Ideas, we share them in the workplace, we present them to our colleagues and our bosses, and when we do this the question is, are they still ours? Copyright protects completed works or documented ideas but there is no protection for the thousands of ideas floating in our heads. It would be impossible to protect our every thought and action. Because we cannot protect everything we do, somewhere someday you will experience that someone tries to take credit for your ideas or your work. It happens all the time in the workplace. This kind of behavior is a result of the competitive culture we have created within our companies. So what do you do? How can you prevent this from happening without getting the reputation as a whiner, a backstabber or not being a team player?
What you do depends on the frequency and the extent of the situation. Reoccurring incidences and those incidences having a career or financial impact are the ones you want to prevent. Recognition for your contribution is what you want to achieve. If it is emotional satisfaction you are looking for or you want your ego stroked, then leave it out of the workplace.
There are a few precautions you can take to make sure you receive credit for your work but before using them make sure you have a realistic view of the workplace.
We are hired by our companies to move them forward and to contribute to the success of the company. In most instances this means that any idea or contribution you have in the workplace belongs to the company not you. This is what you are getting paid for. This may also mean that in the hierarchical structure of the company your ideas and your work may pass through many levels of management before they actually contribute to the business. Therefore it is inevitable that your superior will take procession of your ideas or your work at some point. Understand this and accept this, you will not change this.
You will also not get acknowledged for every little thing you do. That is what you are getting paid for. Do not waste your energy on wanting to have every little contribution be acknowledged. Instead focus on the work and ideas that make a significant contribution to the business. Those are the ones you want acknowledged. Do not worry about who has the possession of your ideas or work, concentrate how you can get recognized for them.
Once you understand the realities of the workplace, there are things you can do to get yourself and your contribution recognized. There are also steps you can take to protect your ideas. These steps will help minimize the reoccurrence of having your ideas or work stolen by the others and get the right people to recognize you.
-Focus on team contribution. It is appreciated in most companies. It is also a great way to ensure you get credit for your ideas and your work. Use meetings where others are present to present your ideas and your work. The more witnesses you have the more difficult it is for someone to take credit for your ideas or work.
-You are the inventor of your ideas and your work. This means that no one knows them better than you do. When first presenting your work or ideas present the cake but not the complete recipe. This makes others more dependent on you; they need you to complete the work. This also makes it harder for anyone else to steal your work or ideas.
-Label your work. Put your name on documents, specs, technical packs, reports and virtually everything. This makes it harder for people to copy without asking your permission.
-Keep records on how you got an idea, how you developed your work and when you first presented it.
-Protect your files and your work with security settings. Do not leave items sitting around on your desk.
-Use the “we” word when making presentations with your boss. The “we” word is very powerful when used correctly. It demonstrates contribution and teamwork and is much more appreciated by good management than the “I” word.
-Know your colleagues well and keep an eye on workplace interactions.
There are two kinds of interactions in the workplace that I try to pay attention to. The first is the interaction with my male colleagues and bosses. There is sometimes a male attitude that women are there to serve and men are there to take credit. It is an old fashion attitude similar to the days when the man was admired for a nice clean house and took sole credit for the house and the family because he paid for it (women were there to serve). I am sure this behavior also stems from the primitive “protection” gene that men have, but it interferes in today’s workplace.
The second is competitive female colleagues. It is so difficult for women to make it to the top today that they have a tendency to revert to dirty tricks faster than men. This is unfortunate when we all try to support each other, but the environment makes it a reality.
-Quit. The last resort is that if in the end you feel your company is not recognizing your contribution and you feel that others are stealing your work or ideas than move on. Be sure to review your expectations one more time before you do this.
Handling an Actual Situation
-If the incident is with your colleague or someone other than your boss then approach them directly. If a colleague steals work or ideas it is better to let him or her know you know it. Generally those who steal will be uncomfortable with a direct approach and you will be able to solve the problem yourself.
Do not approach your superior before approaching and handling the situation at your level. Only approach your superior if because of the incident you will suffer a financial or career consequence. If there is no financial or significant career consequence and you only want emotional satisfaction then leave your boss out of it.
-If the incident is with your boss then approach your Boss indirectly. Remember the hierarchy gives your boss the right to use your ideas and your work. If you feel that you are not getting your contribution recognized then talk to your boss. Ask him or her how you can make your contribution even more valuable to the business. Offer to help with meetings and presentations and ask to attend them with him or her. Have a career development discussion with your boss. There are many politically correct ways to get your boss to recognize your contribution without degrading his or her position.
Do not go over your boss’s head. When talking with your bosses colleagues or superiors you have to be politically savvy. This means if the opportunity presents itself, than talk about your contributions to your bosses colleagues or superiors and do not talk about your boss.
Keeping your expectations in line is critical. One has to remember that we get paid to for the contribution we make to our companies. Managers do not appreciate high maintenance employees who want to be recognized for just doing their jobs. These kinds of employees take up too much time and energy. On the other hand good managers should recognize an employees contribution and work especially if it moves the business forward or exceeds expectations. In these situations employees have the right to expect recognitions.
The balance for both the employee and the manager is sometimes difficult to find. The important thing is to remember we are all in control of our destinies; they do not lie in the hands of others. In the worse case if you have a great idea or good work that is not recognized than find a way to make sure it is!