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Why Your Company Won’t Repay Your Favors

“We live in a competitive world in which people frequently act on the basis of their own self-interest. This means they will embrace you when you provide value and forget you the minute you don't. This tough lesson is being played out in work organizations every day. Prepare and act accordingly.”

To benefit from the principles of reciprocity in your career:

Make your accomplishments salient. What people notice and attend to is an important principle for understanding behavior. If you want people to be attentive to your past contributions, make sure those contributions feature prominently in their current thinking. Remind them of the history of the firm and your role in it, as well as past business successes of which you were a part. This strategy won't work perfectly because of the tendency to think of the future and because history of any sort is often forgotten in contemporary culture. But it can make a difference.

Do things for specific individuals and be sure they know about it. After Senator Lyndon Johnson was one of just two senators attending the funeral of a relative of Senator Robert Byrd's, their relationship warmed. Jack Valenti, the former head of the Motion Picture Association of America, would invite representatives and their families to private screenings of films at MPAA headquarters, and would go out of his way to pay attention to the children and spouses in attendance.

Don't expect that your past performance will matter going forward. Eschew any form of deferred compensation that is not contractually guaranteed, as it can disappear. Be sensitive, maybe even paranoid, about the intentions of your colleagues and don't rely on their kindness. Demonstrate your value anew.


Jeffrey Pfeffer is the author of Managing With Power: Politics and Influence in Organizations, Hard Facts, Dangerous Half-Truths And Total Nonsense: Profiting From Evidence-Based Management, and most recently Power: Why Some People Have It and Others Don't