This piece first appeared in The Huffington Post on Jul 3, 2017
What is BIRGing?
This is a word derived from the acronym, BIRG, which stands for — basking in reflective glory. Or, the tendency among individuals to associate with people and entities who are successful. The entities could be a team, an organization or a social group.
These individuals seek glory from the shine of those who are successful and recognized by all.
They relish in the reflected glory of a powerful individual, a celebrated person, a well-recognized institution, a successful sports team, a reputed academic institution, a haloed think-tank or any other elite group.
Have we not seen people wearing T-shirts of a winning IPL cricket team or sharing in social media a picture taken with a celebrity. These are great examples of BIRGing.
Now, let’s take a look at our workplaces. BIRGing is quite common here too. Employees like to share their powerful associations. It is mainly used as a survival tactic but some also use it to enhance their self-esteem.
But why does an employee BIRG in a workplace?
Humans have a deep urge to look good in front of those around us. We want to be valued. We want to be taken seriously and have greater influence. We want to have an elevated status among those around us. This not only helps us to get things done but also have access to other resources.
Actually, many of us would have BIRGed sometime or the other. However, those who have low self-esteem and have doubt in their abilities do it more. Let me share examples of some common types of BIRGing in a workplace.
The interaction could have been for a very short duration in an elevator, in a food court or in the office corridor. However, the employee does not miss the opportunity to talk about it with her or his colleagues.
Dropping the name of someone powerful
Have we not seen individuals frequently dropping names of CEOs or any other powerful leaders during their day to day interaction. They do it deliberately to achieve myriad objectives. They do it to show their connection with those who matter in the organisation. They do it to get things done, especially when they know that they don’t have the ability to sufficiently influence the teams to act. They do it to demonstrate their importance in their organisation — if they are interacting with the high and mighty they must be important. They could do it to stay relevant and not be made redundant by their bosses. This form of BIRGing especially happens when the individual does not have the confidence in herself or himself, doubts her or his ability to get things done and is not able to move the organizational mountain. Hence, they take refuge in name dropping of someone powerful. For instance, when a project manager is not able to influence team members to close pending action points, she or he says that the CEO is keenly watching this project and it can’t be delayed.
Talking about a chance interaction
This happens when an employee has a chance encounter with an influential leader who is counted among the movers and shakers of the firm. The interaction could have been for a very short duration in an elevator, in a food court or in the office corridor. However, the employee does not miss the opportunity to talk about it with her or his colleagues. They want to convey to all that they know people who matter. Sometimes employees exaggerate these interactions by talking about things which might not even have come up.
Sometimes, these interactions could also be with powerful people outside the company who matter to the organisation. For example, a mid-level banking executive might talk about their brief chat with a well-known banking regulator at a book launch.
There could be a picture with a CEO or other senior leaders. These displays tend to communicate to all that they rub shoulders with those who matter.
3.Placing pictures with movers and shakers
This is another form of BIRGing seen among employees. They will place in their workstations and cubicles, their photographs with well-known individuals within or outside the organisation. There could be a picture with a CEO or other senior leaders. Or, it could be a picture of the employee with a celebrity or a well-known expert. These displays tend to communicate to all that they rub shoulders with those who matter. This is a major status enhancing tactic.
Displaying certificates received from a haloed institution
It is very common for employees to display framed certificates that they might have received from a haloed academic institution. These are typically received upon completing training, workshops or management development programs attended at well-known institutions. These individuals may not have studied in these institutions and would like to tell the world about the few days spent at these places. For example, we have all seen people displaying certificates of management development programs that they may have attended at Harvard, Sloan, Wharton or even IIM Ahmedabad.
The other kind of certificate that people display is a professional certification that indicates their association with an elite group. For instance, an improvement professional displaying their Six Sigma Master Black Belt certification. This is done to show that they are a member of an elite group.
There are two reasons why they do it. One is to show to all that they have studied in these institutions (even though it was a very brief stint). The second is to enhance their self-esteem.
Also, usually, an individual who has actually studied in a reputed institution does not display their degree. This is because they don’t need the reflected glory.
As far as performance goes, these employees might not be in the top quartile. Hence, they want to raise their self-worth by mingling with those who are valued by the company.
Hanging around with high performers
This is another common form of BIRGing seen in the workplace. Employees look for opportunities to hang around with top performers or someone who is a rising star. As far as performance goes, these employees might not be in the top quartile. Hence, they want to raise their self-worth by mingling with those who are valued by the company. This is also a tactic used to raise their brand equity within the company. They believe in the philosophy that a person is known by the company he keeps. Sometimes these employees may be persona-non-grata with the high performing stars, still they don’t give up. Their goal is to survive in the reflected glory of the top performers.
Talking about time spent with a notable executive or expert
Another common form of BIRGing is when employees talk about the time they spent with a well-known business executive or an industry recognised expert. This could be either in their previous place of work or during activities outside the workplace. For instance, a newly hired software executive might talk about the well-known founder of a successful software company with whom he had worked earlier. They drop names of notable people in order to demonstrate competence.
However, employees who indulge in BIRGing will jettison this behaviour if the person they are associating themselves with fails or sullies her or his image. So what if they placed their pictures on the wall or liked to hang around with them — they will drop them like hot potatoes.This is called CORFing or cutting off reflected failure.
Please share with me examples of other forms of BIRGing that you may have seen in your workplace.