Point Lookout: a free weekly publication of Chaco Canyon Consulting
Volume 7, Issue 43;   October 24, 2007: Worst Practices

Worst Practices

by

We hear a lot about best practices, but hardly anybody talks about worst practices. So as a public service, here are some of the best worst practices.
Mustang stallions fighting

Mustang stallions fighting. With tooth and hoof, stallions use these fights — most often — to settle differences of opinion about reproductive rights. The mares usually accept the result of these conflicts, though they do occasionally object. The social system of the wild horse functions to optimize the fitness of the next generation, because in Nature, there's little room for anything less than the best. Organizations can learn much from Nature's systems. Photo courtesy U.S. Geological Survey.

The mythology about best practices is that they universally improve every organization. The truth is more likely that organizations are so idiosyncratic that any practice born elsewhere probably needs tailoring before it can be imported. My old shoes are very comfortable for me, but they probably aren't for you.

Worst practices are different — they're almost universally disastrous. We know this because, sadly, nearly everyone tries them. Here's a short list of some worst practices.

  • Provide only outdated equipment. Even better: make people share outdated equipment.
  • For security, lock all portable computers to desks
  • Never, ever train anybody
  • Use training as a reward. Provide it only to those who need it least.
  • To increase productivity, increase pressure
  • Let acrimony persist until it's truly injurious
  • Leave in place people who are clearly incapable of doing much of anything
  • Assign blame
  • Spend time defending yourself in case someone, someday decides to assign blame
  • Take credit for work done by subordinates or colleagues
  • Give credit to one person for what was a team effort, ignoring everyone else's contributions
  • Kill the messenger: punish people who deliver bad news
  • Kill the non-messenger: after you get bad news, punish those who knew about it but didn't tell you because you have a reputation for killing the messenger
  • Force consensus by shaming or punishing those few souls foolish enough to disagree with the "correct" position
  • Force consensus without allowing time for sufficient discussion
  • Make decisions autocratically even when there's time for consensus
  • Have favorite subordinates who can do no wrong
  • The worst thing about
    worst practices isn't their
    consequences; it's that we
    keep using them despite
    their consequences
    Have troubled subordinates who can do no right, even when they do right
  • As team owner, publicly castigate team members
  • Publicly overrule a subordinate manager, citing information obtained from one of his or her subordinates
  • "Sit in" on a subordinate's meeting unannounced
  • Make the problem excessively complicated by raising herds of ancillary minor issues
  • Angrily say things that hurt people, damaging the group's ability to collaborate
  • Add new people to the team. Even better: do it in a way that raises questions about the abilities of incumbents
  • "Temporarily" transfer some team member(s) to another effort
  • Conduct "emergency" project reviews regularly
  • Increase the budget without warning
  • Decrease the budget
  • Circulate rumors that maybe we'll be cutting the budget
  • Tighten project scope to maintain schedule
  • Use (faked) schedule urgency as a way of managing spending
  • Remove or relax some requirements
  • After work is well underway, add new requirements or tighten existing requirements
  • Reassign some work from one team member to another
  • Assign the same work to two people (or teams) without their knowing it
  • Assign to one person work already completed by another
  • Assign work to two people, together, without designating either one as lead

Count how many of these you've seen. Even scarier: count how many you've done. Go to top Top  Next issue: Illusory Incentives  Next Issue

52 Tips for Leaders of Project-Oriented OrganizationsAre 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? rbrenjwaICPXcuKUGephGner@ChacgDsEPorYkEqLuvoIoCanyon.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.

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.

Related articles

More articles on Workplace Politics:

One of the Franklin Milestones on the Boston Post RoadManaging 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.
HMS Latimer during her first cable-laying run from Shanklin to CherbourgThe Advantages of Political Attack: I
In workplace politics, attackers sometimes prevail even when the attacks are specious, and even when the attacker's job performance is substandard. Why are attacks so effective, and how can targets respond effectively?
Melrose Diner, Philadelphia, PennsylvaniaThe Power and Hazards of Anecdotes: II
Anecdotes are powerful tools of persuasion, but with that power comes a risk that we might become persuaded of false positions. Here is Part II of a set of examples illustrating some hazards of anecdotes.
Two hermit crabs in their snail shellsThe Perils of Limited Agreement
When a group member agrees to a proposal, even with conditions, the group can move forward. Such agreement is constructive, but there are risks. What are those risks and what can we do about them?
Desperation at workReframing Revision Resentment: I
From time to time, we're required to revise something previously produced — some copy, remarks, an announcement, code, the Mona Lisa, whatever… When we do, some of us experience frustration, and view the assignment as an onerous chore. Here are some alternative perspectives that might ease the burden.

See also Workplace Politics for more related articles.

Forthcoming issues of Point Lookout

Mistletoe growing in abundance in the Wye Valley, WalesComing April 25: Narcissistic Behavior at Work: VI
Narcissistic behavior at work distorts decisions, disrupts relationships, and generates toxic conflict. These consequences limit the ability of the organization to achieve its goals. In this part of our series we examine the effects of exploiting others for personal ends. Available here and by RSS on April 25.
A shark of unspecified speciesAnd on May 2: Narcissistic Behavior at Work: VII
Narcissistic behavior at work prevents trusting relationships from developing. It also disrupts existing relationships, and generates toxic conflict. One class of behaviors that's especially threatening to relationships is disregard for the feelings of others. In this part of our series we examine the effects of that disregard. Available here and by RSS on May 2.

Coaching services

I offer email and telephone coaching at both corporate and individual rates. Contact Rick for details at rbrenasInAZRXCbJYsbRRner@ChacBqsKeBHakPaxLJUfoCanyon.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:

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

Public seminars

The Power Affect: How We Express Our Personal Power
Many The Power Affect: How We Express Personal Powerpeople 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.

Follow Rick

Send email or subscribe to one of my newsletters Follow me at LinkedIn Follow me at Twitter, or share a tweet Follow me at Google+ or share a post Subscribe to RSS feeds Subscribe to RSS feeds
Please donate!The message of Point Lookout is unique. Help get the message out. Please donate to help keep Point Lookout available for free to everyone.
Technical Debt for Policymakers BlogMy blog, Technical Debt for Policymakers, offers resources, insights, and conversations of interest to policymakers who are concerned with managing technical debt within their organizations. Get the millstone of technical debt off the neck of your organization!

Beware any resource that speaks of "winning" at workplace politics or "defeating" it. You can benefit or not, but there is no score-keeping, and it isn't a game.

303 Secrets of Workplace PoliticsIs 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!
303 Tips for Virtual and Global TeamsLearn how to make your virtual global team sing.
My free weekly email newsletter gives concrete tips and suggestions for dealing with the challenging but everyday situations we all face.
A Tip A DayA Tip a Day arrives by email, or by RSS Feed, each business day. It's 20 to 30 words at most, and gives you a new perspective on the hassles and rewards of work life. Most tips also contain links to related articles. Free!
101 Tips for Effective MeetingsLearn how to make meetings more productive — and more rare.
Exchange your "personal trade secrets" — the tips, tricks and techniques that make you an ace — with other aces, anonymously. Visit the Library of Personal Trade Secrets.