Monday, October 1, 2012

Above My Paygrade

In retrospect, I've probably heard that phrase a few too many times -- and in situations where it didn't warrant use.

In rare instances, I have also said this.  And, having contemplated the meaning in greater depth, that doesn't make me proud.

For those readers who may not be familiar with the phrase, it's most commonly used to indicate a decision or responsibility (and occasionally knowledge) that lie with a more seasoned staff member, a senior employee, lead or director.

Well, clearly someone else is making all the choices here....

I've also heard it used as an expression of frustration. In those instances, it occurs when a person doesn't agree with a choice or direction -- it's akin to saying, "Well, if I were in control, this is how things would change."

Ultimately, it's a statement of abdication.
Abdication of responsibility.
Abdication of influence.

Hit it.

This is what has caused me to ponder the phrase in greater detail. As I said before, I've said it in the past too. When I think back on those times, I can't help but ask myself the following question:

  • Did the situation which triggered the statement get any better in light of my abdication?  Honestly, the answer is sometimes yes, and more often no.

In the positive case, did I influence the outcome. No.  I can take no credit for having improved the situation for myself or my coworkers.
In the negative case, did I influence the outcome. Yes.

Yes. Considering that the phrase is most regularly heard in situations where the speaker doesn't agree with something -- some wrongdoing -- it is rather ironically also a statement of complicity Whether you recognize it or not, electing to abdicate your influence (on the team, the project, or on the company) will only perpetuate the problem -- and potentially institutionalize it.

Get it?

This is going to be a difficult idea for some to accept. The counter argument, naturally, is "I'm not responsible for fixing this problem," or "That's not my job," or "No one is paid to listen to me."

If this sounds like someone you know, please allow me to point out the problem. This person has confabulated influence with authority.

Do you see the difference?

Leadership structure is about authority. Just because you do not have the authority to make the final decision, does NOT mean you should abdicate your influence. Authority has to reside with a select few -- as do the consequences of their choices.  Influence, by comparison, is open to all.  In the image above, the graphic on the left demonstrates authority, but not a communication structure (in a healthy organization, anyway.)  The graphic on the right demonstrates a communication network, where influence is represented by those nodes with the most connections -- the ability to influence other nodes.

So, what do I say to the person who says, "That's above my pay grade" to express his or her lack of authority. Fair enough, I say.

Sometimes, I feel like this too.

But it is only "fair" if that person has reasonably expressed their influence. Just because you express your influence doesn't mean you'll necessarily see the results you wanted. After all, accepting the authority of others has little to do with influence, and lots to do with professional maturity.

Calm the fuck down already.

This is a type of influence.  Good leaders don't respond to it.

So, why do I keep using the phrase influence?

Every employer in the game industry understands this term. They may use slightly different words -- influence, impact, clout, respect, etc. I promise you that every studio uses it when comparing employees -- and certainly when identifying those for career advancement. It is quite simply one of the most significant attributes or effective leaders.

It's mildly ironic then, that someone would identify a potential problem. Rather than attacking the problem directly, he or she then uses this phrase to abdicate influence. Naturally, their lack of influence or impact on the issue consequently diminishes their career progress.  This, in turn, results in them not having the authority to make such decisions in the future.  And the circle begins again.

Sucks, right?  Confusing, too.

So,where am I going with this? In the end, I hope each reader will recognize the power of his or her influence. Even lacking authority, each of us are professionals and have the responsibility to improve our work environment. It is only by first having influence that we then gain authority -- that is the golden career path.

Yeah, Eddie thinks this is a lame graphic choice too.

You want to know what I think? I think you should listen for this phrase in the days, weeks or months to come. If you hear a less-experienced employee say this, offer them some advice -- express your influence. However, if you hear one of your peers say this --


Pay Attention! This person may have just highlighted a problem.  Not just a problem, but an opportunity for you -- and for your career.  Not a guarantee, but a good opportunity

Some may yet say that they can't express their influence. That speaking out gets them in trouble. That they don't feel safe.

Those of you who work in unhealthy organizations are probably right.  You should do something about that.  I also suspect that there are others who would use this excuse to avoid the fact that they lack the skill to manage their influence -- that they lack the professionalism or maturity to address an issue in a productive and respectful manner.

Influential or not, don't be that person.

Talk about your asshats....

No comments:

Post a Comment