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:
- Reverse Micromanagement
- Micromanagement is too familiar to too many of us. Less familiar is inappropriate interference in the reverse direction — in the work of our supervisors or even higher in the chain. Disciplinary action isn't always helpful, especially when some of the causes of reverse micromanagement are organizational.
- Responding to Threats: Part I
- Threats are one form of communication common to many organizational cultures, especially as pressure mounts. Understanding the varieties of threats can be helpful in determining a response that fits for you.
- Lateral Micromanagement
- Lateral micromanagement is the unwelcome intrusion by one co-worker into the responsibilities of another. Far more than run-of-the-mill bossiness, it's often a concerted attempt to gain organizational power and rank, and it is toxic to teams.
- Extrasensory Deception: Part II
- In negotiating agreements, the partners who do the drafting have an ethical obligation not to exploit the advantages of the drafting role. Some drafters don't meet that standard.
- The End-to-End Cost of Meetings: Part II
- Few of us realize where all the costs of meetings really are. Some of the most significant cost sources are outside the meeting room. Here's Part II of our exploration of meeting costs.
See also Workplace Politics, Critical Thinking at Work and Managing Your Boss for more related articles.
Forthcoming Issues of Point Lookout
- Coming March 4: Virtual Trips to Abilene
- One dysfunction of face-to-face meetings is the Trip to Abilene, which leads groups to make decisions no members actually support. It can afflict virtual meetings, too, even more easily. Available here and by RSS on March 4.
- And on March 11: Historical Debates at Work
- One obstacle to high performance in teams is the historical debate — arguing about who said what and when, or who agreed to what and when. Here are suggestions for ending and preventing historical debates. Available here and by RSS on March 11.
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
- 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:
- 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:
- 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: