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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freespiritny25
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freespiritny25,
User Rank: Moderator
7/29/2014 | 5:47:36 PM
Re: Inexpensive perk
@ Lorna, I totally agree with you about how annual reviews can be skewed by the hero. I used to get frustrated by a boss that wanted all annual reviews done three months before the due date. It was senseless to me.
freespiritny25
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freespiritny25,
User Rank: Moderator
7/29/2014 | 5:44:53 PM
Re: No more Mr. Scott
Sometimes burning the midnight oil to get something done early may give your boss the illusion that certain tasks actually take a lot less time than they originally thought. Then they may set deadlines for future assignments a lot earlier than they normally would have or may give you more projects to do, since they think that you have more time than you really do have.
Lorna Garey
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Lorna Garey,
User Rank: Author
7/29/2014 | 4:06:05 PM
Re: Inexpensive perk
Frequent short reviews also lessen the possibility that an annual review will be skewed by whether someone was a hero (or dropped the ball) just prior to the review. 
Lorna Garey
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Lorna Garey,
User Rank: Author
7/29/2014 | 4:03:53 PM
Re: No more Mr. Scott
I have a writer (who shall remain nameless) who asks me to set a copy deadline two weeks before I actually need it. Now, to me, that's like setting your bedside clock ahead 20 minutes to trick yourself into getting up on time. You know you're lying to yourself. And yet, for some people, it works.
Bhori
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Bhori,
User Rank: Ninja
7/29/2014 | 2:45:51 PM
Re: Inexpensive perk
@ David: I agree that annual reviews are annoying. That is why they should break up into monthly reviews which would be simple, not as thorough as annual review. This way performance of the whole year can be reviewed rather than only recent events in case of annual review.  Since, the organization is already reviewing the financial performance on monthly basis; there is a sense to review the performance of those contributing to financial results often.
David Wagner
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David Wagner,
User Rank: Strategist
7/29/2014 | 2:00:07 PM
Re: How to Be An Office Hero
@zerox203- Fair enough. Though usually people are told the study is about somehting else so as to not influence the rreaction. For instance, the people doing the ticket test could have been told they were testing different website configurations, the habits of concertgoers, or other issues. The same with the mock negotiations. they could have been told during the negotiation that the team was monitoring body language or whatever. There are ways to make the people self-conscious about something else so they aren't self-conscious about the thing you are testing.

I'll go back and see if I can figure out what the "control" was in these cases.
zerox203
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zerox203,
User Rank: Ninja
7/29/2014 | 1:43:47 PM
Re: How to Be An Office Hero
Good article and good points, but I'm not sure how I feel about the research mentioned for the first two points (the third one I'll gladly agree with, as I feel like I've experienced it firsthand... but maybe that's selection bias). If people know they're part of a study, they're bound to answer differently than they would in a real-world situation. The people in the concert ticket study probably just wanted the tickets and filled out the survey in a hurry ("Yeah, I said row 10 and it's row 8, 3 stars, whatever") - or if there wasn't really a concert involved, we have the same problem. It depends too much on trusting people to answer honestly and carefully than something objective.

In the second study, if people were aware they were being watched, they might have acted more timidly because they felt more anxious, or overracted on the agression to ham it up - because they knew their real job wasn't on the line. Likewise, the reviewers might have been more inclined to answer towards some perceived ideal of the 'assertive negotiator' rather than about what they would have liked to deal with in a real work setting. For example, if you've been selling X product for five or ten years, you get an idea of what the negotiations go like and what kind of clients you get that you can't replicate in a study. I still agree with the points, but I think this is an area where we're better going on common sense than research results.

Also, I'm glad someone mentioned the scene with Scotty and Geordi as a response to the Scotty comment and this topic in general. That's one of my favorite scenes of all time. Here's the full clip.
MultiHats
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MultiHats,
User Rank: Strategist
7/29/2014 | 1:29:17 PM
Re: No more Mr. Scott
Actually, I agree that estimates should be as accurate as possible. However, I also believe adding a little padding to compensate for the unexpected complication or interruption is reasonable. The ability to accurately estimate time/effort required and culture also play a role. Some do a better job at estimating time/effort required than others. If one tends to underestimate, adding a little padding just evens things out. If one tends to overestimate, then adding padding is a no-no. In some work cultures, it is better to add a week to the estimate that to take a day longer than the original estimate.
David Wagner
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David Wagner,
User Rank: Strategist
7/29/2014 | 11:58:01 AM
Re: Inexpensive perk
@Bhori- As much as I get the concept, I find one annual review for just myself annoying. If I had to do a 360 review for my entire team every month, I think I'd fail to get a lot of stuff done. Is there a way to shorten that process? And what do we gain out of that much reviewing?
David Wagner
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David Wagner,
User Rank: Strategist
7/29/2014 | 11:55:26 AM
Re: No more Mr. Scott
@SaneIT- Agreed. What happened to just making promises and delivering what you promise? That seems good enough for 90% of the things in this world.
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