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:
- 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.
- How to Undermine Your Boss
- Ever since I wrote "How to Undermine Your Subordinates," I've received scads of requests for
"How to Undermine Your Boss." Must be a lot of unhappy subordinates out there. Well, this
one's for you.
- Telephonic Deceptions: II
- Deception at work probably wasn't invented at work. Most likely it is a continuation of deception in
the rest of life. But the technologies of the modern workplace offer new opportunities to practice the
art. Here's Part II of a handy guide for telephonic self-defense.
- Grace Under Fire: I
- If you're ever in a tight spot in a meeting, one in which you must defend your actions or past decisions,
the soundness of your arguments can matter less than your demeanor. What can you do when someone intends
to make you "lose it?"
- Just Make It Happen
- Many idolize the no-nonsense manager who says, "I don't want to hear excuses, just make it happen."
We associate that stance with strong leadership. Sometimes, though, it's little more than abuse motivated
by ambition or ignorance — or both.
Forthcoming issues of Point Lookout
- Coming April 1: Incompetence: Traps and Snares
- Sometimes people judge as incompetent colleagues who are unprepared to carry out their responsibilities. Some of these "incompetents" are trapped or ensnared in incompetence, unable to acquire the ability to do their jobs. Available here and by RSS on April 1.
- And on April 8: 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? Available here and by RSS on April 8.
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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.