Wednesday, July 18, 2012

On Graen's "Unwritten Rules for Your Career: 15 Secrets for Fast-track Success"

Miner (2005) says (chp 14), citing Graen (1989), that those interested in achieving their personal ends would need to focus on:
things a person should do to achieve fast-track status in management, what unwritten rules exist in organizations, and how to become an insider who understands these rules and follows them to move up the hierarchy. These unwritten rules are part of the informal organization and constitute the secrets of organizational politics.

There are fifteen such secrets of the fast track:

1. Find the hidden strategies of your organization and use them to achieve your objectives.  (This involves forming working relationships—networks—with people who have access to special resources, skills, and abilities to do important work.)

2. Do your homework in order to pass the tests. (These tests can range from sample questions to command performances; you should test others, as well, to evaluate sources of information.)

3. Accept calculated risks by using appropriate contingency plans. (Thus, learn to improve your decision average by taking calculated career risks.)

4. Recognize that apparently complete and final plans are merely flexible guidelines to the actions necessary for implementation. (Thus, make your plans broad and open-ended so that you can adapt them as they are implemented.)

5. Expect to be financially undercompensated for the first half of your career and to be overcompensated for the second half. (People on the fast track inevitably grow out of their job descriptions and take on extra duties beyond what they are paid to do.)

6. Work to make your boss successful. (This is at the heart of the exchange between the two of you and involves a process of reciprocal promotion.)

7. Work to get your boss to promote your career. (This is the other side of the coin and involves grooming your replacement as well.)

8. Use reciprocal relationships to build supportive networks. (It is important that these be competence networks involving effective working relationships and competent people.)

9. Do not let your areas of competence become too narrowly specialized. (Avoid the specialists trap by continually taking on new challenges.)

10. Try to act with foresight more often than with hindsight. (Be proactive by identifying the right potential problem, choosing the right solution, and choosing the best implementation process.)

11. Develop cordial relationships with your competitors: Be courteous, considerate, and polite in all relationships. (You need not like all these people, but making unnecessary enemies is an expensive luxury.)

12. Seek out key expert insiders and learn from them. (Have numerous mentors and preserve these relationships of your reciprocal network.)

13. Make sure to acknowledge everyone’s contribution. (Giving credit can be used as a tool to develop a network of working relationships.)

14. Prefer equivalent exchanges between peers instead of rewards and punishments between unequal partners. (Equivalent exchanges are those in which a resource, service, or behavior is given with the understanding that something of equivalent value will eventually be returned; this requires mutual trust.)

15. Never take unfair advantage of anyone, and avoid letting anyone take unfair advantage of you. (Networks cannot be maintained without a reputation for trustworthiness.)

More recently, in another book, Graen (2003) has revisited this topic and set forth another partially overlapping list of thirteen actions that distinguish key players from others [...]. These guidelines [...] for how to play the hierarchy and gain fast-track status are as follows:

1. Demonstrate initiative to get things done (i.e., engage in organizational citizenship behaviors).

2. Exercise leadership to make the unit more effective (i.e., become an informal group leader).

3. Show a willingness to take risks to accomplish assignments (i.e., go against group pressures in order to surface problems if necessary).

4. Strive to add value to the assignments (i.e., enrich your own job by making it more challenging and meaningful).

5. Actively seek out new job assignments for self-improvement (i.e., seek out opportunities for growth).

6. Persist on a valuable project after others give up (and learn not to make the same mistake twice).

7. Build networks to extend capability, especially among those responsible for getting work done.

8. Influence others by doing something extra (i.e., this means building credibility and adjusting your interpersonal style to match others).

9. Resolve ambiguity by dealing constructively to resolve ambiguity (i.e., gather as much information as possible and obtain frequent feedback).

10. Seek wider exposure to managers outside the home division, which helps in gathering information.

11. Build on existing skills. Apply technical training on the job and build on that training to develop broader expertise; be sure not to allow obsolescence to creep in.

12. Develop a good working relationship with your boss. Work to build and maintain a close working relationship with the immediate supervisor (Strive to build a high quality LMX, devote energy to this goal—see Maslyn and Uhl-Bien, 2001).

13. Promote your boss. Work to get the immediate supervisor promoted (i.e., try to make that person look good; as your boss goes up, so well may you).

Graen, George (1989). Unwritten Rules for Your Career: 15 Secrets for Fast-track Success. New York: John Wiley.
Graen, George (2003). Dealing with Diversity. Greenwich, CT: Information Age Publishing.
Miner, John B. Organizational behavior I. Essential theories of motivation and leadership. Armonk, NY: M. E. Sharpe.