The virtual world is sold on these features. More individual freedom. Work at home, learn at will, and control your own time. Get information you need on demand. Be a global citizen. The challenge is to address the human and workplace consequences of the technological and cultural forces that constantly drive us toward speed, control, efficiency, and short-term results.
Years ago, I was partnering with our organization’s IT team to outfit a new computer lab. There were a lot of details to work out. I was approaching the project with the learner in mind. My IT counterpart was focused on minimizing the cables that would be crisscrossing the room. Unfortunately, my want for the learner was not lining up with his want for the scope of work needed to get the lab ready.
If you want to become a valued partner, then the sole use of your technical expertise and experience will be insufficient. You may give excellent advice and even create stunning slide decks that can mesmerize executives, but if they don’t have a trusting relationship with you, then your power to generate desirable change is a mere illusion…vapor in a windstorm. To avoid this miserable situation, you must multiply your technical expertise by applying faithful persistence for building trust. You can do this by building your business partnering skills.
Experts are constantly touted as the only ones knowledgeable and powerful enough to lead. But there is a catch. Relinquishing responsibility to an expert breeds an unhealthy dependency. When problems inevitably come up again you won’t know how to confront them yourself. There is also a problem for the consultant. If you’re the consultant, this tendency also makes your job harder because removing the client from the problem-solving process makes it more likely the changes your recommend will be resisted.
The traditional rules of workplace politics center around managing and manipulating situations, information, and people to your own advantage. Tactics include being very cautious in telling the truth, selectively invoking high-level names to gain support, closely managing relationships, and paying great attention to what the people above you want. A sea of books will tell you that you’ll gain attention, move up the ranks, and pull your own strings by mastering these strategies. And you probably will. But in the process, you perpetuate a patriarchal cycle that actually coerces you to surrender your power and autonomy.
Ask people to define the performance standards that will have meaning for them. Then have them talk about how they want to hold themselves accountable. This reduces the possibility that measurable performance standards will become punitive. Once measures become punitive, people will work to outsmart them to survive; learning decreases, and energy that should be going toward achieving the work is replaced by subversive efforts to “beat the system.”