What type of worker are you?

DFN: Word of advice regarding how to survive / thrive in the workplace

Workplace Organization: Are You The Lackey, The Arguer or The Promotable?
Posted: 29 Oct 2009 09:13 AM PDT

Broken lines, brok.en strings, broken threads, broken springs,
Broken idols, broken heads, People sleeping in broken beds.
Ain’t no use jiving. Ain’t no use joking. Everything is broken.
Broken bottles, broken plates, broken switches, broken gates,
Broken dishes, broken parts, Streets are filled with broken hearts.
Broken words never meant to be spoken, Everything is broken.
Seem like every time you stop and turn around, Something else just hit the ground
– Bob Dylan

Last week’s debate about the state of corporate recruiting got me thinking. It seems like an awful lot of things are broken. And, it seems like there are a ton of people who want to fix them.

Sometimes it seems like we’re moving from a culture of innovation to a culture of maintenance. Fixing broken stuff is just not the same as imagining new things. There’s a place for both but it’s a real mistake to confuse one with the other.

There are three types of people in any organization: 70% are Lackeys (brown nosers); 20% are Argumentatives (live to disagree with the boss); and 10% are Promotable (know how to give good advice and then go with the decision). This thinking applies to the various broken things in our organizations.

In recent years, the flow of technology and the aging of our society have conspired to create a kind of shell shock. We’ve seen so many new things that we can barely stomach another. At the same time, we’re aging as a culture and therefore less able, or at least less inclined, to adjust to new things.

The result is that people who are introducing new ideas have learned to talk about them as if they were obvious repairs for obviously broken stuff. We’re so tired of the new that when someone approaches us with the requisite evangelism, we flee. That’s how so many things that are way better than they used to be fall into the “broken” category.

When you’re investigating a job possibility, you have to be clear whether you want to be a fixer, a creator or a great worker. Then you have to figure out which one the boss wants. Remember that she’ll most likely see you as a lackey, an argumentative or a Promotable.
If you want to be a creator, consider becoming an entrepreneur. Organizations naturally favor the status quo (there are some counter examples but not many). Being an entrepreneur means that you don’t have to spend as much time persuading people to get started. Think back about the types of people in an organization. If you want to create, you’re likely to be viewed as argumentative and routinely dismissed. Generally, people viewed as argumentative are the first to go during the layoffs.

If you want to improve things, you have to learn how to make a suggestion and then take “No” for an answer. This is what bosses think of as a “Promotable” contributor. In 21st century companies, sticking to your guns after the decision is made makes you an Argumentative. The Promotable worker is like a good hitter in baseball. Each at bat is an opportunity to improve the average. Success once every five at bats is good performance for a major leaguer.

Great workers run the risk of being viewed as Lackies. A positive attitude, the willingness to accept things as they are, the desire to deliver value and the aspiration to do one’s job well may just be seen as ‘brown nosing’. In a large number of companies, long-term survival depends on being a good worker in spite of what the more favored clique thinks of you.

Things are different as your career progresses. It’s traditional for a new manager to immediately reverse the decisions of her predecessor. In the ranks of management, “Everything is Broken” is often the point of departure.


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