A few years ago I broke a bone in my right foot: metatarsal #5. Never mind how. Metatarsals are the longish bones that connect the ankle-and-heel assembly to the toes. Metatarsal #5 connects your pinky toe to your ankle. Not a bad break, but enough to require one of those walking boot casts and a cane for about six weeks.
Let me tell you, the foot is a very undervalued body part. Functioning without full use of a foot presents all kinds of challenges you wouldn't normally think about. As a cure for not paying attention to something important, few things are as instructive as losing use of a foot, even for only six weeks. I now totally respect both feet. They're experts at what they do, and they're good at it.
Organizations also have parts — we call them subsidiaries, divisions, departments, groups, and teams, and probably there are many more names. The people of most organizations value the parts of those organizations differently. Some parts are prized and held in high regard; some are less prized and are held in lesser regard. Some are rarely thought of at all, which can happen even when they are essential to high organizational performance.
Just like my foot and me, we realize how important the less-valued parts of the organization are only when they somehow become unavailable. See if you can estimate how long you would be able to do what you do at work after the phone system stops working, or after they stop emptying the dumpsters.
When we evaluate someone's importance or the importance of their contributions, most of us allow ourselves to be biased by the level of regard we have for the part of the organization to which they belong. If we have a low regard for janitorial services, some of us tend to have a lower regard than we otherwise would for the people who provide those services. If we have a low regard for product testing, some of us tend to have a lower regard than we otherwise would for those who do the testing.
It works the other way, too. For example, if we have a high regard for strategic planning, we tend to have a high regard for the people who do strategic planning, When we evaluate someone's importance
most of us allow ourselves to be biasedwhether or not the plans they develop are any good. If we have a high regard for a consulting firm, we tend to have a higher regard than we otherwise would for the people who work for that firm, no matter what they are advising us to do.
That we can confuse how we value people with how we value the organizations with which they are affiliated is an example of a larger difficulty. Dozens of other factors can also confuse us. How many confusion factors can you identify for yourself? Top Next Issue
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More articles on Workplace Politics:
- Stonewalling: I
- Stonewalling is a tactic of obstruction used by those who wish to stall the forward progress of some
effort. Whether the effort is a rival project, an investigation, or just the work of a colleague, the
stonewaller hopes to gain advantage. What can you do about stonewalling?
- On Noticing
- What we fail to notice about any situation — and what we do notice that isn't really there —
can be the difference between the outcomes we fear, the outcomes we seek, and the outcomes that exceed
our dreams. How can we improve our ability to notice?
- Some Hazards of Skip-Level Interviews: III
- Skip-level interviews — dialogs between a subordinate and the subordinate's supervisor's supervisor
— can be hazardous. Here's Part III of a little catalog of the hazards, emphasizing subordinate-initiated
- On Snitching at Work: II
- Reporting violations of laws, policies, regulations, or ethics to authorities at work can expose you
to the risk of retribution. That's why the reporting decision must consider the need for safety.
- More Obstacles to Finding the Reasons Why
- Retrospectives — also known as lessons learned exercises or after-action reviews — sometimes
miss important insights. Here are some additions to our growing catalog of obstacles to learning.
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- Coming October 25: Workplace Memes
- Some patterns of workplace society reduce organizational effectiveness in ways that often escape our notice. Here are five examples. Available here and by RSS on October 25.
- And on November 1: Risk Creep: I
- Risk creep is a term that describes the insidious and unrecognized increase in risk that occurs despite our every effort to mitigate risk or avoid it altogether. What are the dominant sources of risk creep? Available here and by RSS on November 1.
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- Many people 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.
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.