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my problem with give-and-take August 31, 2009

Posted by That Guy in Lessons Learned, The Two-Year-Old.
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What we were always taught as children is: be fair. If you do something for me, I need to do something of equal perceived value for you. Perhaps it isn’t fair in your eyes, but it is in mine. This is also a founding principle in sports trades — perhaps Randy Moss was only worth a fourth-round pick to Al Davis and Bill Belichick back when he was traded to the Patriots. Davis felt he was getting a fair shake, so both sides were satisfied.

If your boss is on the other side, you lose. (CC-licensed photo by toffehoff)

If your boss is on the other side, you lose. (CC-licensed photo by toffehoff)

Unfortunately that doesn’t happen a lot at work.

The trick of give-and-take is to not overload one side — either perceived or actual overload. That happened to me last week. I went to the Two-Year-Old with an idea: we have this topical blog network, and I offered to write a new blog in the network about a subject that interests me — let’s say, for the sake of argument, I’m going to write about professional wrestling*. Writing blog entries about the world of wrestling will make me happy, and I’ll be able to bring to bear my not-inconsiderable writing talent** and wrestling knowledge to the table. Many people will read and enjoy my words as a result.

She was fine with the idea. But while I was sitting in front of her, she hit me with an “oh, by the way…”

Yes. That’s right. I’m now in charge of making sure people remember they have to consider the web side of their projects during planning meetings. That’s going to eat up about three hours every morning. Some of my web development duties are going to be shifted to the new corporate guy, which I guess is fine, but the problem here is that I don’t have any real power. I just have to be in charge without being able to pass punitive judgment on employees who refuse to do the web right (if at all).

But that’s what she decided would be the price of running this blog, and now I’m stuck with it. To me, it’s unfair — taking on a ton of responsibility in exchange for spending maybe 30-40 minutes every couple of days doing something I actually enjoy and getting paid for it. I really wish I could take it back, but it’s too late.

Beware the management definition of give-and-take. It will rarely end in your favor.

It was so easy living day by day
Out of touch with the rhythm and blues
But now I need a little give and take
The New York Times, The Daily News

–Billy Joel, “New York State of Mind”

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* I haven’t been seriously interested in professional wrestling since about 1999, but the principle is sound.

** If I do say so myself.

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