Things We Believe That Maybe Aren't So True
by Rick Brenner
Maxims and rules make life simpler by eliminating decisions. And they have a price: they sometimes foreclose options that would have worked better than anything else. Here are some things we believe in maybe a little too much.
An old-fashioned punch clock, still in wide use. The distinction between personal time and work time is still debated. In a recent case before the US Supreme Court, IBP v. Alvarez, workers won the right to be paid for "donning and doffing" time — the time spent putting on and removing special garments required by the employer. IBP had claimed that they needn't pay workers for this time, nor for time spent walking from the locker room to their workstations. Photo courtesy US Department of Labor.
General rules are usually helpful, because they simplify life. But when we accept them uncritically, and apply them unquestioningly, we risk eliminating valuable choices that, if exercised, could transform our lives for the better. Here's a small collection of workplace maxims that too many of us are a little too willing to accept as true.
- If it worked there, it will work here.
- If it didn't work here, we did something wrong when we tried it.
- If you read it in a book, it must be true.
- The value of a consultant's advice is proportional to the consultant's fee.
- If it's logical, and internally consistent, it will work.
- People always pad their estimates. Never give them what they ask for.
- Working smarter is easy. That's why we tell people to work smarter not harder.
- Managers are people who couldn't hack it doing real work.
- Executives are people who couldn't hack it as managers.
- The cure for our financial problems isn't better products, or more revenue, or new investment, or training people, or listening to customers — it's reducing expenses.
- Making people compete for bonuses, raises, perks, honors, or promotions won't hurt our efforts to create high-performance teams.
- How we dress is at least as important as what we do.
- Anyone's total output is proportional to the hours they work.
- To increase productivity, don't let people use company facilities for private purposes.
- Much of what we accept
uncritically as true,
just isn'tI have a right to appropriate company resources for my own ends.
- With the right technology, we can go paperless.
- We don't need people to deliver training — computer based training works just fine.
- The cause of our problems is (pick your favorite): incompetent managers, overpaid consultants, government regulation, foreign competition, unions, lazy workforce, …
- Eliminating theft is so important that the cost of controlling it doesn't matter.
- The typical female executive and the typical male executive manage altogether differently.
- Male (female) executives are more ruthless than female (male) executives.
- Workplace violence will never happen here.
- People who play politics don't really have anything of value to offer.
- The best person to hire for this job is someone who has done it before.
- People can get so angry that they "snap," like twigs bent too far.
- Meetings are almost always a waste.
- The only way to keep us all up to date is a weekly meeting.
- Organized people are more effective.
- Messy desk, messy mind.
- Share price is a valid measure of the company's health.
- Significant innovation always requires a visionary champion.
If you have some more like these, write them down on a piece of paper and tear it up. Top Next Issue
Are your projects always (or almost always) late and over budget? Are your project teams plagued by turnover, burnout, and high defect rates? Turn your culture around. Read 52 Tips for Leaders of Project-Oriented Organizations, filled with tips and techniques for organizational leaders. Order Now!
Your comments are welcome
Would you like to see your comments posted here? Send 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
Point Lookout is a free weekly email newsletter. Browse the archive
of past issues. Subscribe for free.
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 Workplace Politics:
- The "What-a-Great-Idea!" Trap
- You just made a great suggestion at a meeting, and ended up with responsibility for implementing it. Not at all what you had in mind, but it's a trap you've fallen into before. How can you share your ideas without risk of getting even more work to do?
- When Others Curry Favor
- When peers curry favor with the boss, many of us feel contempt, an urge for revenge, anger, or worse. Trying to stop those who curry favor probably isn't an effective strategy. What is?
- The Costs of Threats
- Threatening as a way of influencing others might work in the short term. But a pattern of using threats to gain compliance has long-term effects that can undermine your own efforts, corrode your relationships, and create an atmosphere of fear.
- Obstructionist Tactics: Part II
- Teams and groups depend for their success on highly effective cooperation between their members. If even one person is unable or unwilling to cooperate, the team's performance is limited. Here's Part II of a little catalog of tactics.
- How Workplace Bullies Use OODA: Part II
- Workplace bullies who succeed in carrying on their activities over a long period of time are intuitive users of Boyd's OODA model. Here's Part II of an exploration of how bullies use the model.
See also Workplace Politics, Critical Thinking at Work and Managing Your Boss for more related articles.
Forthcoming Issues of Point Lookout
- Coming April 1: Creating Toxic Conflict: Part II
- Some supervisors seem to behave as if part of their job description is creating toxic conflict among their subordinates. It isn't really, of course, but here's a collection of methods bad managers use that make trouble. Available here and by RSS on April 1.
- And on April 8: Why We Don't Care Anymore
- As a consultant and coach I hear about what people hate about their jobs. Here's some of it. It might help you appreciate your job. Available here and by RSS on April 8.
I offer email and telephone coaching at both corporate and individual rates.
Contact Rick for details at rbrenner@ChacoCanyon.com
or (617) 491-6289, or toll-free in the continental US at (866) 378-5470.
Get the ebook!
Past issues of Point Lookout
are available in six ebooks:
Reprinting this article
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 Politics of Meetings for People Who Hate Politics
- There's a lot more to running an effective meeting than having the right room, the right equipment, and the right people. With meetings, the whole really is more than the sum of its parts. How the parts interact with each other and with external elements is as important as the parts themselves. And those interactions are the essence of politics for meetings. This program explores techniques for leading meetings that are based on understanding political interactions, and using that knowledge effectively to meet organizational goals. Read more about this program. Here's an upcoming date for this program:
- Leading Virtual Meetings for Real Results
- Leading or participating in virtual meetings — teleconferences, Web conferences, video conferences, and more — is challenging. Miscommunications, misunderstandings, distractions, politics, and interpersonal conflict all thrive in the typical environment of the virtual team. We'll inventory the challenges virtual meeting leaders and participants face, and provide tools for anticipating and addressing them. The focus of this program is practical — attendees will learn concrete techniques for preventing and dealing with the problems that arise in virtual meetings. Read more about this program. Here's an upcoming date for this program:
- The Race to the South Pole: Lessons in Risk Management for Leaders
- 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 and project managers, the story is fascinating. We'll use the history of this event to explore lessons in risk management and its application to organizational efforts. A fascinating and refreshing look at risk management from the vantage point of history. Read more about this program. Here's an upcoming date for this program:
- Changing How We Change: The Essence of Agility
- Mastery of the ability to adapt to unpredictable and changing circumstances is one way of understanding the success of Agile methodologies for product development. Applying the principles of Change Mastery, we can provide the analogous benefits in a larger arena. By exploring strategies and tactics for enhancing both the resilience and adaptability of projects and portfolios, we show why agile methodologies are so powerful, and how to extend them beyond product development to efforts of all kinds. Read more about this program. Here's an upcoming date for this program:
- Managing in Fluid Environments
- Most people now work in environments that can best be characterized as fluid, because they're subject to continual change. We never know what's coming next. In such environments, managing — teams, projects, groups, departments, or the enterprise — often entails moving from surprise to surprise while somehow staying almost on track. It's a nerve-wracking existence. This program provides numerous tools that help managers who work in fluid environments. Read more about this program. Here's an upcoming date for this program:
- Ten Project Management Fallacies: The Power of Avoiding Hazards
- Most of what we know about managing projects is useful and effective, but some of what we know "just ain't so." Identifying the fallacies of project management reduces risk and enhances your ability to complete projects successfully. Even more important, avoiding these traps can demonstrate the value and power of the project management profession in general, and your personal capabilities in particular. In this program we describe ten of these beliefs. There are almost certainly many more, but these ten are a good start. We'll explore the situations where these fallacies are most likely to expose projects to risk, and suggest techniques for avoiding them. Read more about this program. Here's an upcoming date for this program:
- Decision-Making for Team Leaders
- Effective group decision-making requires far more than knowing how to organize a discussion or take a vote. This program is designed for both new and experienced team leaders or team sponsors, managers, project managers, portfolio managers, program managers, and executives and general managers. It is especially valuable to people who work in organizations that confront fluid environments, in which decisions must be made in the context of uncertainty. Read more about this program. Here's an upcoming date for this program:
- Cognitive Biases and Workplace Decision-Making
- For most of us, making decisions is a large part of what we do at work. And we tend to believe that we make our decisions rationally, except possibly when stressed or hurried. That is a mistaken belief — very few of our decisions are purely rational. In this eye-opening yet entertaining program, Rick Brenner guides you through the fascinating world of cognitive biases, and he'll give concrete tips to help you control the influence of cognitive biases. Read more about this program. Here's an upcoming date for this program: