There once was a martial arts master that had a young student who possessed many poor habits. Each day, the young student performed his drills with poor techniques. The master decided he needed to show the student how his poor technique would affect him over time. The master asked the young student to accompany him to a tree farm.
At the tree farm the master walked with the student to a section of young trees. The master asked the student to remove a 1-year old tree from the soil. The young student pulled the tree out with ease.
“Very good,” replied the master. They then walked down the row to the 5-year old trees. The master asked the student to remove a 5-year old tree from the soil. Straining and pulling hard, the young student used all of his energy and after a struggle, managed to pull the tree from the soil. The young student, sweating, raised the 5-year old tree with its thick roots above his head.
“Very good,” replied the master. The master and his student left the tree farm and outside stopped at a 50-year old tree. The master asked the student to remove a 50-year old tree from the soil. The student could not reach his hands around the trunk. He tried pulling, but the tree would not move. The young student told the master, “Master, I cannot remove the tree. It is too large and its roots have grown too thick.”
The master stated, “Habits take root quickly. Old habits will not uproot with ease. Choose your habits wisely.”
Like a bad habit, many of us have allowed biases to take root. Like it or not, most people have inherent biases, certain opinions or judgments which have developed over time. These often unconscious perceptions can also affect relationships within the workplace. Like complacency, strong opinions and biases can plague friendly business relationships and great customer service. Office politics can become a true stumbling block for project communications and organizational effectiveness. An “us versus them” bias could result in groups:
- Withholding ideas due to fear of criticism
- Being unwilling to put in discretionary effort to get a job done
- Gossiping about others behind closed doors
- Making decisions based on ease rather than effectiveness
- Overstating successes and withholding failures due to fear of job security
These actions, which could be summarized as a lack of organizational transparency, discourage innovation and achievement. From this behavior, collaboration and team dynamics can be strained creating a negative corporate culture, ultimately affecting your clients. Getting buy-in from leadership to be transparent within the organization, setting a standard, and uprooting negative habits when they occur can change the corporate culture for the better.
Google sets an example for leadership mitigating this type of behavior by employees, “The way we solve the ‘backstabbing’ problem, for example, is that if you write a nasty email about someone, you shouldn’t be surprised if they are added to the email thread,” Google HR boss Laszlo Bock writes in his new book, “Work Rules!” Bock continued, “I remember the first time I complained about somebody in an email and my manager promptly copied that person, which forced us to quickly resolve the issue. It was a stark lesson in the importance of having direct conversations with colleagues!”¹
Perception of Millennials in the workforce
In many organizations, biases could also extend to certain generational groups, and may taint the perception of their effectiveness in fulfilling their role. With the increasing age gap between the oldest and youngest in the workplace, most organizations, having interacted with Generation X and Baby Boomers for quite a while, may not have a good perception of Millennials in the workplace. According to an article titled, “Meet the Not-So-Average Supply Chain Millennials” popular opinions of Gen X and Baby Boomers of Millennials (aged 22 to 37) are the following:
- Unwilling to pay their dues
Many of these above views mimic studies of perceptions of Generation X when they entered the workforce, and for the Baby Boomers when they entered the workforce. However, according to the study, “over 50% of the Millennials in supply chain hold workplace attitudes that mimic those of boomers and Gen Xers.” Biases, from generational gaps or not, may stifle operations.
How do you overcome this?
Many articles from around the web offer advice on how to overcome biases in the workplace that could be beneficial for overcoming office politics as well as generational gaps:
1. 14 Foolproof Tips for Managing Generational Age Gap in the Workplace
2. How to Approach the Generation Gap in the Workplace
3. How To Manage Generational Differences In The Workplace
Thinking about the best ways to combat generational differences could save your organization time and money. Being honest and upfront with employees could eliminate some of the plagues of office politics as well. Envisioning the type of company that you are and where you want to be can help you define how you operate and who you want to be.
¹ Bock, L. (2015). Work rules!: Insights from inside Google that will transform how you live and lead. Hachette UK.
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