RSS on October 17.
- And on October 24: Conversation Irritants: I
- Conversations at work can be frustrating even when everyone tries to be polite, clear, and unambiguous. But some people actually try to be nasty, unclear, and ambiguous. Here's Part I of a small collection of their techniques. Available here and by RSS on October 24.
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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.