ASQ - Team and Workplace Excellence Forum

Online Edition - March 2001


Issue Highlight — Someone To Watch Over Me
- Peter Block discusses how technology and aggressive measuring can damage learning behaviors and the importance of human connection to the education of a child.

 In This Issue...
With A Little Bit Of Luck
Using Both Eyes
In The Face Of Change
Answering A Big "What If?" In Chicago

Peter Block Column
Views for a Change

Heard on the Street

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   Heard on the Street        For Those Who Don't Have Time To Read


We’ve all seen, or at least heard of, the backbiting, manipulative skills of the contestants on “Survivor.” Little did you know, those same traits are slowly making their way into the workplace.

  According to a recent Wall Street Journal article, many are starting to play the same survival games in the office. “People are built to constantly size up the costs and benefits of their behavior, to decide when to be the good Samaritan and when to cheat, when to form coalitions and when to be honest and when to be dishonest,” says Rutgers University anthropologist Helen Fisher.

  Manipulative skills have always been around in the workplace, but they are heightened due to the success of the popular television show. Past President of the American Psychological Association Frank Farley feels it is naïve to think such behavior doesn’t influence the public. “‘Survivor’ was very popular in the workplace. There were office polls on who would get voted off. Some workers would joke about who they wanted to vote out of the office. I would expect it to have some negative fallout,” says Farley.

  Social changes could take place, though in a subtle way. Psychologist and change expert James Prochaska believes, “As this show becomes a national phenomenon, I can see some social norms changing. It could give people permission to be more overt and aggressive.”

  Survival in the corporate world means understanding office dynamics. So look over your shoulder—Machiavelli may be sitting next to you.

For the Good of the Group

Do you ever feel as if your manager’s main concern is finding a way to impress the higher-ups? If you do, you also know that this habit can become disheartening and annoying. But did you ever stop to think how necessary this behavior is? According to a recent article in the Wall Street Journal, this method of managing, commonly referred to as “managing up” or more informally, as “brown-nosing” may be what inevitably brings opportunities to your department.

  Remember, “managing up” doesn’t necessarily have to be a bad thing. “Managing up well isn’t about jumping up and down and saying, ‘Look at all the wonderful things I’ve done,’” notes Check Lucier of Booz Allen & Hamilton, McLean, Va. Instead, it’s important to recognize this relationship can increase the possibility that your department will have a say in important decisions and will more likely receive requested funding.

  “It’s my responsibility to get visibility for my team at the senior-management level,” states Beth Klein, a vice president and general manager for General Electric. So the next time you feel a twinge of resentment for not receiving the attention from your manager you know you deserve, keep in mind—this may be for the benefit of your entire department.

Less is More

While recent figures seem to point toward an economy that is on a downward shift, it’s important to keep in mind that there are still employees out there who want to work less. While many spend their time nail biting about future employment, higher-ups should take solace that some employees will volunteer the cut to part time. One problem: Those who do commonly get the “thumbs-down.”

  According to the Wall Street Journal, the number of current part timers who asked for their reduction in hours has steadily fallen over the past few years. The Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that 13.8 percent of part-timers chose the time reduction in 2000—this number is down from 14.3 percent in 1994. And while this number goes down, the number of workers who would volunteer the move to fewer hours goes up. This phenomenon may be attributed to the rising number of baby boomers who prefer transition to retirement or part time parents trying to find the balance between work and family. So if an employee proposes a move to part time, hear him or her out. It may keep a valued employee around, resulting in benefits for your company.

Not Enough Time in the Day

Finding the best way to deal with information overload is certainly a topic many professionals spend a great deal of time debating. From the Internet to a vast array of periodicals, the amount of information seems endless—and finding what is useful appears hopeless. While no one has the answer to solve all of our problems, many people have tips that may help to lessen the burden.

  A recent article in the Wall Street Journal highlights the strategies of several successful businesspeople. Many have sharpened their e-mail reply skills to the point that they are able to answer 10 messages in the time it took to answer one several years ago. Some have discontinued thoroughly reading everything. Now, they simply read headlines or introductory sentences to evaluate the information’s usefulness.

  One businessman, Paul McNulty, Wheelhouse Corp., Burlington, Mass., makes a point to almost never leave unanswered messages in his inbox. And when he does feel as if he is getting buried under a pile of unused information, he takes off for a morning or two, stays home and catches up.

  Don’t lose sight of the fact that this information becomes useless if you don’t find a way it can apply to your work. In order for professionals to accomplish this, Nancy Koehn of the Harvard Business School, recommends taking time to “think creatively about all the information they are ingesting and put it to work.”

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