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:
- Currying Favor
- The behavior of the office kiss-up drives many people bats. It's more than annoying, though —
it does real harm to the organization. What is the behavior?
- Dismissive Gestures: III
- Sometimes we use dismissive gestures to express disdain, to assert superior status, to exact revenge
or as tools of destructive conflict. And sometimes we use them by accident. They hurt personally, and
they harm the effectiveness of the organization. Here's Part III of a little catalog of dismissive gestures.
- Human Limitations and Meeting Agendas
- Recent research has discovered a class of human limitations that constrain our ability to exert self-control
and to make wise decisions. Accounting for these effects when we construct agendas can make meetings
more productive and save us from ourselves.
- Yet More Obstacles to Finding the Reasons Why
- Part III of our catalog of obstacles encountered in retrospectives, when we try to uncover why we succeeded
— or failed.
- Influence and Belief Perseverance
- Belief perseverance is the pattern that causes us to cling more tightly to our beliefs when contradictory
information arrives. Those who understand belief perseverance can use it to manipulate others.
Forthcoming issues of Point Lookout
- Coming July 8: Multi-Expert Consensus
- Some working groups consist of experts from many fields. When they must reach a decision by consensus, members have several options. Defining those options in advance can help the group reach a decision with all its relationships intact. Available here and by RSS on July 8.
- And on July 15: Disjoint Concept Vocabularies
- In disputes or in problem solving sessions, when we can't seem to come to agreement, we often attribute the difficulty to miscommunication, histories of disagreements, hidden agendas, or "personality clashes." Sometimes the cause is much simpler. Sometimes the concept vocabularies of the parties don't overlap. Available here and by RSS on July 15.
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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.
- Bullet Points: Mastery or Madness?
Decision-makers in modern organizations commonly demand briefings in the form of bullet points or a series of series of bullet points. But this form of presentation has limited value for complex decisions. We need something more. We actually need to think. Briefers who combine the bullet-point format with a variety of persuasion techniques can mislead decision-makers, guiding them into making poor decisions. 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.