The Business-Technology Weave

May 13 2010   5:53AM GMT

WorkOns; WorkWiths and WorkFors: Shifting of Class and the Power Prism

David Scott David Scott Profile: David Scott


As we consider our WorkOns, WorkWiths, and WorkFors, there will be situations where people take on some responsibilities, characteristics, and behaviors usually associated with occupancy in one of the other groups.  Certain behaviors are not only adopted, but they distort: someone may take on additional responsibility and become overbearing, or they may suffer a lack of confidence. 




We must be aware of situational changes and the feelings they engender in people.  This way, we can adjust our own behavior in managing our relationship with them.  In other words, we have to maintain that constant of pulling their “best game” in contributing to maximum success.  Also, it’s our obligation to support them effectively – particularly during change.    


Your organization, and specific environment, will have many situations that will influence power in many ways.  Change brings about general unfamiliarity.  In the case of changing business practices, new business competition, new products, new services, new support applications, new computers – whatever is happening – there is an environment where some are assuming power, and some may be losing it. 


It can be helpful, and downright important, to view matters through a Power Prism:  that is, to view each situation and circumstance as a matter of who may gain, and who may lose – or who simply harbors those perceptions.  Power is often deception, illusion – or delusion – as the case may be. 


Eventually, we’ll examine all groups, but we’ll start with the WorkOn group.  They are a frequent recipient of major change.  These folks generally have the least to do with planning change – their power is limited.  True, their opinions are solicited, and they provide basic facts during analysis of requirements, but this usually follows on to the big decision to make a change.  The WorkOns are not the big decision makers, and they can feel “put upon.”  Occasionally, however, we see a person from the WorkOn group shift when they are asked to “step up” within a project and represent their department, or when taking on a leadership role in an endeavor that is parallel to their main job efforts.   Perhaps a temporary increase in responsibility is even a test; an evaluation of promotion potential.  Let’s look at a look at what can happen when a WorkOn temporarily shifts to a position of greater responsibility.


Frequently a WorkOn person assumes oversight duties, a measure of power, during the implementation phase of a project.  Perhaps this person is asked to coordinate internal department meetings regarding the collection of requirements for new software, or to meet with people to design new reports.  Perhaps the compelling reason that this person is selected for this is because he or she has the time to do this – this person may never have done anything like this before.  Here you have to ensure that this person doesn’t become too overbearing.  A person in this situation can overcompensate for a lack of experience by exhibiting a blustery “confidence.”  Or, this person may feel slightly intoxicated with their newfound “authority.”   They can’t help but being somewhat inexperienced, – they have no prior scale against which to measure effort and delivery in this realm.  Your responsibility is to mentor and coach them, and as importantly to help the WorkOn balance and adjust their attitude to the new role. 


Occasionally an opportunity comes along for a WorkOn person to assume a higher profile in the organization at large.  Unlike an actual promotion, whereby a WorkOn might become a WorkWith (with formal power over others), what we’re talking about here is a situation.  Perhaps it’s an additional-duty type of condition, or a nuance to their position – one that now requires a perspective and judgment that the bulk of their job usually does not require or demand.  They may now have a duty that involves an increase in responsibility, and within that, a certain authority. 


A good example would be the assignment of a WorkOn to payroll clerk, or perhaps payroll manager.  This person is no longer buried in the Finance department, but is seen by the entire organization as someone who manages a process.  That process stripes across the entire organization.  Someone stepping into this role for the first time may be prone to panic a little if timesheets are not submitted in a timely fashion.  They may go a little heavy-handed in their communications to get the timesheets in.  We can see that this person often needs a little coaching to keep things in perspective, and in the proper escalation for problems concerning submittals.  Conversely, the new payroll person may be a little shy about communicating expectations for timely submittals.  They may lack the confidence to institute a system to help ensure timely submittals.  So, the power-prism in this regard is showing us that there is a situational change in how people behave, as they remain in their primary group – in this case, the WorkOn group.


A good example for the IT leader regarding WorkOns is the assignment of new responsibility to someone who has, until now, been totally task-oriented.  Perhaps one of your new HelpDesk technicians is assigned to manage the rollout of new PCs.  This is a nice step up in responsibility, and who knows the PC population and the attendant user population better than a HelpDesk technician?  This person should have the inside knowledge as to who needs the latest, most powerful machines, how the departments should be prioritized, and what a reasonable rate for the rollouts is.  It is not unusual for the task-oriented person to become nervous about larger endeavors that have a multiplicity of details.  At the same time, you should try to prepare the WorkOn for elements of their new work that may not be apparent to WorkOns in general.


In this case, departments may suddenly clamor and compete for prioritized standing in the PC rollout, individual users generally clamor for early issuance of a new PC, late-changing department schedules can upset the rollout plan, and so on.  In these cases, the WorkOn’s fresh responsibilities, and these related exigencies, can be viewed as a huge spike on the “problem chart.”  The WorkOn feels a loss of control.  However, the manager’s steady guidance should lead this person to a calm attitude and a balance of perspective in managing these sorts of things.  They come to be seen as routine in a real world environment.


Generally speaking, when rotating the power prism with a WorkOn in view, the behavioral change usually involves anxiety regarding an increase to responsibility – they are operating in a WorkWith realm.  They’ve been chosen to assume a managerial role in that they have to lead activity – as opposed to operating in their usual reactive, or parallel, mode.  Help this person – a sort of hybrid WorkOn/WorkWith – to a good understanding of their new role.  Point them to the tools at their disposal for achieving results, and show them their sanctions, their sponsorships, and the limits of their lead.


We will come back to this discussion for an examination through the power prism’s view to WorkWiths and WorkFors – but for now, remember these groups and associated characteristics – and – how they can shift.  It can be a powerful realization and can help you to negotiate your way to better interactions.  Better interactions will yield success, promotion and achievement of your career goals.

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