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? rbrenmhXARWRMUvVyOdHlner@ChacxgDmtwOKrxnripPCoCanyon.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: Mis- and Disinformation
- Practitioners of workplace politics intent on gaining unfair advantage sometimes use misinformation,
disinformation, and other information-related tactics. Here's a short catalog of techniques to watch for.
- Active Deceptions at Work
- Among the vast family of workplace deceptions, those that involve presenting fiction as reality are
among the most exasperating, because we sometimes feel fooled or gullible. Lies are the simplest example
of this type, but there are others, and some are fiendishly clever.
- How to Hijack Meetings
- Recognizing the tactics meeting hijackers use is the first step to reducing the incidence of this abuse.
Here are some of those tactics.
- Dealing with Meeting Hijackings
- When you haven't prevented a meeting hijacking, and you believe a hijacking is underway, what can you
do? How can you regain control?
- Career Opportunity or Career Trap: I
- When we're presented with an opportunity that seems too good to be true, as the saying goes, it probably
is. Although it's easy to decline free vacations, declining career opportunities is another matter.
Here's a look at indicators that a career opportunity might be a career trap.
Forthcoming issues of Point Lookout
- Coming October 23: Power Distance and Teams
- One of the attributes of team cultures is something called power distance, which is a measure of the overall comfort people have with inequality in the distribution of power. Power distance can determine how well a team performs when executing high-risk projects. Available here and by RSS on October 23.
- And on October 30: Power Distance and Risk
- Managing or responding to project risks is much easier when team culture encourages people to report problems and question any plans they have reason to doubt. Here are five examples that show how such encouragement helps to manage risk. Available here and by RSS on October 30.
I offer email and telephone coaching at both corporate and individual rates. Contact Rick for details at rbrenmhXARWRMUvVyOdHlner@ChacxgDmtwOKrxnripPCoCanyon.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, )
- Get 2003-4 in Why Dogs Wag (PDF, )
- Get 2005-6 in Loopy Things We Do (PDF, )
- Get 2007-8 in Things We Believe That Maybe Aren't So True (PDF, )
- Get 2009-10 in The Questions Not Asked (PDF, )
- Get all of the first twelve years (2001-2012) in The Collected Issues of Point Lookout (PDF, )
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 Race to the South Pole: Lessons in Leadership
On 14 December 1911, four men led by Roald Amundsen reached the South Pole. Thirty-five days later, Robert F. Scott and four others followed. Amundsen had won the race to the pole. Amundsen's party returned to base on 26 January 1912. Scott's party perished. As historical drama, why this happened is interesting enough. But to organizational leaders, business analysts, project sponsors, and project managers, the story is fascinating. We'll use the history of this event to explore lessons in leadership and its application to organizational efforts. A fascinating and refreshing look at leadership from the vantage point of history. Read more about this program.
Here's a date for this program:
- Baldwin-Wallace University, 275 Eastland Road, Berea, Ohio
44017: November 7,
Kerzner Lecture Series/International Project Management Day, sponsored by Baldwin Wallace University and the Northeast Ohio Chapter of the Project Management Institute.
- Baldwin-Wallace University, 275 Eastland Road, Berea, Ohio 44017: November 7, Kerzner Lecture Series/International Project Management Day, sponsored by Baldwin Wallace University and the Northeast Ohio Chapter of the Project Management Institute. Register now.
- 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.