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
- When we offer a contribution to a discussion, and everyone ignores it and moves on, we sometimes feel that our contribution has "plopped." We feel devalued. Rarely is this interpretation correct. What is going on?
- The High Cost of Low Trust: Part I
- We usually think of Trust as one of those soft qualities that we would all like our organizational cultures to have. Yet, truly paying attention to Trust at work is rare, in part, because we don't fully appreciate what distrust really costs. Here are some of the ways we pay for low trust.
- How to Get a Promotion in Line
- If you want a promotion in line — a promotion to the next supervisory level in your organization — what should you do now to make it come about? What risks are there?
- Nasty Questions: Part II
- In meetings, telemeetings, and email we sometimes ask questions that aren't intended to elicit information. Rather, they're indirect attacks intended to advance the questioner's political agenda. Here's part two of a catalog of some favorite tactics.
- Managing Pressure: Milestones and Deliveries
- Pressed repeatedly for "status" reports, you might guess that they don't want status — they want progress. Things can get so nutty that responding to the status requests gets in the way of doing the job. How does this happen and what can you do about it? Here's Part III of a set of tactics and strategies for dealing with pressure.
See also Workplace Politics, Critical Thinking and Managing Your Boss for more related articles.
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 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:
- 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:
- MITRE, in Bedford, MA: October 21, Monthly Meeting, Boston SPIN.
- The Race to the South Pole: Ten Lessons for Project Managers
- 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 project managers, the story is fascinating. Lessons abound. Read more about this program. Here's an upcoming date for this program:
- 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: