It's easy to understand how resources become available to projects that are pet projects of people who answer to no one. But most pet projects are nurtured by people who do have supervisors — if not a supervising manager, then at least a Board of Directors. How do these people secure resources for their pets? How can we detect this activity when people we supervise keep pets?
Most nurturers secure resources in one or more of seven basic ways. Here are three methods involving abuse of authority. For methods involving cleverness, see "How Pet Projects Get Resources: Cleverness," Point Lookout for February 9, 2011.
- Flagrant violation of policy
- It seems almost suicidal, but some nurturers simply violate organizational policy or the expectations of superiors. One wonders how they get away with it, but sometimes they do, at least for a time.
- Detecting this tactic requires monitoring resource use, but we sometimes forget that monitoring anything at all takes resources. If you establish a policy about resource use, ensure that there are enough resources to monitor compliance.
- Political coercion
- Nurturers sometimes use coercion to extract resources for their pets. For instance, they might exact retribution when a subordinate objects to the allocation of resources to the pet. Others observing the price paid by the objector then learn not to object. More insidiously, nurturers might coerce silence or cooperation from those responsible for monitoring compliance with organizational policy.
- This tactic becomes clear when it's repeated often enough for the observing supervisor to notice a pattern. It is therefore most effective in environments with significant turnover in supervisory positions, because no one is in place long enough to notice a pattern. The tactic is also effective in environments in which contractors comprise a significant fraction of subordinates, or when most work is carried out virtually, because contractors or people at remote sites are generally less aware of the goings-on.
- Abuse of power
- Nurturers might Political coercion is most effective
in environments with significant
turnover in supervisory positionsuse their legitimate authority to supply resources to their pets, claiming that the action is in the interest of the organization. Even if that is so, the decision might still be an abuse of power if the nurturer knows that another choice would likely have been even more helpful to the organization.
- Detecting this tactic requires a level of understanding of the nurturer's responsibilities sufficient to support independent evaluation of the nurturer's decisions. In relatively flat organizations, the supervisor of the nurturer might lack the knowledge required for such judgments, or lack time to make them even if he or she has the requisite knowledge. This tactic is therefore of greatest use in flat organizations, or when the nurturer's supervisor is relatively unfamiliar with the nurturer's area of specialization.
Allocating resources to pet projects might not entail abuse of authority. Other methods can be consistent with organizational policy, or at least, benign. They are the topic for next time. First in this series Next in this series Top Next Issue
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More articles on Workplace Politics:
- Breaking the Rules
- Many outstanding advances are due to those who broke rules to get things done. And some of those who
break rules get fired or disciplined. When is rule breaking a useful tactic?
- More Indicators of Scopemonging
- Scope creep — the tendency of some projects to expand their goals — is usually an unintended
consequence of well-intentioned choices. But sometimes, it's part of a hidden agenda that some use to
overcome budgetary and political obstacles.
- False Consensus
- Most of us believe that our own opinions are widely shared. We overestimate the breadth of consensus
about controversial issues. This is the phenomenon of false consensus. It creates trouble in the workplace,
but that trouble is often avoidable.
- Kinds of Organizational Authority: the Informal
- Understanding Power, Authority, and Influence depends on familiarity with the kinds of authority found
in organizations. Here's Part II of a little catalog of authority, emphasizing informal authority.
- Surviving Incompetence: II
- When your organization undertakes a misguided effort that will certainly fail, you have options. One
is to head for the exit. To search for a new position in such circumstances requires some care. Example:
an internal transfer might not really be an exit.
See also Workplace Politics and Managing Your Boss for more related articles.
Forthcoming issues of Point Lookout
- Coming June 7: Toxic Disrupters: Tactics
- Some people tend to disrupt meetings. Their motives vary, but they use techniques drawn from a limited collection. Examples: they violate norms, demand attention, mess with the agenda, and sow distrust. Response begins with recognizing their tactics. Available here and by RSS on June 7.
- And on June 14: Pseudo-Collaborations
- Most workplace collaborations produce results of value. But some collaborations — pseudo-collaborations — are inherently incapable of producing value, due to performance management systems, or lack of authority, or lack of access to information. Available here and by RSS on June 14.
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- Wikipedia has a nice article with a list of additional resources
- Some public libraries offer collections. Here's an example from Saskatoon.
- Check my own links collection
- LinkedIn's Office Politics discussion group