Saturday, May 14, 2016

Effectiveness or Correctness, but not both

The last few years I have started thinking more and more about things like effectiveness, competency, sincerity, likability at the work place. For a long time, competency was my primary objective in life. This was in line with basic values instilled in me as a kid, in a family where egos were very tightly wrapped up in academic excellence. This value (or rather, the pursuit of it) served me well for some good decades, but I am beginning to realize that I may be at a point in my career where I can be under-served, if not derailed, by it. 

When I was looking into applying to business school, I asked alums I reached out to one of the mandatory questions, "Of all the classes you took, looking back, which class do you consider most influential". Many people said Negotiations. Not surprising to hear, before or after business school. Many also mentioned Organizational Behavior. They warned me that while at business school, I would likely fail to see the true relevance of the topic, and it would feel like a waste of time. They said I wouldn't understand how valuable it will be until years after ... at which point I may regret not having paid better attention to those OB classes afterall. Well, I have finally arrived! 
Recently I was talking to a friend who was irate due to some of the office politics shenanigans at her work place. A few months earlier I had developed similarly strong sentiments when I received an email from alma mater advertizing a webinar (no longer available to share) by Stanford prof called Jeffrey Pffeffer, on Office Politics. I took the bait and half worked half listened to the webinar. 

At the end, in Q & A somebody asked, "I don't like office politics. How I can I succeed in the work place without being sullied by it". Pffeffer sounded a bit annoyed as he answered what ended up being my light bulb moment.  He questioned in return, "If you like playing (American) football, do you pitch up to a game and say, 'hey, I like this game but I don't like the violence, can we please play 'nice' ... for me?' No. You either play the game as it is, or you get off the field. The workplace is the same, you either play the games by the rules, including office politics, or you don't play at all."  I imagine the "you don't play at all" is the equivalent of when you quit working at a place because it's environment was too ''toxic''. 

Another person asked, "Some companies seem less political than others. How do I find a place that seems less toxic?" Pffeffer's response: "If you think a company is less political, chances are that office politics in that particular environment is working well for you. You have access to the right people at the right time, most likely at the expense of others ... who in turn will consider that environment 'too 'toxic' for them."

In consulting I had another epiphany after I was made to do and redo the "messaging" on slides over and over again. It  sometimes felt as if I spent more time getting the message right, than I did getting to a more refined answer. That made sense one day when somebody told me that a solution 50% right and 90% implemented was much better than a solution 100% right and 0% implemented.  Effectiveness, not correctness, was the name of the game. 

Office politics seems dirty to me because I've been ingrained to value things like correctness, technical competency, truth and sincerity above most things. But if these things get in the way of one's effectiveness, how am I served by them? Who am I serving by them? 

I would bet that my parents would sacrifice effectiveness for other 'higher' values. The way I think these days, I'm not sure that I would. 

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