It isn't surprising when some pet projects get resources — perhaps their nurturers answer to no one, or they abuse their authority. But some pet projects thrive even when their nurturers lack absolute power and seem to have done nothing wrong. Somehow they've found ways to feed their pets without violating organizational policy — or, at least, not much.
In last week's edition, we examined how nurturers of pet projects can abuse their authority to secure resources. Here are some methods that don't necessarily involve abuse of authority, but do depend on cleverness.
- Legitimate circumvention of policy intent
- Sometimes resources flow to pet projects by secretive redirection. In some cases this involves falsification of records, but sometimes the projects' nurturers have exploited flexibility or openings in organizational policy.
- Since even the most primitive control systems involve several people, this technique usually requires collaboration among several individuals, which is difficult to arrange unless the activity is at least superficially legitimate. It's wise to regard these incidents as indicators of (possibly benign) policy defects.
- Exchange of political favors
- In an I-scratch-your-back-you-scratch-mine exchange, two people with access to resources trade those resources, nurturing each other's pets. On the surface, each resource-owner's contribution is legitimate.
- Detecting this tactic is complicated when the exchange crosses supervisory boundaries, because it requires visibility at organizational levels higher than the supervisor of each party to the exchange. It's wise to regard these incidents as indicators of defects in compliance monitoring.
- Scavenging, surplus and mistakes
- Occasionally, possibly as a result of accounting errors, surplus or idle resources become available to anyone who wants them. For instance, some engineering consulting firms have internal R&D programs intended for development of expertise, but these programs can sometimes be deflected to pet projects.
- In many Surplus or idle resources
sometimes become available
to anyone who wants theminstances, the losses to the organization resulting from deflecting these resources are acceptable. Detecting the deflection might not result in much advantage to the organization. But when internal development programs are a means of implementing important strategic decisions, monitoring the use of their resources to inhibit redirection to pet projects can add significant value to the program.
- Gifts from above
- At times — usually at the nurturer's request — the nurturer's supervisor might bestow a gift of resources on the pet project, knowing that the organization would not support the project to that extent through routine channels.
- Motivations for such gifts can include a desire to assist the career of the subordinate, and a desire to see the pet project progress. Preventing these gifts might not be advisable, because prevention could conflict with the supervisor's appropriate independence.
By whatever means nurturers secure resources for their pets, they do so in contravention of organizational intent. Fortunately, pet projects do sometimes benefit the organization, and perhaps that's one reason why they're here to stay. First in this series Top Next Issue
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More articles on Workplace Politics:
- The Advantages of Political Attack: III
- In workplace politics, attackers have significant advantages that explain, in part, their surprising
success rate. In this third part of our series on political attacks, we examine the psychological advantages
- Before You Blow the Whistle: II
- When organizations become aware of negligence, miscalculations, failures, wrongdoing, or legal infractions,
they often try to conceal the bad news. People who disagree with the concealment activity sometimes
decide to reveal what the organization is trying to hide. Here's Part II of our catalog of methods used
to suppress the truth.
- 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.
- Allocating Airtime: I
- The problem of people who dominate meetings is so serious that we've even devised processes intended
to more fairly allocate speaking time. What's happening here?
- Stone-Throwers at Meetings: II
- A stone-thrower in a meeting is someone who is determined to halt forward progress. Motives vary, from
embarrassing the chair to holding the meeting hostage in exchange for advancing an agenda. What can
chairs do about stone-throwers?
Forthcoming issues of Point Lookout
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- When we prefer a certain outcome of a decision process, we risk falling into a pattern of motivated reasoning. That can cause us to gather data and construct arguments that lead to the outcome we prefer, often outside our awareness. And it can happen even when the outcome we prefer is known to threaten our safety and security. Available here and by RSS on August 19.
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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.
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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.