The Workplace Whisperer Recommends:
Games at Work: How to Recognize and Reduce Office Politics, by Mauricio Goldstein and Philip Read (San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 2009)
Goldstein and Read analyze the all-too-common games that undermine the morale and effectiveness of organizations. "Gotcha" (identifying and communicating other people's mistakes), "Marginalize" (exiling people who don't "fit"), and "No Bad News" (suppressing negative information) are among the interpersonal games they consider. They also describe games played by leaders, including "Kill the Messenger" (blaming the person who brings you bad news) and "Token Involvement" (pretending to consult with people after you've made up your mind).
The authors know how hard it is to stop game playing once it becomes part of an organizational culture, but they offer solid advice on how to try. Recognizing which game is being played is key. That makes it possible to short-circuit the game by calling attention to it or choosing not to play the expected "role." Anyone who has spent time in organizations will be familiar with some of these games. Games at Work is a helpful guide to countering their destructive power.
Developing a Culture of Accountability: What to Do
Harry Truman's definition of accountability is perhaps the best: "The Buck Stops Here." It was the message on a sign the President had on his White House desk to remind himself and others who entered his office that he took responsibility for making decisions.
As Truman said in his farewell address in January, 1953: "The President – whoever he is – has to decide. He can't pass the buck to anybody. No one else can do the deciding for him. That's his job."
So what can management and workplace leaders do to create that kind of culture of accountability for themselves and for everyone in their workforce? It's a question being debated in many circles today as the world's economies try to claw their way out of the worst economic recession since the pre-World War II depression.
Too many things went wrong. Too many people forgot their responsibilities to fulfill their duties. Too many people failed to do their jobs exceedingly well. Too many people cut corners.
Commenting on accountability and taking responsibility, John Graham (president of Graham Communications) recently cited an attitude expressed by recently retired General Motors vice chairman Bob Lutz. Lutz told the New York Times that GM had gone through "a world of hurt, much of it not of our own doing."
Graham's reaction: "Those words may go down in B-School casebooks as one of the most notorious instances of a corporate culture's inability to accept responsibility... It was the inability of management to take responsibility that did GM in."
Graham urges people in businesses and organizations to take the "Grass doesn't cut itself" attitude, as in "the identity of the organization will come from those with initiative, who recognize that the grass doesn't cut itself."
Hopefully that kind of attitude will bring us closer to an economic recovery. It's a good time to explore the topic of accountability in work. A good time to explore ways management and workplace leaders can create a workplace culture of accountability that will result in more people taking on responsibility for 100 percent accountability in their jobs.
Eight Ways to Achieve Accountability
1. Start with engagement. How does a person accept 100 percent accountability if they aren't also 100 percent engaged in the task at hand? Yet long-term research by the Gallup organization finds that only 29 percent of employees are fully engaged in their jobs. Only 29 percent of employees work with passion and feel a profound connection to their companies or organizations, according to the Gallup Management Journal. Fully 56 percent of surveyed employees are not engaged in their work and another 15 percent of employees are actively disengaged.
With a total of 71 percent of surveyed U.S. employees not engaged and actively disengaged in their jobs... it appears the place to start achieving 100 percent accountability is to increase the percentage of employees who feel engaged in their work.
The Conference Board reviewed various studies and issued a report entitled Employee Engagement. It suggested steps like the following to improve employee engagement.
Keep promises. Employees want to know their employers are truthful and act with integrity.
Reward the right people... for the right things.
Demonstrate to employees how their individual performance affects company performance. Employees who see a direct connection between their work and the end product or service generally perform better.
Reduce decision-making hierarchies, when possible, to allow employees more autonomy and some decision-making authority.
2. Set clear expectations. Consultant John Baldoni (who writes the "Leadership at Work" blog for Harvard Business Publishing) in a recent blog urged leaders to ask three questions to clarify employees' expectations: Do people know what is expected of them? Do employees know what they can expect from you? Do employees know what is expected of each other?
Asked who are more accountable, the workplace leaders or the employees, Baldoni replied: The leaders "are more accountable because they are the ones who are responsible for running the organization. They are the ones who set the conditions for people to succeed." Baldoni's newest book is Lead Your Boss: The Subtle Art of Managing Up.
3. Practice SMART goal-setting... and teach personnel SMART goal-setting. This SMART concept has been around for years and was popularized 50 years ago by Peter Drucker. Use the SMART project management approach yourself, and teach and encourage personnel to use it also. Here are the five elements of SMART performance goals:
4. Create a "no surprise" culture. Garry Ridge, president and CEO of the WD-40 Company, explains in the book Helping People Win At Work (which he co-authored with Ken Blanchard) that his company's culture is designed to help every employee (he calls them "tribe members") get "As" in their work. He calls it a "no surprise" culture with a performance review process that helps the tribe members achieve their As.
The review process works like this: Quarterly informal/formal discussions on progress toward agreed on goals. Tribe members not getting As or Bs get an L on a goal. The L score means the tribe members are in a learning mode, they're making progress. Anyone not making acceptable progress or not in a learning mode can get a C score, signifying a lack of effort. This results in an improvement plan.
"We don't play the blame game," Ridge asserts, "because we know we are accountable and responsible." At WD-40, says Ridge, "we establish ongoing conversations between the coach and the team member to ensure progress towards goals and realignment if necessary."
5. Cut the games people play. Mauricio Goldstein and Philip Read (in their new book Games at Work) detail numerous games people play at work. And playing many of these games is part of the reason some people fall short of accountability for getting their tasks done and meeting their goals.
Here are some of the games played at work: Gotcha... where people act as if they receive points for identifying and communicating others' mistakes. Marginalize... exiling individuals from teams or groups because they challenge the status quo, or aren't one of the boss' people. Blame... offering up scapegoats in order to excuse failure. Gray Zone... deliberately fostering ambiguity or a lack of clarity about who should do what to avoid accountability.
One reason people play games at work is to evade being accountable. Says Goldstein, "Games are a way to shield oneself from uncertainty, temporarily, and to try to look good. They offer the player a short term win, at a loss for the whole organization or for a colleague." For example, he explains, "many budget games are clearly ways to avoid being accountable for performance. The copy game offers protection because everyone who was copied on a decision becomes somehow complicit in the decision and so accountability is diluted."
"From some of the feedback we already have on the book," says Goldstein, "it is clear that employees can also think of games played by their bosses as an excuse for their own lack of performance. We call this the victim game."
6. Eliminate all the reasons for an employee to fail. This is the strategy Ferdinand F. Fournies, founder of Fournies Associates Management Solutions, put together years ago and spelled out in his book Why Employees Don't Do What They're Supposed to Do and What To Do About It. Fournies also taught at Columbia University's Graduate School of Business.
The responsibility for achieving a high level of accountability from a workforce lies with management and managers, Fournies asserted. He wrote "management philosophies and theories have to be converted into things managers 'do' that influence people's performance. Management has to be recognized as an intervention the same way mechanical maintenance, cake baking, or orchestra conducting is an intervention to assure a desired outcome."
So, "managers must do specific things at specific times to influence the eventual outcome of their people's performance." What must managers do? Fournies' answer: Eliminate those reasons for nonperformance that occur before the work begins... after work begins... and while work is underway.
Among the 16 reasons for nonperformance that Fournies' laid out are these: People don't know what they're supposed to do. They don't know how to do it. They think something else is more important. They anticipate negative consequences. They have personal problems. No one can do the work. There are no positive consequences for doing the work. They are rewarded for not doing the job.
7. Create and follow through with Accountability Tests. Former IBM human resources executive Andrew O'Keefe, author of the new book The Boss, urges use of an "accountability test" for senior leaders. The concept of this test is: "What would a manager need to do in your organization to be moved out of their manager role?"
An "accountability test" like that could apply to everyone in your workplace. It could be a simple test question: "What does this person need to do – or fail to do – to be moved out of their position?"
8. When all else fails, move the slacker out. Hold everyone accountable to performance standards, says Peter Stark, president of Peter Barron Stark Companies. He's also co-author of the book Engaged! How Leaders Build Organizations Where Employees Love To Come To Work. The book details the many ways the Best-of-the-Best organizations excel.
On the topic of achieving high levels of accountability in the workplace, Stark explains: "The Best-of-the-Best organizations are comfortable getting close to conflict and resolving problems. Some people are conflict averse, they hope it doesn't happen again. If that doesn't work they resort to prayer and hope to live with it. The Best-of-the-Best aren't that way. They are crystal clear on when this conflict has to change and resolving it. When that doesn't work, they coach, counsel the person, send them out for training. And when that doesn't work they give them to a competitor."
Games At Work: How to Recognize and Reduce Office Politics
“A terrific read not only for senior leaders and executives but also for employees seeking growth in complex organizations. Goldstein and Read dissect the interpersonal dynamics that affect a company’s performance, provide a framework to understand the games that are commonly played in businesses around the world, and offer practical tools to correct these behaviors and improve the organization’s effectiveness.”
—Jacopo Bracco, executive vice president, DIRECTV Latin America
“Whether you are an employee, manager, or CEO, this book will help you uncover the games that are going on around you and in your organization and will arm you with strategies to combat the negative effects of these games.”
—Corey J. Seitz, vice president, global talent management, Johnson & Johnson
“This book is a good warning sign for organizational life. A road map of potholes and wrong turns. Written in a clear and down-to-earth way, its strength is its concreteness.”
—Peter Block, author, Community: The Structure of Belonging
“Play or don’t play, your choice. But if you need to manage and aspire to lead, you must read Goldstein and Read’s helpful treatment of the games going on all around you all the time. Prepare to be entertained and disconcerted in equal measure.”
—Seán Meehan, Martin Hilti Professor of Marketing and Change Management, IMD
“Goldstein and Read provide an accessible and penetrating discussion of the twenty-two most common games at work and their individual and organizational causes, business costs, and remedies. Every working person who has ever been a victim or perpetrator of political games will profit from reading Games at Work.”
—Harvey A. Hornstein, emeritus professor of psychology; former director of Columbia University Organizational Development Programs; and organizational consultant
Games At Work: How to Recognize and Reduce Office Politics
Games at Work
Across time and culture, companies have grappled with office politics: Gossip, Blame, Token Involvement, No Bad Feedback … the list goes on and on! Even the most transparent organizations can fall victim to office foul play, especially in the face of uncertainty—following a merger or leadership change, for example. The key to preventing office games is creating awareness of their ill effects and fostering an open and efficient corporate
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Business Digest is a Paris-based monthly management review. Published since 1992, it helps leaders improve their understanding of the corporate environment and its evolution through dossiers covering management and leadership issues worldwide. For more information, go to: http://www.business-digest.eu/
Quitting the players' club
By Brian Moore
August 24, 2009
OK, she may have been talking about smoking dope, but she could just as well have been referring to workplace maneuvering, whether it's blaming others or ostracizing co-workers.
To avoid these unproductive games, you first need to look inward. "It's not about the other. It's about you," says "Games at Work" co-author Mauricio Goldstein.
To get there, you have to be fed up with games on a gut, emotional level, he says, asking yourself: "Why am I playing these little games? Why am I encouraging someone else to play this game with me?"
You then have to decide on tactics, says co-author Philip Read. Ask yourself if you're in a position to "call" others on the games you're playing.
But pay attention to timing and don't grandstand like a self-righteous boob.
"We don't advocate that people go around and say, 'Ah, you're playing the Sandbagging game.'" Read says. "That's not effective."
Instead, start a tactful chat with co-workers and acknowledge your own participation in the games.
"When you engage from a place where you want to correct the other person, it is going to be bad," Goldstein says. "You need to engage in a conversation."
If you feel it's better to go to management with your concerns, back up your contentions with specifics on how the games are affecting the bottom line.
"Show that there's an organizational cost to it," says Goldstein. "Let's say we're playing a budget game. Show the number of hours we're taking to make these budgets. That often catches a manager's attention."
Then talk about how you can do it differently. A good way to do so is to examine root causes.
"We need to dig deeper into the game to find out why we are playing the game," he says. "Often it's to avoid confrontation."
By Brian Moore
August 24, 2009
Even at the best companies, there's a certain amount of pointless balderdash that comes with the territory.
Meetings are held to weigh the merits of a decision that's already been made. A manager goes ape when a blameless underling delivers bad news about quarterly sales. The office slacker surfs the Web while 10 of her co-workers get the boot -- all because she caught the boss making a pass at an intern.
Call it a madhouse. Call it office politics. Call it the working life.
But a corporate consultant and a human resources executive put a different name on these and other morale-sapping maneuvers: They call them games, and say their effect on a workplace is "insidious."
"Games are manipulative behaviors that people use to gain advantage over others," says Mauricio Goldstein, a consultant to corporations around the world.
In the new book "Games at Work: How to Recognize & Reduce Office Politics," Goldstein and co-author Philip Read identify almost two-dozen annoying, obnoxious and dismal behaviors that amount to nothing more than games adults play at work. Everyone knows about them -- they're present even at the best companies -- but seldom do workers call a spade a spade, or even realize they're taking part.
"People will say, 'I think there's a lot of politics going on,' but they can't really put their finger on what it is,'" says Read, a human resources vet who's worked for a number of Fortune 100 firms: "They'll single out one or two people they think are political."
The games are so widespread that tribesmen in Borneo will lift their spears in acknowledgement of their universality. Goldstein and Read have identified three categories of games -- interpersonal, leadership and budget -- that often turn workplaces into a cross between an episode of "Survivor" and a grade-school recess. You may not have put names to them, but you've no doubt encountered at least a few of these.
Person to person
The most common games are in the "interpersonal" category -- those played between co-workers or that workers play with their bosses. Some favorites:
* The boss said: A common game that has its roots in "Mom said," wherein participants invoke a higher authority to add weight to their exhortations. As in, "The boss said he prefers you work sales in Arkansas while I suffer the indignities of our Hawaiian territory."
It doesn't matter if the boss actually said it or not, since the goal is to quash dissent, says Goldstein: "Let's not discuss it. Just do it."
* Big Splash Career Hopper: Everyone knows this superstar beloved by management, who greases the skids for promotion by proposing big changes, then is promoted before the damage is apparent.
The Hopper can be responsible for everything from acquiring the Midwestern company with the previously unnoticed $50 billion in asbestos liabilities to the purchase of 2 + 2 = 454,234.pi accounting software for a small department. There's one constant, though: The Hopper is never left holding the bag.
* The Blame Game: Another oldie but goodie honed to perfection in schoolyards the blame game is handy when "You don't want to take responsibility for your actions, so you blame somebody else," says Goldstein.
Common among those in leadership positions, it's often used to explain reduced bonuses, broken promises and poor performance: "I'd make you head of IT if only the cavemen in HR knew what the hell they were doing."
* Copy: The Copy game is when people use the cc on e-mails where it's "outside the need to know or the need to inform," says Read. Anyone who's gotten an e-mail -- cc'd to the boss -- about her obligations to the August numbers has been roped into a game of Copy.
* The Pre-Deal: Players of this one turn meetings into Kabuki theater by pretending there's going to be a considered discussion of a decision -- except that the decision has already been made. Their goal: to create the illusion that they're interested in somebody else's opinion, allowing them to "avoid the dialogue and the anxiety that you need to deal with when you don't know what you're going to get," says Goldstein.
* Gotcha: Straight out of elementary school, this one involves scoring points for highlighting others' mistakes. While a typical move is telling the boss about errors in someone's report, Gotcha players often dream of the game's hat trick: pointing out that Jeff in sales lost his division's biggest account because he was having an affair with his litigious secretary.
* Marginalize: Taking a cue from high school cliques, this game involves freezing out colleagues who are considered a threat, because they challenge the status quo, or are a boss' favorite, or just don't fit in for various reasons. It's often played in a passive-aggressive way: e.g., someone is "accidentally" left off a distribution list or otherwise cut out of the loop, or left out of social gatherings.
To add insult to injury, victims are often informed after the fact about being ostracized: "We really tore it up over drinks last night, didn't we, Bob? Oh yeah -- you were in a meeting when we left. Maybe next time!"
From the top down
While interpersonal games flow horizontally and upstream, the doo-doo rolls downhill in leadership games. For instance:
* Kill the Messenger: An ancient game that seems never to go out of fashion, in which a put-upon underling delivering bad news he's not personally responsible for feels the full gale of the boss' wrath.
Though the messenger suffers from broken eardrums, broken self-esteem and broken bones from the Russell Crowe-like hurling of office supplies, the boss is the ultimate victim.
"The problem is information is suppressed," says Read, inhibiting the tyrant's ability to make informed decisions.
* Gray Zone: A Gray Zone game exits when players go out of their way to create ambiguity about who's responsible for what. The goal: to avoid being held accountable. When there isn't a clear line of responsibility over certain areas of a business roles aren't defined, which allows people to pass the buck, much in the way a father tells his kids, "Ask your mother."
* The Window Watcher: This game involves putting useless or unwanted employees in non-jobs where they appear to be contributing something, but in reality do nothing of substance -- perhaps being shunted to a "special project" that involves little besides fingernails, an emery board and long sighs.
Bosses often play the Window Watcher game as a weak-kneed substitute for firing people, possibly to avoid an unpleasant interpersonal issue, or so they don't have to pay severance. What it amounts to "is you're killing the person slowly, psychologically," Goldstein says, often forcing them to quit.
Sticking it to the man
The third category of office gamesmanship is budget games, which pit workers and management against the company. They include "Sandbagging," where folks purposefully lowball sales projections as a "negotiating ploy" with higher-ups, and "Slush Fund," where people insert bogus "special funds" into departmental budgets to give them wiggle room if their assumptions about the coming year aren't correct.
What all these games have in common is they're controlling, recurring, reproductive and ultimately self-sabotaging, the authors say. And they're self-perpetuating, thanks to a monkey-see, monkey-do quality of corporate gamesmanship.
"It has a viral aspect to it," Goldstein says. "If you see that it works, then you start using it, too."
By identifying the games and their nature, he and Read hope to help people break the cycle.
Of course, solving the problem may be easier said than done, since the common thread winding its way through the many interviews they conducted for the book was a lack of self-awareness. People didn't admit to games they themselves played.
"All the stories we got are people telling us about games that other people have played," says Read.
Except for one.
"There's an awful lot of people playing the victim game," he says. " 'I can't do anything about the game because it comes from the top.'"
As the "Games at Work" authors formulated their book, one office pundit kept coming to mind: Scott Adams, who lampoons corporate life in the fabled comic strip Dilbert."
"These cartoons often derive their humor from the counter-productive games people play in the workplace," they write.
It helped catalyze the book. Goldstein adds, though, that their goal was to go a step further.
"He makes people laugh, but you don't do anything with the laughter," he says. Their question: "Can we take the laughter and transfer it into a different way of operating?"
Understanding the games office people play and how to stop them
by Jim Pawlak
August 21, 2009
People play workplace games for two reasons: 1. They believe that win-win won’t help them climb the ladder. 2. In the hope of keeping their heads off the downsizing chopping block, they try to make themselves look better than their colleagues.
Time spent playing games like “Gotcha” (pointing out the mistakes of others) and “Blame” (you made mistakes and point the finger of failure at a scapegoat) keep you from doing what you’re paid for — your job.
Games do their damage beneath the surface, too. When a “watch your back” culture begins to thrive, collaboration, creativity, change, learning and innovation plummet. “Risk” becomes a four-letter word. Workplace gamesmanship verifies the reality of the “Dilbert” mentality.
It's all a game to us: The subtle scourge of office scheming
by Matthew Crowley
April 30, 2009
Oscar Wilde once said, "Illusion is the first of all pleasures," and business authors Mauricio Goldstein and Philip Read would argue that workers please themselves with the illusion that colleagues are always altruistic and unselfish, consumed with goals and cooperation. Sadly, Read and Goldstein suggest, workplace harmony is often imaginary, disguising devious, divisive game playing.
In "Games at Work: How to Recognize and Reduce Office Politics" Goldstein and Read outline how colleagues hurt each other, and themselves, by shifting blame, fudging facts and telling lies. The authors say game playing kills morale and diverts energy from work. But they acknowledge that games are human nature, used to assuage anxieties and cover individual and organizational flaws.
It's natural to play games, Read and Goldstein say, and equally natural to pretend that you aren't. Revealingly, the authors said, organizations that stress open debate, intellectual honesty and teamwork, have minimal game playing. At organizations stressing hierarchy and fear, game playing was more frequent and intense; people in these places think they need games to advance.
Games at Work
by Kassia Shishkoff
April 13, 2009
With the poor economy, stress levels are high and job security is down. In these conditions, workers are more likely to play "office games"—hidden agendas, manipulations and basic unproductive and malicious behavior—that offer them an escape from the workplace.
In the new book Games at Work, authors Mauricio Goldstein and Philip Read identify and address many of these office games created by today’s environment. The authors kick off the book by explaining what office games are and defining a few specific ones and then get right into how to go about avoiding these problems.
A few common office games include "Gotcha," where employees act like catching someone else’s mistake is an accomplishment; "Blame," in which people blame scapegoats to excuse themselves; and "Pessimism," when individuals make a task seem more difficult to lower expectations.
Goldstein and Read explain the negative impacts games can have on a business and why they have such an effect. The authors then urge the reader not to participate in such games and outline effective ways to carry out their choice, using the acronym AIM—Awareness, Identification, Mitigation—to outline appropriate steps to take.
Games at Work is full of bullet points, checklists and challenges directed at the reader. These make it simple to remember important ideas and easy for the reader to interact with the book, self-evaluate and improve.
by Andrea Sachs
April 30, 2009
There's nothing funny about mind games in the workplace, say the authors of this sober-minded guide to understanding underhanded office maneuvers. Such games include "the boss said" (invoking the name of a rainmaker, sometimes falsely, to get your way), stealing credit and--that time-tested misdeed--scurrilous gossiping. Simply waking up to games people play and rejecting them is a big part of the battle for executives, say the authors. But don't expect to zap all games: that's "akin to trying to stop employees from daydreaming."
A terrific read not only for senior leaders and executives but also for employees seeking growth in complex organizations. Goldstein and Read dissect the interpersonal dynamics that affect a company’s performance, provide a framework to understand the games that are commonly played in businesses around the world, and offer practical tools to correct these behaviors and improve the organization’s effectiveness.
Jacopo Bracco Executive Vice President DIRECTV Latin AmericaRead more...
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