What do you do when your team or your supervisor insists that you follow a course of action that has little likelihood of success, and when you're certain that there's a much superior alternative? Do you do as you're told and hope for the best? Do you question your superiors about it? Do you simply refuse to comply? Do you pretend to comply while secretly avoiding compliance? Sabotage the effort? Start a revolt?
These are some of the options. I'm sure there are dozens more. Choosing a response that fits for you is perhaps a little easier if you consider the problem as if it were someone else's to solve. That is, pretend that someone came to you for advice about this situation, and work out what you would say to him or her.
A widely favored version of that advice is something like this:
If you think the failure truly is inevitable, then there are two scenarios. In Scenario 1, the failure won't affect you much. Stay in your job and try to help, but don't become insubordinate or start a revolt. In Scenario 2, the failure will affect your career or your wellbeing in a seriously negative way. In Scenario 2, get out. Now.
But the real world is rarely so simple. For example, you might be unable to determine whether your situation is Scenario 1 or Scenario 2. And even if the situation is Scenario 1 for you at the moment, you might be unsure how the situation could unfold — Scenario 1 could become Scenario 2 overnight.
To navigate through this fog of uncertainty, I like to think of a Scenario 1+: It's Scenario 1 for now, but it could be harboring elements of Scenario 2. Below are two important strategies for working through Scenario 1+ situations in a way that might help you avoid falling into a pit of trouble.
- Do your job
- The temptation to "slow-walk" your work might be intense. You might feel as if your efforts are totally wasted, given the turn your organization has taken. But if you demonstrate anything less than an acceptable effort, and failure does ultimately occur, you could be held accountable, even if that is unjustified.
- Although an acceptable level of effort is the wise course, you need not demonstrate the high levels of performance for which you have become known — if you have become so known. "Do your job" means more than the bare minimum, but only enough so that you won't be seen as contributing to the inevitable failure. And "Do your job" also means knowing what is not your job — knowing what is someone else's job, and letting him or her do theirs.
- Stay away from the battlefield…
- …if you can. Controversy probably accompanied the decision to move in the direction you find so troubling. You might have participated in the debates, albeit on the losing side. But all that is in the past. The decision has been made. Undoing it is unlikely. Continuing to oppose a bad decision might eventually lead to charges that you are in part responsible for the inevitable failure.
- Among those who prevailed — those who advocated or supported the bad decision — are some who recognize this aspect of the controversy that accompanied the bad decision. They know that if they can tempt you into restating the position you had previously defended in vain, then they can later accuse you of bringing about the failure, when failure finally does occur.
- Do not cooperate with these wily individuals; don't take their bait. Practice saying things like, "The decision has been made and I accept it." The difficult questions will come in the form, "We know the decision has been made, but do you support the decision wholeheartedly?" Practice responding to these difficult questions. Learn to say, convincingly, "I'm a loyal member of this team and I wish for its success no less fervently than the next person." In other words, practice your non-affirmation affirmations.
Your only real option in this unfortunate scenario is to exit. You can transfer to another position in the same organization, or you can exit altogether and join or start another organization. But exit in these circumstances is different from the more ordinary job search. How it differs, and how those differences affect your exit strategy are topics for next time. Next in this series 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
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More articles on Workplace Politics:
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- The Perils of Limited Agreement
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See also Workplace Politics and Conflict Management for more related articles.
Forthcoming issues of Point Lookout
- Coming March 29: Time Slot Recycling: The Risks
- When we can't begin a meeting because some people haven't arrived, we sometimes cancel the meeting and hold a different one, with the people who are in attendance. It might seem like a good way to avoid wasting time, but there are risks. Available here and by RSS on March 29.
- And on April 5: The Fallacy of Division
- Errors of reasoning are pervasive in everyday thought in most organizations. One of the more common errors is called the Fallacy of Division, in which we assume that attributes of a class apply to all members of that class. It leads to ridiculous results. Available here and by RSS on April 5.
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