Everyone working today has some sort of professional scope. It can be defined specifically in terms of responsibility by a job desk or be more nebulous: attached to projects or objectives. The rigidity of your role also depends on where it sits in an organization and how long that type of role has existed in the corporate history. Senior level jobs tend to cover swathes of responsibility like “communications,” while an influence project manager is more narrow and specific. People managing finances have decades of accounting practice to base their scopes on, those working in digital transformation are constantly walking around with their arms out trying to find where the walls are.

Then there are the differences between people, broadly divided into two camps: those who nod and those who shake their heads. Much of it is based on personality, psychology, and personal situation. It would be easy to draw the line based only on optimists vs. pessimists, but that does not take into account the myriad factors that are in play at any given time in any given organization. Instead, it boils down to how people view additional collaboration: either as an opportunity or as a risk.

Protecting Your Scope

The CPO sees opportunity as risk. Their goal is to protect their current scope from threats. They do not want to waste their time collaborating on projects or subjects that do not directly link into their job desk. Anything new might creep into their immediate domain and become their problem. If they are not getting regular raises, you can bet that their level of work won’t be rising.

On the other hand, CPOs also might be alarmed that someone new is coming to them about one of their subjects and inquiring in a way that would insinuate that change is coming and that could mean the CPO losing part of their scope. Furthermore, they might fear a shift that necessitates new skills that they do not possess.

Between both of these cases, there is an underlying resistance to change. Change is uncomfortable – stressful, even. It can also be empowering and uplifting – but every disappointment starts with a hope. We tend to start a new professional opportunity with hope, and depending on how it works out, certain people get the short end of each stick. A cynicism develops that predicates doubt toward change.

Couple that with the fact that the professional works rarely regales. Office parties (remember those?) are more awkward than awesome. We start a career with hope and then the pressures of life set in. Do your job. Do your family. Do your bills and taxes and clean and sometimes you go skiing. We accept what organizations give us and often have to make sacrifices. Now you can’t really leave your job since you’re good at it and no where else will pay you the same amount so all this time that you were complaining about not getting paid well enough it wasn’t true and the only way to advance is to leave by getting recruited but you never created bridges with anyone to help you get a leg up.

So they stay, and they seek comfort and stability: the arch-enemies of change. Don’t get me wrong, the CPO works hard. Their scope might be very demanding. They are not shirking their responsibilities. They are solidified in their roles, they have found an equilibrium, and they don’t want it to change.

Swim or Float

We start careers and surf and swim across the ocean of opportunity. Some people hate swimming, and they find a raft immediately after setting out. They stick their asses on that raft and let it float. If that raft sinks, they jump to the nearest other raft and do the same thing. Maybe once they tried to swim out to the sailboat but got scared. They are a raft person.

Others make the swim to the sailboat and some continue beyond. Some never need stop swimming as long as they are moving forward.

There are fewer swimmers than rafters in the workforce. Swimming is hard, it requires constantly changing oneself to address new opportunities. It requires patience, planning, and a willingness to try something new – even if that might lead to disappointment.

Human change resistance is the inertia that bogs down businesses. CPOs are its incarnation. They are anti-agile. They slow down transformation projects by closing doors and erecting barriers. Many of their justifications are completely legitimate, but that doesn’t minimize the negative effects to businesses.

Saying No to Get Ahead?

If no one is focused on their primary responsibilities, how can anyone get anything done? Saying No can keep someone on the right track as they advance and achieve their goals. A lot of business advice revolves around this principle. Don’t let others drag you down. Focus on your goals. This is absolutely valid, but it is beside my point. A CPO cuts off any sort of collaboration or assistance. They prefer to create awkward situations and make other people figure out problems instead of trying to help. They are not selective, they pushback on everything.

We are firmly in the 21st century and we are living through the information revolution that is changing everything we do and how we do it. Events like pandemics further accelerate the need for adaptation. Saying No today is in itself a risk, a risk that might have consequences down the line when it comes time to consider who gets promotions and raises.

CPOs are going to have to learn how to swim.

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