Credit Seekers

My grandfather once told me that there were two kinds of people: those who do the work and those who take the credit. He told me to try to be in the first group; there was much less competition.
Indira Gandhi

Unless you are one of the fortunate few, you have probably dealt at some point in your career with the ever so frustrating credit seeker.  A credit seeker is a coworker, supervisor, or even leader who pounces on the credit when something goes well and does not become involved in any endeavor that requires work or entails risk.  Several years ago I worked with an organization where a senior staff member had made an art out of waiting for the right time to steal credit and alert everyone to her phony success.  She was a like a large cat patiently waiting high in the tree branches for something tasty to pass by so she could jump down and grab it.  Like many credit seekers, her superiors were happy to credit her with the wins she claimed since her success made them look good for hiring her while her support staff despised her.

In time, her support staff either stopped being as productive as they were capable of, requested a transfer, or left the organization.  I asked her why she thought her staff did not stay long and seemed to constantly possess low morale even when the unit was successful overall.  She responded simply that she had paid her dues and had the right to take credit for others work now that she was a leader.  I believe that her answer was honest, coincided with the culture of the organization she worked for, and captured the way she thought effective organizations should function.  In other words, she subscribed to the philosophy that is so common in large organizations: if I work hard and attain a higher position, I can have others do the work for me and my benefit.

Allowing credit seekers to thrive and flourish causes a variety of organization issues.  When employees are asked about how it impacts them, anger and frustration are two of the most common emotions.  When examining the impact on the organization as a whole, three big issues are the most prevalent:

  • Depleted morale
  • Stunting of good behaviors
  • Less optimal outcomes

Depleted Morale

Most of us are motivated by being interested in our work and being recognized or rewarded for our accomplishments.  It is human nature to hunger for someone to recognize what we do as consequential or worthwhile and performed well.  A credit seeker undermines and in many cases completely disrupts this important cycle of action and recognition within the work unit and organization.  The feedback that returns to the employee from the cycle is that your work does not matter and hard work matters even less.

Stunting of Good Behaviors

Although the negative impact of credit seekers is the most common concern, there is a large opportunity cost that must be accounted for as well.  Most leaders preach the importance of openness, sharing, and cooperation within a work team, department, and organization as a whole.  Even in a positive work environment, leaders need to constantly monitor and make adjustments to preserve the balance between individual achievement and collective goals.  However, when you cannot trust your coworker or supervisor to be honest, perform his or her own work, and give credit where it is due, it is hard to have trust, be open, and work as a team.  In reality, an employee will assume that he or she is alone and has little to gain from further assisting those who will only take credit for his or her accomplishments and diminish their relevance to the organization.

Less Optimal Outcomes

An organization that does not emphasize and recognize the importance of each employee contributing, rewards individual and team success, provide a supportive environment for growth and success, and hold leaders accountable for producing the required results will inevitably fail.  Put more simply, leaders that manipulate reality and circumvent accountability create cultures where accountability and performance attainment is meaningless.

There are few things as miserable as working hard and not being recognized for your contribution.  The one thing that trumps this major productivity disincentive is when you work hard and someone else takes the credit.

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