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:
- Devious Political Tactics: The Three-Legged Race
- The Three-Legged Race is a tactic that some managers use to avoid giving one person new authority. Some
of the more cynical among us use it to sabotage projects or even careers. How can you survive a three-legged
- When we offer a contribution to a discussion, and everyone ignores it and moves on, we sometimes feel
that our contribution has "plopped." We feel devalued. Rarely is this interpretation correct.
What is going on?
- Communication Traps for Virtual Teams: I
- Virtual teams encounter difficulties that rarely confront face-to-face teams. What special challenges
do they face, and what can we do about them?
- The Politics of the Critical Path: I
- The Critical Path of a project or activity is the sequence of dependent tasks that determine the earliest
completion date of the effort. If you're responsible for one of these tasks, you live in a unique political
- Obstacles to Finding the Reasons Why
- When we investigate what went wrong, we sometimes encounter obstacles. Interviewing witnesses and participants
doesn't always uncover the reasons why. What are these obstacles?
Forthcoming issues of Point Lookout
- Coming July 25: Exploiting Functional Fixedness: II
- A cognitive bias called functional fixedness causes difficulty in recognizing new uses for familiar things. It also makes for difficulty in recognizing devious uses of everyday behaviors. Here's Part II of a catalog of deviousness based on functional fixedness. Available here and by RSS on July 25.
- And on August 1: Strategies of Verbal Abusers
- Verbal abuse at work has special properties, because it takes place in an environment in which verbal abuse is supposedly proscribed. Yet verbal abuse does happen at work. Here are three strategies abusers rely on to avoid disciplinary action. Available here and by RSS on August 1.
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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.