A few years ago I broke a bone in my right foot: metatarsal #5. Never mind how. Metatarsals are the longish bones that connect the ankle-and-heel assembly to the toes. Metatarsal #5 connects your pinky toe to your ankle. Not a bad break, but enough to require one of those walking boot casts and a cane for about six weeks.
Let me tell you, the foot is a very undervalued body part. Functioning without full use of a foot presents all kinds of challenges you wouldn't normally think about. As a cure for not paying attention to something important, few things are as instructive as losing use of a foot, even for only six weeks. I now totally respect both feet. They're experts at what they do, and they're good at it.
Organizations also have parts — we call them subsidiaries, divisions, departments, groups, and teams, and probably there are many more names. The people of most organizations value the parts of those organizations differently. Some parts are prized and held in high regard; some are less prized and are held in lesser regard. Some are rarely thought of at all, which can happen even when they are essential to high organizational performance.
Just like my foot and me, we realize how important the less-valued parts of the organization are only when they somehow become unavailable. See if you can estimate how long you would be able to do what you do at work after the phone system stops working, or after they stop emptying the dumpsters.
When we evaluate someone's importance or the importance of their contributions, most of us allow ourselves to be biased by the level of regard we have for the part of the organization to which they belong. If we have a low regard for janitorial services, some of us tend to have a lower regard than we otherwise would for the people who provide those services. If we have a low regard for product testing, some of us tend to have a lower regard than we otherwise would for those who do the testing.
It works the other way, too. For example, if we have a high regard for strategic planning, we tend to have a high regard for the people who do strategic planning, When we evaluate someone's importance
most of us allow ourselves to be biasedwhether or not the plans they develop are any good. If we have a high regard for a consulting firm, we tend to have a higher regard than we otherwise would for the people who work for that firm, no matter what they are advising us to do.
That we can confuse how we value people with how we value the organizations with which they are affiliated is an example of a larger difficulty. Dozens of other factors can also confuse us. How many confusion factors can you identify for yourself? Top Next Issue
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More articles on Workplace Politics:
- When Power Attends the Meeting
- When the boss or supervisor of the chair of a regular meeting "sits in," disruption almost
inevitably results, and it's usually invisible to the visitor. Here are some of the risks of sitting
in on the meetings of your subordinates.
- Using Indirectness at Work
- Although many of us value directness, indirectness does have its place. At times, conveying information
indirectly can be a safe way — sometimes the only safe way — to preserve or restore
well-being and comity within the organization.
- On the Appearance of Impropriety
- Avoiding the appearance of impropriety is a frequent basis of business decisions. What does this mean,
what are the consequences of such avoiding, and when is it an appropriate choice?
- Group Problem-Solving Tangles
- When teams solve problems together, discussions of proposed solutions usually focus on combinations
of what the solution will do, how much it will cost, how long it will take, and much more. Disentangling
these threads can make discussions much more effective.
- 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?
Forthcoming issues of Point Lookout
- Coming December 18: The Trap of Beautiful Language
- As we assess the validity of others' statements, we risk making a characteristically human error — we confuse the beauty of their language with the reliability of its meaning. We're easily thrown off by alliteration, anaphora, epistrophe, and chiasmus. Available here and by RSS on December 18.
- And on December 25: Disjoint Awareness
- In collaborations, awareness of how our own work might interfere with the work of others is essential. Unless our awareness of others' work — and their awareness of ours — matches reality, the collaboration's objective is at risk. Available here and by RSS on December 25.
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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.