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:
- Responding to Threats: I
- Threats are one form of communication common to many organizational cultures, especially as pressure
mounts. Understanding the varieties of threats can be helpful in determining a response that fits for you.
- The Risky Role of Hands-On Project Manager
- The hands-on project manager manages the project and performs some of the work, too. There are lots
of excellent hands-on project managers, but the job is inherently risky, and it's loaded with potential
conflicts of interest.
- Durable Agreements
- People at work often make agreements in which they commit to cooperate — to share resources, to
assist each other, or not to harm each other. Some agreements work. Some don't. What makes agreements durable?
- Intentionally Misreporting Status: I
- When we report the status of the work we do, we sometimes confront the temptation to embellish the good
news or soften the bad news. How can we best deal with these obstacles to reporting status with integrity?
- 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.
Forthcoming issues of Point Lookout
- Coming February 8: Kerfuffles That Seem Like Something More
- Much of what we regard as political conflict is a series of squabbles commonly called kerfuffles. They captivate us while they're underway, but after a month or two they're forgotten. Why do they happen? Why do they persist? Available here and by RSS on February 8.
- And on February 15: Four Razors for Organizational Behavior
- Deviant organizational behavior can harm the people and the organization. In choosing responses, we consider what drives the perpetrators. Considering Malice, Incompetence, Ignorance, and Greed, we can devise four guidelines for making these choices. Available here and by RSS on February 15.
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