The one where it’s in your name

A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away…

Actually about a year ago in an office about 20 miles from where I am sat, I had a problem with my laptop at work. I had just returned from an overseas trip and it apparently was no longer “part of the domain”. Being a well schooled user of corporate IT I checked the network cable and switched it off and back on again and nothing… At the time I was 25 minutes away from a 1 to 1 with my boss, my phone was ringing and in a delegatory moment I asked our team administrator if she would mind calling IT and asking them to sort it out. In the following minutes whilst on another call I heard the following “but don’t you know who it’s for?” and my blood ran cold.

I like our IT team, they have a real customer service mentality, care about their metrics and deal with everyone fairly and with equity, and so the idea that our well meaning administrator was trying to using the (somewhat questionable) power of my job title to get this sorted really bothered me.

A wise man once said (actually it’s a supplier who was informally coaching me at the time) that every time you refer to your boss or a senior person when discussing a decision or course of action that what you are signalling to the other person is a) I don’t have any power or influence here and b) I am using their proxy to drive this course of action. This really bothered me also. Both in a professional sense but also in terms of my personal pride and view of myself in that organisation. It made me stop and reflect how many times I had opened a sentence with “I’ve been speaking to Clare and…” or “Clare and I have discussed this and…” thus signalling I was the monkey and Clare was the organ grinder.

I wrote a while ago about the different forms of power (blog here) and whilst hierarchical power works, in light of this comment from my coach it always felt to me like admitting defeat “I can’t win this argument on logic or reason so I’m just going to use rank”

So park me and the reflections for a moment and consider this:

How many times do people you work with in your organisation making emphatic reference to a senior person when trying to make a point?

Stop and think about it…

It’s a lot isn’t it?

Having asked myself the same question some time ago I embarked on a piece of informal research (or as some may call it – trying to get my own way) when something I was trying to achieve was thwarted or struck down with a ‘senior person reference’ and my findings showed there were roughly four realities behind the ‘senior person reference’:

1. The senior person was against my course of action and had empowered a member of their team to manage this with me

2. The senior person had asked some questions around the course of action and wanted to explore it more to understand the purpose. This had been misunderstood as not wanting it and the misunderstanding was driving the subsequent conversation

3. The senior person had made a cursory comment about the course of action but their team member had a strong view which was being backed by the cursory comment.

4. The senior person had no view, had not been part of the discussion and could go either way on the issue

Fortunately for our organisation (although not necessarily for my objectives!) the majority of the references fell into item number 1 and required a trip to the drawing board. However on the odd occasion that the others on the list snuck out, it was very interesting to try and resolve the issue and also understand the dynamics that were driving the behaviour.

So I will leave you with a few questions, which if this gets commented on are actual questions, if it doesn’t then of course I completely intended them to be rhetorical:

How often and how severely have you come up against numbers 2, 3 & 4?

What are the context/behaviours you think may drive that?

And finally, what is being done in your name? (that’s definitely rhetorical!)

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4 Comments

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4 responses to “The one where it’s in your name

  1. I really like this blog.

    I hate hearing those immortal words “i’ll ask my manager/boss/yoda” especially when its a fundemental question or something that I would love to see that particular consultant try and deal with.

    Nothing wrong with having confidence to give something a go and if it goes wrong learning from it, actually I would prefer it than someone that has to run EVERYTHING by you!

    @NatalieJayW

  2. Love this post and will really make me think about how I phrase things from now on

    Unfortunately I have a 5th category: the pre-emptive strike:

    “There is a mechanism in place to ensure progress relating to x is reported so (Senior Manager) Clare on a regular basis. If there are any barriers or obstacles this will come to Clare’s attention who will ensure that appropriate action is taken to unblock”.

    Maybe this a public sector only category? Or does it fall under as a sub-category of one of your categories above?

  3. Neil

    Great post Rob. I agree wholeheartedly with the supplier/coach that you mention. It is a total bugbear for me…..

  4. I once worked in an organisation where the CEO’s management style led to his name being attached to almost all major initiatives but he rarely put himself in public to say so. One result was that I spent about an hour a week with him ‘nailing myths’ as every half wit and chancer in the business used every corridor conversation they’d ever had with him to say ‘Mike says…’ to push through their own ideas. Great post.

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