Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Fornicatum non Humoratum!

Have you ever had a time when something out of your control is alleged to be due to your irresponsible actions? Back in days of yore, when I was a Department Head at Bell Labs, I had a strong manager who worked for me, Rich Mondello, who had an expression for those times when people made such claims against us. He even made up a scroll for me that still hangs on the wall in my office (see the attached photo, and yes I recognize that Rich can't spell! J). That expression is, "Fornicatum non Humoratum!", which people look at with puzzlement when they see it, saying, “What does that mean?”  Well, it is a Latin(ish) and somewhat more socially acceptable expression for “F--- ‘em if they can’t take a joke!” (look at it, you’ll see it), and it can be an apt expression for the right circumstances. It is probably a bit more appropriate being said with those on your side of the issue rather than to those invoking the, to you, unreasonable complaint.

What can lead to such a response becoming “apt”, and what can be done to avoid it?

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Logic versus Office Politics

Things that make you go, “Huh?” You’re one of the key people behind the concept for a potentially important new product (or program). You’ve gone through the preliminary investigation and presented a proposal to management, and they’ve just given the green light to proceed. Yea! The relevant managers meet to decide who should be on the team, and when you hear some of the names, you fall back in bewilderment. It just makes no logical sense! There are people included in critical roles who simply have no clue of what they’re doing, much less the remotest understanding of what the product should be or what’s involved in further defining and then developing it. Some are simply the favored lackeys, kiss-ups, and bootlickers of some of the managers, who will dutifully report back to their bosses, but who will get in the way of making real progress on the efforts to turn the product concept into reality. In short, you’ve just been slapped upside the head with the reality of office politics superseding logic, and in ways that may endanger product and project success. You continue your participation, hoping for the best, but your excitement is diminished and uncertainty and doubt now tamp down your prior unbridled enthusiasm, but you find yourself powerless to change anything.

What’s described above is but one example of office politics in the workplace, but office politics impacts thinking and decision making in myriad ways across virtually all workplaces. We’d all like to think that decisions made in the workplace are driven primarily by logical and thoughtful analysis (see Pound the Facts, Not the Table), but the reality is that office politics, egos, “feelings”, and organizational inertia often have a strong, even outsized, influence on decision making (see Don’t Confuse Me With the Facts!). 

In an ideal world, the best solutions should win, but too often, we end up with design by committee, where sub-optimal solutions win in order to satisfy the political needs of various, often warring, parties. Ideally, you want to involve people who know what’s what, who actually do things, while understanding operational concepts; people who can meaningfully plan, implement, and accomplish things. But when management gets involved, they want their favored players involved, whether they know anything or not, and you end up with an outcome more like an ungainly camel than a sleek racehorse.