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Thousands of years ago, a gatekeeper was a roadway toll-taker or the person whose job was to prevent people from entering a restricted area without permission. In the modern workplace, gatekeepers control access to information. There are usually several layers of them, and their power is often greater than their formally recognized authority. 

Gatekeepers control agendas and alter outcomes

Gatekeepers are not always good stewards who carefully and responsibly manage that which has been entrusted to their care. When research reports and presentations are delivered, most gatekeepers change it before passing it along, particularly in ways that make themselves look good. One middle manager cherry-picked a single graphic from our presentation to put in his presentation, the one he showed to his boss. He never reported how he ignored 24 pages of what the researchers discovered. It was as if the study never happened. And of course, the boss was unaware.

Gatekeepers alter information by making choices that are a complex web of motive, bias, prejudice, favoritism, and more

Gatekeepers abuse their power when they act in their own self-interests, without anyone’s input but their own. Three out of four gatekeepers remove or alter research findings before passing them up the ladder. Self-interest and nest-feathering determine what information reaches the decision-maker.

What happens to a company’s research reporting is that three out of four gatekeepers deliberately stack the deck

This English-language idiom means to alter outcomes unfairly by secretly pre-arranging things to achieve a desired outcome. When it comes to reporting research findings in hierarchical organizations, most of the original information is withheld and what remains is elaborately embroidered. The more gatekeepers there are between the research and the boss, the more manipulations, distortions, and fabrications get delivered to the boss’ desk.

Decision-makers need to do something about their gatekeepers if they want to get the whole picture, not just one part of it.


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