How To Be An Office Hero: 3 Myths, Busted - InformationWeek

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7/28/2014
08:06 AM
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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Joe Stanganelli
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Joe Stanganelli,
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8/4/2014 | 7:27:24 AM
Re: Some goals are tricky
re: middle of the pack

That's certainly one prevailing philosophy -- not just where office politics and CRM is concerned, but also with life in general.  The A students are stressed out, built up for failure, and disappointed/embittered.  The F students are obvious failures.  It's the B and C students who excel in the long run.
Joe Stanganelli
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Joe Stanganelli,
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8/4/2014 | 7:25:26 AM
Re: No more Mr. Scott
@Dave: Good questions.  Here are my thoughts...

1) Not to the client... I'm using the word "overpromise" in a different sense, obviously.

2) If you're really delivering top-notch service/widgets/whatever, not only will your clients see and appreciate that, but it will make you a better competitor overall in terms of your capacity/infrastructure/what-have-you for attracting and retaining new clients in the future.
David Wagner
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David Wagner,
User Rank: Strategist
7/31/2014 | 4:25:18 PM
Re: Likeability factor
@impactnow- Right. People do have a tendency to get "too busy." I think we need to keep talking about the value of it until people really see that not doing it is worse for them than finding the time.
impactnow
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impactnow,
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7/31/2014 | 3:08:02 PM
Re: Likeability factor
Dave agreed on both accounts. Having people around you that are truly looking after your professional success is hard to find but invaluable once you get them. The issue is everyone is so busy with their own careers they rarely have time to mentor the bench. It's critical mistake for the long term success of any organization.
David Wagner
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David Wagner,
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7/31/2014 | 12:13:59 PM
Re: No more Mr. Scott
@Joe- I think that's an interesting point about overpromising. I think stretching yourself is a good thing. But serious questions:

1) Is it still overpromising if you deliver? 

2) It might be overpromising to you because it is a stretch, but will anyone else see that?

Joe Stanganelli
IW Pick
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Joe Stanganelli,
User Rank: Author
7/30/2014 | 11:21:15 PM
Re: No more Mr. Scott
The other strategy, which I've used often to success -- overpromise, but then deliver fully on that overpromise.

Coming from a working-class Italian background, the work ethic I grew up with was always: "Yes, I can do that."  And then busting your butt to figure out how to do it, and doing it -- even if you have no idea what you're doing it at first.

Granted, this isn't ALWAYS the best strategy (it all comes down to ROI, after all -- no use in going above and beyond for something that's not going to be worth it), but if you really push yourself, you can do amazing things -- and impress others and yourself at the same time.
Joe Stanganelli
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Joe Stanganelli,
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7/30/2014 | 11:16:59 PM
Re: Better
@tzubair: I wasn't very clear, I think (or I'm misunderstanding you).  Apologies.  My point is that by purposely piecemealing things, you're building a stronger relationship with your client/coworker/boss/whomever.
Susan_Nunziata
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Susan_Nunziata,
User Rank: Strategist
7/30/2014 | 7:15:40 PM
Re: Inexpensive perk
@Bhori: Monthly reviews or some kind of ongoing feedback process would be incredibly helpful. Most annual review processes are time consuming and onerous for all involved and, except in cases of truly egregrious performance, rarely do they have any noticeable affect. Even without a formal process, it's smart for managers to make it a practice to give their team members continual feedback -- it's far more constructive to hear something in the moment than six or 12 months after it happened.
David Wagner
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David Wagner,
User Rank: Strategist
7/30/2014 | 1:49:05 PM
Re: No more Mr. Scott
@SaneIT- True, if you are WAAAAY over or under a promise, you lose credibility. But i suspect if you say 6 months and constantly due it in 5 months and 3 weeks, you'll be appreciated. To me, that's basicaly in the realm of keeping the promise. You were on time. If you make it in 2 months they'll be like, "so what was the extra time for? What di they skip?"
David Wagner
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David Wagner,
User Rank: Strategist
7/30/2014 | 1:46:44 PM
Re: Better
@tzubair- The studies are showing you are better off promising more then and delivering what you promise. The excess of what you promised is seldom noticed or appreciated.
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