Strategic CIO // IT Strategy
Commentary
7/28/2014
08:06 AM
David Wagner
David Wagner
Commentary
Connect Directly
Twitter
RSS
E-Mail
100%
0%

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

Next Page

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
Previous
1 of 2
Next
Comment  | 
Print  | 
More Insights
Comments
Newest First  |  Oldest First  |  Threaded View
<<   <   Page 6 / 7   >   >>
vnewman2
IW Pick
100%
0%
vnewman2,
User Rank: Ninja
7/28/2014 | 2:25:38 PM
Re: Likeability factor
Regarding Underpromise/Overdeliver: Some people like to deliberately use this as a manipulative tool and I think it backfires miserably.

If you know something is possible and just plan on making it seem like it isn't only until the very end, what ends up happening is the other person is already disappointed.  Therefore whatever you deliver is likely to only take the person back to status quo.

I'll give my favorite personal example.  It's my engagement story.  The short version is my now-husband then-boyfriend told me we were going camping for the weekend.  I hate camping.  I hate it in the same way I hate liverwurst:  I've never tried it but just know I'm not going to like it.

So I wore my worst clothes, didn't pack a hairbrush, brought next to nothing - after all, I'm just going to be sleeping in dirt right?  Instead he drives me to beach and proposes on the sand then takes me to a 5 star resort.

Now, don't get me wrong, it's not that I'm not grateful but..............................................

I was so miserable to start and dreading the whole thing that my excitment level wasn't nearly where it should have been.  I spent the whole trip running around getting things that I didn't bring in preparation to be a 5 star resort/fancy dinners out...like clothes of any kind.  And combs and hair brushes.  I look like I'm on death's door in our engagement pictures.

Lesson: People are much happier when you manage their expectations PROPERLY.
vnewman2
100%
0%
vnewman2,
User Rank: Ninja
7/28/2014 | 2:09:20 PM
Re: Likeability factor
@David - Oh yes, I remember that show because I became part of your posse then! :) Isn't it ironic that when put to the test, most people have trouble self-assessing themselves accurately or as others do?

If a person knows how to incorporate external feedback from others into their perceived identity it can be beneficial in the workplace. Here's a little I/O Psychology tidbit for you: those scoring highest on a scale called Identiy Integration on various self-assement instruments typically have better on-the-job performance scores.  Makes sense really.

It just goes to show how lousy we are at knowing who we are and what is good for us. I just read an article about a similar subject: The Costanza Principle
Number 6
100%
0%
Number 6,
User Rank: Moderator
7/28/2014 | 2:04:43 PM
Re: No more Mr. Scott
Bonuses? You get bonuses? We simply don't have them.

The recency and halo effects are always problems in any evaluation system. Tough to come up with a solution other than spreading out the increases evenly. Does that remove the incentive? Not sure. Tons of studies claim that STEM people aren't motivated by money. Of course try reducing salaries and watch what happens. 
David Wagner
100%
0%
David Wagner,
User Rank: Strategist
7/28/2014 | 2:01:41 PM
Re: Inexpensive perk
@Lorna- I definitely assumed that the paper trail would go back to HR, or at the very least people would assume that. But you are right, it is liable to be TOO reactive where 360 reviews aren't active enough. The middle ground is tough because you don't want to spend your whole year doing evaluations of each other.
Lorna Garey
50%
50%
Lorna Garey,
User Rank: Author
7/28/2014 | 1:58:30 PM
Re: Inexpensive perk
Hmm, a corporate version of a slam book! That's a very intriguing concept that would, I suspect, be shot down in flames by 99% of HR departments in fear of lawsuits. These seem even more likely to be reactive - say I have a spat with a coworker, I can go slam her anonymously in the wiki. At least a 360 review, in contrast, would have my name attached for HR's purposes. We have seen the type of trollishness that happens when people can be anonymous. You need a combination of candid, thoughtful, and transparent that's very tough to get.
David Wagner
100%
0%
David Wagner,
User Rank: Strategist
7/28/2014 | 1:48:52 PM
Re: Likeability factor
@impactnow- I agree. But it is tough. You also need to not be so wishy washy they don't repect you. Nobody likes a suck up either. It is hard to walk that line. I guess that's why they get the big bucks. :)

Seriously though, I think that my advice to get a few trusted colleagues and mentors is so important. Someone recently on an Iweek radio show (I'm sorry, i forget which one) was talking about the importance of having a possee. You've got to have the people you can call to rally around to ask questions and get honest answers and to back you up when you need help. I think that's something everyone should try to get.
David Wagner
100%
0%
David Wagner,
User Rank: Strategist
7/28/2014 | 1:46:13 PM
Re: People are tricky, bring on the robot bosses!
@Michelle- Ha! I think robots would hate us because out behavior wouldn't compute. I think they'd assume we were malfunctioning. :)
David Wagner
100%
0%
David Wagner,
User Rank: Strategist
7/28/2014 | 1:44:59 PM
Re: Inexpensive perk
@Lorna- I've never been a fan of the 360 review because I think it captures snap shots of what happened in the last day or two befor eyou fill out the review. Most people, I think, forget the success or failure of 3 months before the review was filled out and just go by their present mood.

At the same time, you are right that people need anonymous feedback at times. I wonder if a real strong organizaiton could handle some sort of internal wiki where people post anonymous criticisms of workers and the criticisms go through anonymous email to people.

I think there used to be things in high school called "slam books" where people used to write horrible things about their friends that they didn't like. I wonder if a virtual slam book could help everyone get along better or whether it would just create a horrible atmosphere of derision and bullying.
David Wagner
100%
0%
David Wagner,
User Rank: Strategist
7/28/2014 | 1:40:34 PM
Re: No more Mr. Scott
@multihats- I love that line. I think the next lines is "how do you expect anyone to think you are a miracle worker?"

It is funny how we are trapped in this idea that to get ahead we have to work miracles. Shouldn't constant good work be enough?
David Wagner
100%
0%
David Wagner,
User Rank: Strategist
7/28/2014 | 1:39:08 PM
Re: So what's the best path?
Well, I think you can still be the office hero by side-stepping these traps everyone else is falling into. While they're busy overdelivering on a project, you go and do ten on time. Be a nice person who gets the social norms and I bet in the end you get ahead.
<<   <   Page 6 / 7   >   >>
Transformative CIOs Organize for Success
Transformative CIOs Organize for Success
Trying to meet today’s business technology needs with yesterday’s IT organizational structure is like driving a Model T at the Indy 500. Time for a reset.
Register for InformationWeek Newsletters
White Papers
Current Issue
InformationWeek Tech Digest September 24, 2014
Start improving branch office support by tapping public and private cloud resources to boost performance, increase worker productivity, and cut costs.
Video
Slideshows
Twitter Feed
InformationWeek Radio
Sponsored Live Streaming Video
Everything You've Been Told About Mobility Is Wrong
Attend this video symposium with Sean Wisdom, Global Director of Mobility Solutions, and learn about how you can harness powerful new products to mobilize your business potential.