Archive: Playing “the enforcer” could put your career at risk

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In the typical corporation, you will find many people whose main role is that of “The Enforcer.” Project managers who enforce project timelines, human resource staffers who enforce work policies, union representatives who enforce labor agreements and even IT workers who enforce company standards, approved hardware, software and password policies. While, in most cases, all of these items need policing and enforcing, playing the role of the enforcer could be damaging to your career as a whole.


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Books by Douglas E. Welch

It is a sad truth that workers in any sort of enforcement role are almost universally disliked by co-workers beyond their own department. Security staff may respect each other, but the general populous of the company might find them officious or difficult. This is often an unfair characterization, but perception can be as important as reality. If people perceive you as a problem or an impediment, they will treat you as one.

You can easily see that if you are placed in the role of enforcer, in any regard, you run the risk of becoming disliked, and eventually, unwanted at your company. Furthermore, once you start down this path, it is very difficult to reverse.

One of the largest problems with the enforcer role is that there is often substantial disagreement between policies and the operational reality of a company. Being responsible for enforcing unrealistic goals and procedures makes enemies of both those above and below you. Workers will see you as enforcing policies they cannot abide and management will constantly question why its policies aren’t being enforced. Meanwhile, you spend your lunchtimes in lonely thoughts about why everyone hates you.

Being the enforcer has concrete effects on your career, too. As the person in-between, you will be the focus of complaints from above and below. People will actively try to circumvent your enforcement and keep you “out of the loop” on important decisions until it is too late to change them. Finally, being an enforcer leaves you open to the threat of downsizing, layoffs and termination. Face it, if both staff and management are displeased with your work, who are they going to mark for layoff — you or their best friend and co-worker? You have almost nowhere to turn for support. No matter how much you might believe in the importance of your work, if others do not share that view, you are doomed.

So, how do you protect yourself from this unenviable position? First, don’t seek out or accept jobs with a major enforcement role, if at all possible. Once you are in such a position, for even a short period of time, co-workers opinions will quickly form. This is especially true if you are being called in to “clean up” an already bad situation. You cannot imagine the animosity that will face you as you begin.

If you must take on an enforcement role, you must have the complete and unwavering support of your management. They must truly believe in their stated goals, and be willing to deal with conflict, complaints and crises that will result. If not, you will quickly be offered up as a scapegoat to quell the complaints and anger arising from your enforcement actions.

If I were faced with taking on a role like this, I would do everything in my power to include a contractual agreement, which allows me a set amount of time to accomplish the stated goals. This would also include a large bonus, payable on my termination, should management decide to abandon their initiative. Management must support enforcement roles and not be given an easy way out when the complaints begin to flood their email.

No matter how important the role of enforcer might be, for the average worker it is a career minefield. Without continued support from management and understanding from co-workers, enforcers are doomed to be either ineffectual, or too often, unemployed. Avoid the role of enforcer whenever possible and enter into it only with the utmost care and consideration. The continued success of your career depends on it.


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