Strategic CIO // IT Strategy
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7/28/2014
08:06 AM
David Wagner
David Wagner
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How To Be An Office Hero: 3 Myths, Busted

You rely on a set of social assumptions to get ahead at work, but some of those assumptions don't match with science.

No matter where you are on the org chart, you've always got someone to impress. The new help desk hire has to impress everyone. The CIO has to impress the CEO. Even the CEO has to impress the board and the shareholders. To do that, we all employ a series of social strategies that we hope will help us go up the corporate ladder. With each promotion we assume that we're doing the right thing, but once in a while science throws us a curve ball and teaches us what we've been doing all along might not be the best strategy. Here are three recent findings that have shown you might not being doing everything necessary to be an office hero.

Myth No. 1: Under-promising and over-delivering is the best way to impress
It turns out this might be wrong, and it might be costing you valuable time and effort that you could be using on other tasks. New research (subscription required) from the University of Chicago's Booth School of Business shows that people are very grateful when you keep a promise, but there are few additional returns on exceeding that promise.

In fact, on occasion, exceeding the promise is looked on in a negative light. This is not only true for people but for businesses dealing with customers. For instance, the team asked undergrads to purchase concert tickets from a mock website. The purchased tickets were for row 10. But people in the study were sent tickets that were better, worse, or exactly what was ordered. Not surprisingly, those receiving tickets worse than row 10 were annoyed. But more surprisingly, those who received better tickets reported that they were less happy than those who get the tickets they bought.

[Experienced? Be proud. Read IT Leaders, You're The Cavemen Who Survived.]

So the next time your boss asks for something on Friday and you burn the midnight oil to get it to him on Wednesday, reconsider what you are doing. She's going to be exactly as grateful as if she got it on Friday. Meanwhile, your ability to make and keep other promises is negatively affected. Better to make and keep a whole bunch of promises than to exceed just one.

Myth No. 2: I know exactly what people think of me
Chances are really good you don't. A shockingly large number of people have no idea when they have "crossed a line" socially or in business settings. Columbia Business School doctoral candidate Abbie Wazlawek studied MBA students in mock negotiations. Wazlawek asked the participants to rate their partner as either too assertive, not assertive enough, or just right.

She found that 57% of people who were found to be under-assertive by their partner thought they were just right or over-assertive. She also found 56% of people who were found to be over-assertive thought they were just right or under-assertive. In other words, in a tense business situation you have the same chances of knowing if you were inside social norms as you do of guessing a coin flip.

Another finding in the study was that many people who were actually "just right" with their assertiveness felt that they had "crossed a line" and felt too assertive.

This makes for a fun paradox. The findings show that people who are "just right" or under-assertive are leaving "money on the table" in negotiations

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David has been writing on business and technology for over 10 years and was most recently Managing Editor at Enterpriseefficiency.com. Before that he was an Assistant Editor at MIT Sloan Management Review, where he covered a wide range of business topics including IT, ... View Full Bio
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impactnow
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impactnow,
User Rank: Ninja
7/28/2014 | 1:38:43 PM
Likeability factor
Dave I agree likeability cannot be undervalued. If your team doesn't want t you to be successful you won't be successful. So many managers still think that micromanagement and punishment will get their teams to be higher performers while it creates the opposite effect. People work harder for those they like and consequently well like managers are more successful. While you may not be loved by everyone in your organization it's important to have rapport with certain people and certain groups, your team being one of them.
David Wagner
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David Wagner,
User Rank: Strategist
7/28/2014 | 1:37:39 PM
Re: Some goals are tricky
@pcharles09- Hopefully most of us have bosses who don't track how long things take every time, but you're right, once you start delivering things super fast, the next time the expectation is that it always takes that long. I think I'm going to start taking twice as long to do things for a while just to reset expectations after all the years i've spent overdelivering. :)
David Wagner
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David Wagner,
User Rank: Strategist
7/28/2014 | 1:35:25 PM
Re: No more Mr. Scott
@SaneIT- You're right. It is destructive. And I don't know exactly how it started either. I'm guessing it started with a good intention of rewarding hard work. In hourly jobs you get paid overtime. In salaried jobs like IT, there's the bonus. I'm guessing that overdelivering around bonus time was once a decent strategy. And that led to the wisdom of doing it. But unless you VASTLY under promise you get into the same death spiral you described.
Michelle
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Michelle,
User Rank: Strategist
7/28/2014 | 12:53:41 PM
People are tricky, bring on the robot bosses!
@Dave thanks for dispelling these three office hero myths. People are tricky. Do you think we humans might do better with robot overlords? They'll be less flexible but won't come with the human social norm requirements...

 
Lorna Garey
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Lorna Garey,
User Rank: Author
7/28/2014 | 11:52:58 AM
Inexpensive perk
Seems like companies could help their employees by running standard 360 evaluations and giving employees access to the results (anonymized, of course). It might be painful at first, but knowing what people really thnk is so important.
MultiHats
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MultiHats,
User Rank: Strategist
7/28/2014 | 11:33:57 AM
Re: No more Mr. Scott
Scotty also once told Jordi LaForge "never tell 'em how long it really takes. Ya got to add a little padding."
jastroff
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jastroff,
User Rank: Ninja
7/28/2014 | 11:17:31 AM
So what's the best path?
@dave -- all right on the money. accurate and telling.

Leads me to think "just keep your head down and do your work as well as you can" -- but that's corny and doesn't always let you excel

I fall back on loyalty -- hard to come by and important - loyalty to the boss, and the team

 

What do you recommend, @dave? Never be an office hero? Just a worker bee?
pcharles09
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pcharles09,
User Rank: Ninja
7/28/2014 | 9:43:45 AM
Some goals are tricky
The exceeding expectations one is good. More often than not, you'll spend time later explaining that you always beat deadlines. In those cases, your boss might even ask you what you're doing with the extra time...
SaneIT
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SaneIT,
User Rank: Ninja
7/28/2014 | 9:41:34 AM
No more Mr. Scott
Myth No. 1: Under-promising and over-delivering is the best way to impress

 


I see this so much in the IT field that it makes me wonder where it all started and how we can end it.  I think of Scotty fixing a warp core breach in record time every other week.  Eventually that over delivering becomes your standard delivery and you get backed into a corner of everything requiring the push that special projects used to get.  It burns people out and it makes you look bad when you give accurate estimates of time and expense of a project because it is suspected that you're padding your numbers.
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