Education

10 workplace rules of engagement

Despite our best intentions, our workplace behavior is sometimes less than perfect. Here are some rules to help minimize the missteps and improve our on-the-job interactions.

Here's a thought. What if we all admit to being imperfect? While we strive to be good employees, good coworkers, and good bosses, sometimes we're not. Sometimes the stresses of the modern world get to us and we're not proud of our behavior. It doesn't mean we're bad people, it just means we're normal human beings.

Instead of making believe that everyone else is "the problem" and painting a big fat bull's-eye on the boss, calling each other a**holes, or acting out like spoiled children, how about we all fess up, admit that we can do better, and actually deal with the situation. I mean, wouldn't that be more productive?

Just to be clear, I'm not just talking about behavior that diminishes organizational effectiveness and makes everyone around us miserable. I'm talking about behavior that actually hurts your career. So even if you're a selfish, narcissistic SOB -- like me -- you need to pay attention to these 10 workplace rules of engagement.

Note: This article originally appeared as an entry in BNET's The Corner Office blog. It's also available as a PDF download.

1: Instead of covering your ass, put your ass on line

Nobody ever advanced their career by covering their ass, and nobody ever got ahead without taking risks. No pain, no gain. Simple as that.

2: Don't rip off ideas -- riff on them

Instead of co-opting or outright stealing a coworker's or employee's idea, do what bloggers do: We're always riffing on each other's posts. Everybody benefits and some of the offshoots are better than the original.

3: Tell it straight; don't sugarcoat or breathe your own fumes

That's right, grow some cojones, be honest about what's going on, and accept nothing less from others. Being a yes-man or surrounding yourself with them spells disaster for you and your organization.

4: Instead of protecting your turf, open up the playing field

The more you try to protect your domain, the faster you'll lose it. Also, turf wars quickly deteriorate into dysfunctional silo behavior and bunker mentality. It's all bad. Besides, influence without authority or control is the true test of leadership.

5: Don't bitch about the boss; complement his weaknesses

Workers are constantly whining about their boss without realizing the harm it does to themselves. If you want to do your career some good, learn to identify and minimize your boss's and coworkers' issues. That's what good leaders and effective managers do.

6: Attack the problem, not the person

People are always complaining that conflict stresses them out. When it's directed at a person, it is bad news. But when it's directed at solving a real customer or product problem, that's another story. Workplace conflict is beneficial, as long as it isn't personal.

7: Don't place blame; take responsibility

Pointing fingers just creates tension or inflames already tense situations. By identifying and taking responsibility for issues, you bring them to light sooner and get them resolved faster -- and you will be recognized for your effort.

8: Instead of making waves, make decisions

Dysfunctional managers love to disrupt things and create turmoil. In reality, they're only disrupting their own already-tenuous jobs. Instead of making waves, dive in, analyze the problem, and propose a solution.

9: To break analysis paralysis, take a chill pill

One or two chronic debaters can effectively stall any kind of decision-making. I've seen entire organizations brought down by this insidious behavior. Instead of beating a dead horse, chill out, then meet back and actually make and document a decision. You can always change it later, but not if you never make the call.

10: Replace strategy du jour with strategic planning

The opposite problem of analysis paralysis is overreacting to a single data point and declaring a new direction, oftentimes without key stakeholders present. An effective strategic planning process will take care of that.

Other rules...

Okay, just try to tell me and all your fellow readers that you've never ever engaged in a single one of the dysfunctional behaviors that these rules are designed to minimize. Go ahead; but you know we won't believe you.

In any case, those are my 10 but I can probably come up with more. Any suggestions for new rules to improve the dysfunctional workplace?

17 comments
mconsulting
mconsulting

When put in place a good engagment program, like the 10 steps described, will change any work group into a team that wants to be there, resulting in increased productivity. BUT, without senior managment leading the effort, (Senior VP level) starting the process and telling all that they need to change first, don;t bother you are wasting your time. Change has to start at the very top.

jimmy_hukom
jimmy_hukom

When boss and subordinate have been estranged, make the first step and reach out. Someday, you will be the boss

maj37
maj37

How about learn to talk without all of the vulgarity? You are supposed to be a writer, learn to write without the profanity. And please don't give me the that is the way people talk now, grow up. maj

info
info

Good article. I've pretty much lived those rules for most of my life, let alone my professional career. The problem is, as Mike Pulaski stated, a lot of others will shrink back from your ideas and initiatives (ie., planning, decisions, open up the playing field) while others (and they themselves) will pounce (sometimes more out of reflex than having any ill will towards you) on your behaviours (ie. put your ass on the line, compliment others and their ideas, tell it straight, take responsibility). When the chips are down, you'll find most people will form a big circle around you and point the fingers straight at you, no matter how much you've helped them. And you're the only one management can focus on to take the blame. Then things go back to being exactly the way they were before. Nice and comfortable for them, even if they're sliding downhill. Why do you think Politics has become the way it has? Same ideas. Anyone that follows these rules in THAT arena is finished. Nice thought, though.

DIROT
DIROT

I have a peer department that does not use processes, shoots solutions from the hip, changes the way they do things on the fly without documentation, gives direction verbally in a group planning only to change them out of group 5 minutes later. It's not about turf wars, it's about functional survival. The deeper you interact the grayer your world becomes... having boundaries ensures stability in my realm of responsibility. Some border control is nice.

swestergaard
swestergaard

Read the book "QBQ!" (written by John G. Miller) about practicing personal accountability. It is a nice compliment to these 10 rules of engagement.

rndipv6
rndipv6

Expect for uncertain things.

reisen55
reisen55

I was at a client site with the owners one late evening, and they were discussing 1 of 2 forbidden subjects: politics. Second is religion. The discussion was animated and they turned to me. I paused, and said distinctly that such discussions can be most problematic and emotional. YOU are my client, I will treat you with respect but respectfully will avoid this issue. And that was that, never went there again in conversation, and they are a fantastic client.

svilla8874
svilla8874

I already do some of this and need to work on others (like Don't bitch about the boss). I work in a semi-dysfuncitonal environment where parts of our IT organization work very well and cooperatively and others just don't. Thanks for reminding me how my behavior can help me dela with those folks who don't know how to cooperate and collaborate.

LewSauder
LewSauder

After suffering through the great recession with people fearing for their jobs, it's time for workers to get bold. We have to accept that we'll make mistakes. If they are based on calculated risks and we learn lessons from each mistake, they should be celebrated and shared across the organization for everyone to share in the learning. Thanks for starting this dialog Steve. Lew Sauder, Author, Consulting 101: 101 Tips For Success in Consulting (www.Consulting101Book.com)

mike.pulaski
mike.pulaski

While I agree with the list for it is seems like logical behavior, in the end, putting a tuxedo on a pig isn't the answer. I worked for 10 years in an environment exactly like the 10 rules talk about. After 10 years of putting blinders on to the deficiencies of the operation, I simply went looking for a new job. Some random examples: some of the staff that were over promoted simply based on seniority; a CEO who was a CFO his whole life and didn't have a clue about operations or logistics; a CEO that was completely anti-confrontation and flat out told me he refused to reel people in when they needed it; 30 person client service department with no department head but 4 supervisors who reported to no one; a 30 person programming department with no supervisors. As an IT manager, how does one get anything done with a no other department heads? And when you corner the CEO on it, he would rather have chaos then ruffle feathers by promoting people to manager level! Applying the 10 rules to this is impossible. You simply can't smile and just pretend its not all FUBAR. If you are a worker bee, the 10 rules are something you live by maybe because your skill set isn't good enough to get another job, etc. But if you have talent and a backbone, why change your pride/passion/integrity/ethics for the job simply because everyone else is ignorant, lazy, or downright incompetent? If someone runs a project into the ground over and over again and the only reason they aren't fired is because "she is such a good person", why cover for them over and over again? ITS NOT MY JOB! Covering it over or picking up their slack with a really big smile for the next 10 years is the answer? In the work place, there is already too much "treat the symptoms, not look for a cure". Simply ignoring major problems in the workplace by just adjusting your work ethics simply cannot be healthy or good for the long term. I know for I lived it.

jhanssen
jhanssen

Instead telling everybody that you're the best just say.. We "as a team" are trying to do something to solve that issue, we'll get that solved sooner because we're a powerfull team not an ass hole person team. Doing this you'll get respect from your co-workers and not an against carrer player. Regards, Jhanssen Oliveira.

maclovin
maclovin

First of all: 1 & 7 are exactly the same thing. Now, onward: I'll take blame as soon as I screw up. But, when it is something I've been asking for to prevent just said incident from happening, I will not say "oh, it was my fault". Locks on certain doors is one of the current things I am dealing with, and access restrictions, in general. And, I have asked repeatedly for proper keypad locks with access code time restrictions, and I have been ignored. So, no, I will not take blame for said laptop being stolen!

lifesablast
lifesablast

...where the same rules don't always apply. I am a one-person IT department working mostly with computer-challenged staff. After 10 years I have learned to put the blinders on just to avoid DRAMA. After 7 years I managed to get an office away from the drama (lucky me) and I work wonders alone. I still enjoy helping staff, especially the thankful ones but ignore the ignorance of others. If you honestly pick your fights - you will realize that most are not worth it because staff don't care. You will just end up drawing negative attention to yourself! You can do 100 useful wonderful things but the one negative item taken out of context will be remembered FOREVER. Staff in many government offices have learned to use passive-aggressive behaviors to get what they want. They are patient and lay in wait until you mess up the first time. Then they gang up like hungry wolves facing delicious prey. Get another job, you say. It's not that easy when you are established in non-urban areas where jobs are limited. I guess I still prefer the given problems since I finally learned how to "work" within their rules.... ~ smile, ~ don't react negatively, ~ if you must give an opinion, use vague phrases - I love to use "that's unfortunate", ~ Do NOT TRUST anyone that you work with!! ~ do some analzing when alone to solve problem or navigate around next problem ~ have a trusted person (not working in your division or company) that you can blow off steam to. Being OCD, I have the same work ethic as if I had a manager constantly watching me. I perform my duties the best I think is possible. I have to believe that somewhere/sometime I will be rewarded for my hard work. Mark, I think you make a very valid point in your statement, "why change your pride/passion/integrity/ethics for the job simply because everyone else is ignorant, lazy, or downright incompetent?" I have taken some hits to my pride but I am still proud of my work quality and my intelligence to rise above the DRAMA. I work so that I can live, not live so that I can work. ..and I have job security. It really depends on what we are willing to put up with in a particular job.

Kelley@HollywoodSteel.com
Kelley@HollywoodSteel.com

If you think that you don?t make mistakes, you are either delusional or not doing anything. Either way it is a problem. I believe that Harvey Mackay was right when he said ?The only people that don?t make mistakes are those that aren?t doing anthing?. I agree that you should not take the blame for things that are beyond your control, as in the case of the laptop. However, the way that you handle comments related to this can have a big impact on the perception of you and your department. If you reply that that it is not your issue to solve, you have done nothing to help the person. This can make you look bad. However, you could tell them that they might want to contact the security department to see if they can make change that would help. Offering them a possible course of action may leave them with a good impression. I messed once up by not telling a manager that it would be best if he discussed his issue with my manager. The manager eventually sent a note to the department head telling him that I was not helping him. I would have done better had I told the user manager in the beginning that he needed to discuss that with my manager because I was no longer assigned to his issue. My manager (a true weasel) left the blame with me; I transferred out of his area and he was later fired (probably for being a worthless weasel). In general though, you should readily take responsibility for your actions. It makes a very good impression.

mike.pulaski
mike.pulaski

Security is something the stakeholders want...until it actually goes in place and affects them! Then, they want to shift gears and just assume that people are all honest and there simply won't be any problems. I instituted a $15k RSA 2 factor system in conjunction with biometric door locks. Of course not because its good security practice, its because the stakeholders wanted to limit their liability in court if they had good security measures. The same measures I had been pushing for years as the IT Manager, but now only approved because their law firm suggested it. By the end of the first week, I had over 25% lose or forget their RSA keys. The solution? Just give everybody two of them so if they lose the 1st one, they can keep working. And if they lose both, just let them use a password. I tried to send people home for the day and dock them for repeated offenses. Wasn't allowed. We had a mandatory security system with ZERO consequences if you broke it, disabled it, or just plain circumvented it. So when I get put on the stand in court, where is the "good effort practice" going to pay off to limit our liability?

longtex
longtex

"So when I get put on the stand in court..." ...just say "No", when you are asked "Do you swear or affirm that the testimony you are about to give shall be the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth?" I've had all sorts of attorneys and wannabe attorneys tell me you MUST swear or affirm, but none of them has been able to show me where you are required to swear, only that you are required to answer a subpoena... I'm not even convinced you're required to mount the witness stand and/or "raise your right hand". If you were required to testify AND to tell the truth, there would be no point to swearing, would there?

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