Credit appropriation is an unethical, devious political tactic in which the appropriator claims credit for work actually done by someone else, the target. Typically, targets feel unable to defend themselves, because their appropriators are more powerful politically, or are protected by someone more powerful than the target.
Here's an example. Let's suppose that Tatum (T = Target) is the target of Alex (A = Appropriator), the credit appropriator. When tasked with difficult problems, Alex's pattern is to seek information and ideas from Tatum. He then develops them or disguises them slightly if necessary and submits them as his own, without crediting Tatum. Tatum has confronted Alex repeatedly. She has pointed out that what he has done is unethical. At first, Alex responded that Tatum's group is a company resource, and she should just buckle down and do her job, and let him do his. He no longer responds to her objections, but he does keep requesting information and failing to credit her.
Despite feeling helpless to stop Alex or to get credit for her contributions, Tatum is not helpless. Here are three possible tactics Tatum could use, all based on issuing "whitepapers."
- Speedwriting whitepapers
- When Tatum receives a request for information from Alex, Tatum issues a whitepaper in response. She places it on her group's file server, and announces its general availability for anyone who wants it. General availability makes it difficult for Alex to claim its content as his own work. If she feels brave, Tatum includes in the announcement that it was written in response to a request from Alex.
- This tactic Credit appropriation within
organizations is a form
of social piracyhas some limitations. First, if Tatum and Alex work in a security-oriented environment, she might be unable to distribute materials beyond her own security perimeter. In some such cases, announcements about general availability of the material would reach very few people, possibly no one other than Alex. Even so, there would at least be a record of the announcement.
- Second, Tatum might be pressed for time. Even a one-page whitepaper takes time to write. And after a couple of these incidents, Alex might figure out what's happening. He might then try to outwit Tatum by asking for information more frequently than Tatum can generate whitepapers. He can up his game by asking for information he doesn't need, just to keep Tatum so busy that she can't keep responding with generally available whitepapers.
- Stockpiling whitepapers
- If Alex asks Tatum for information frequently enough, and if Tatum wants to keep using this tactic, she must find a way to generate whitepapers more rapidly. One approach involves creating an inventory of whitepapers in advance of Alex's requests, based on guesses of topics Alex might request. Even if she misses in her guess, she might be close enough to save some time when Alex does make his requests. And if she has insight about topics that might become relevant to Alex's work, her guesses can be more relevant.
- Relaying flawed whitepapers
- If Tatum can't find a way to become known as a reliable resource independent of Alex, it's necessary to deter Alex from asking her for information. One way to do that is to include misinformation along with the information she delivers to Alex, but she must do it in a way that insulates her from any recriminations when Alex encounters trouble.
- For example, in response to a request from Alex, she can say, "I can't write that up right now, but I do have a document I got from Ed before he retired. It might be helpful, so I'll send it along. No guarantees though." In this way, she can send a (possibly outdated) piece that might satisfy Alex. If it does contain misinformation or outdated information, the source wasn't Tatum, but Ed, who has left the organization.
- Another approach for Tatum is to create a whitepaper that contains misinformation of a special kind — it's wrong now, but at one time it was correct. She includes a watermark that clearly says "Possibly Obsolete." Then she can offer that to Alex, saying, "I can't write that up right now, but I do have a write-up from last year that might help, so I'm sending it along. No guarantees though." She's filling his request in a way that affords her some protection, while including a trap for Alex.
- These tactics might not satisfy Alex. He might demand "more cooperation" from Tatum. But denying him anything at all is even riskier. By giving him something Tatum can later claim that she cooperated as best she could given the other demands on her time.
- Because intentionally passing along unverified information or information known to be incorrect is questionable ethically, these tactics aren't for everyone and do carry some risk. When dealing with unethical colleagues, and straightforward approaches haven't elicited more ethical and respectful behavior, one must choose between continuing to be exploited, and reluctantly adopting tactics that one regards askance. That can be a difficult choice.
Announcing her materials as they become available can be advantageous to Tatum's own career. She might become known as a reliable resource within the organization. If that happens, Alex will need to find a new target, because his work will become recognized as derivative of Tatum's. Top Next Issue
Is every other day a tense, anxious, angry misery as you watch people around you, who couldn't even think their way through a game of Jacks, win at workplace politics and steal the credit and glory for just about everyone's best work including yours? Read 303 Secrets of Workplace Politics, filled with tips and techniques for succeeding in workplace politics. More info
Your comments are welcomeWould you like to see your comments posted here? rbrenkUnDKNtpQknbWbNTner@ChacvNITGGNrryKYgSCjoCanyon.comSend me your comments by email, or by Web form.
About Point Lookout
Thank you for reading this article. I hope you enjoyed it and found it useful, and that you'll consider recommending it to a friend.
Support Point Lookout by joining the Friends of Point Lookout, as an individual or as an organization.
Do you face a complex interpersonal situation? Send it in, anonymously if you like, and I'll give you my two cents.
More articles on Devious Political Tactics:
- Devious Political Tactics: A Field Manual
- Some practitioners of workplace politics use an assortment of devious tactics to accomplish their ends.
Since most of us operate in a fairly straightforward manner, the devious among us gain unfair advantage.
Here are some of their techniques, and some suggestions for effective responses.
- Some Hazards of Skip-Level Interviews: III
- Skip-level interviews — dialogs between a subordinate and the subordinate's supervisor's supervisor
— can be hazardous. Here's Part III of a little catalog of the hazards, emphasizing subordinate-initiated
- Counterproductive Knowledge Work Behavior
- With the emergence of knowledge-oriented workplaces, counterproductive work behavior is taking on new
forms that are rare or inherently impossible in workplaces where knowledge plays a less central role.
Here are some examples.
- Counterproductive Knowledge Workplace Behavior: II
- In knowledge-oriented workplaces, counterproductive work behavior takes on forms that can be rare or
unseen in other workplaces. Here's Part II of a growing catalog.
- Narcissistic Behavior at Work: III
- People who behave narcissistically tend to regard themselves as special. They systematically place their
own interests and welfare ahead of anyone or anything else. In this part of the series we consider how
this claimed specialness affects the organization and its people.
Forthcoming issues of Point Lookout
- Coming April 24: Big, Complicated Problems
- Big, complicated problems can be difficult to solve. Even contemplating them can be daunting. But we can survive them if we get advice we can trust, know our resources, recall solutions to past problems, find workarounds, or as a last resort, escape. Available here and by RSS on April 24.
- And on May 1: Full Disclosure
- The term "full disclosure" is now a fairly common phrase, especially in news interviews and in film and fiction thrillers involving government employees or attorneys. It also has relevance in the knowledge workplace, and nuances associated with it can affect your credibility. Available here and by RSS on May 1.
I offer email and telephone coaching at both corporate and individual rates. Contact Rick for details at rbrenDrIJBYexTqRKtyruner@ChacYxxdaNIHzIoawJcKoCanyon.com or (650) 787-6475, or toll-free in the continental US at (866) 378-5470.
Get the ebook!
Past issues of Point Lookout are available in six ebooks:
- Get 2001-2 in Geese Don't Land on Twigs (PDF, USD 11.95)
- Get 2003-4 in Why Dogs Wag (PDF, USD 11.95)
- Get 2005-6 in Loopy Things We Do (PDF, USD 11.95)
- Get 2007-8 in Things We Believe That Maybe Aren't So True (PDF, USD 11.95)
- Get 2009-10 in The Questions Not Asked (PDF, USD 11.95)
- Get all of the first twelve years (2001-2012) in The Collected Issues of Point Lookout (PDF, USD 28.99)
Are you a writer, editor or publisher on deadline? Are you looking for an article that will get people talking and get compliments flying your way? You can have 500 words in your inbox in one hour. License any article from this Web site. More info
- 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.