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Tuesday, January 8, 2008

Organizational conflict management pressure tactics

Organizational conflict management pressure tactics

1. What is Organizational Internal politics? – Internal politics, as practiced in organizations, is defined as follows: -- Internal politics consists of activities undertaken to gain advantage or influence organizational decision makers in ways intended to serve a purpose other than the best interests of the overall organization. Internal politics consists of the games people play to promote decisions that are based on criteria other than merit, where personal goal gets magnified and focussed and get prioritized than the Organizational goal.

2. The role organizational structure/hierarchy can play in promoting internal politics. – Internal politics can exist, and usually does, in every type of organization, regardless of organizational structure and culture. In other words, internal politics is not caused by organizational structure; consequently it cannot be eliminated by simply changing the structure. This point can be illustrated easily enough by considering the most widely used organizational structures: the functional, geographic, decentralized line-of-business, strategic business-unit, and matrix structures.

Each of these structures has its own set of advantages and disadvantages, but they are all susceptible to internal politics. In considering organizational structures, keep the following rule of thumb in mind: factors that promote internal competition – weather intentionally of unintentionally – also promote internal politics. This is because internal politics is just one more tool (or weapon) to be used anytime people within an organization compete among themselves. The competition might be about questions of who reports to whom, who gets the lion’s share of limited resources, who will fill key positions, what department will be reorganized and how, lines of authority, and any number of other issues in which people have vested interests.

The five most widely used organizational structures will reveal built in characteristics that tend to promote competition and, in turn, internal politics. In the functional structure the CEO would want to be sensitive to political machinations among the functional vice presidents. These could grow out of competition for limited resources, personality clashes, competition among the vice presidents for a future promotion to the CEO position, or misguided loyalty to the respective functional areas on the part of employees at all levels within the organization.

The geographic structure is particularly susceptible to internal politics. The Achilles’ heel of this structure is distance. Distance has a tendency to promote an “us against them” mentality that can lead to counterproductive internal competition and other forms of negative behaviour. The reason for this is simple: it is only natural to be suspicious of people you seldom or never see but with whom you compete for resources. In addition, it is difficult to establish trust, unity of purpose, and collaboration across distance. For this reason, executives in companies that are organized geographically should be especially sensitive to the issue of internal politics.

The decentralized line-of-business structure tends to promote competition among the various business enterprises/units, as well as between functional departments within these separate enterprises. This is also true of the strategic business-unit structure.

The matrix structure is the least used of the five common organizational structures. With this structure, functional specialists-human resources, accounting, marketing, and so on- are organized under functional areas, with each area having its own manager. Business ventures undertaken by the overall organization then draw on these functional areas as needed.

This structure tends to promote internal competition and, in turn, internal politics both vertically and horizontally within the matrix. Vertically there is competition for resources among the various business ventures. For example, say that all business ventures want to draw engineering services at the same time, and the functional vice president of engineering has an insufficient number of engineers. How will available engineers be allocated? Another spin on this same situation occurs when two or more business ventures want the services of the same engineer, a particularly talented individual.

Horizontally there is competition among the functional areas, certainly over resources, and possibly over personalities and misguided loyalties. For example, say the marketing vice president wants to increase the size of his staff. At the same time, the accounting vice president wants to upgrade her computer system. Resources are limited. Who gets the lion’s share?

These few examples, without even considering such other drivers as the need to fit in or personal insecurity, show that regardless of structure, the potential exists in any organization for internal politics. Consequently, managers in organizations trying to implement total quality should be sensitive to symptoms of internal politics regardless of how their organizations are structured.

An example of internal politics in action in an organization. – Politics in Status –

On the company’s organizational chart all departmental directors at Payton Temporary Employees Inc. (PTE), are equal. However, in the minds of the individuals filling these positions, equality among directors at PTE is a concept that looks good on paper but doesn’t exist in reality The more equal among equals are those directors whose offices are located in closest proximity to that of the company” CEO, John Davis. The real winners, according to company folklore, are the directors whose offices are located on the same floor as Davis’ office.

If one is to believe company gossip, the directors with offices on the third floor with Davis gain a tangible advantage in that they are more likely to bump into him in the hall, at the water cooler, or if they are male, even in the rest room. This gives them enhanced access and opportunities for sharing their ideas and proposals. Other directors, without this proximity advantage, must wait for scheduled meetings or make appointments for one-on-one time with the CEO. Right or wrong, at PTE there is a perception of proximity advantage, and this perception creates counterproductive competition, political manoeuvring, and ill will among the company’s department directors.

The political machinations of the directors take several different forms. Prominent among these are rumor-mongering, building of coalitions, undermining, electioneering when special committees and task forces are established, and the spreading of gossip. As a result, the company is a balkanized organization of warring factions with an ever shifting set of loyalties. What it isn’t, is a company in which there is unity of purpose and a concerted effort to have all managers and employees pulling on the same end of the rope toward a common vision.

The postscript to this case is as follows: John Davis’ failure to deal with the issue of internal politics at PTE eventually led to his termination. His replacement immediately set about establishing a collaborative culture at PTE; as a result, the company survived and is currently prospering.

Most commonly used methods of internal politicians.

1. Lobbying – Lobbying tactics commonly used by internal politicians are – 1) contacting people formally (by appointment) to present a personal point of view – 2) engaging people in informal discussions (over lunch, on the golf course, in the hall, etc.) and presenting a personal point of view – 3) providing carefully screened information on a selective basis - 4) doing favors to establish quid pro quo relationships – 5) helping lighten the workload of selected people – 6) applying pressure directly to individuals – 7) applying pressure through third parties – 8) exploiting personal relationships.

2. -- Building coalitions – A coalition is a group of diverse people brought together by a common interest. In government politics, coalitions are formed for the purpose of electing individuals to office, keeping other individuals from being elected, securing budget appropriations, and passing legislation. Organizational coalitions are formed for various reasons, such as getting selected individuals promoted, ensuring that others are not promoted, securing resources, guaranteeing the adoption of favourable policies or procedures, and fostering a favourable organizational structure. The individuals or individual groups that make up a coalition may have nothing in common except the simple cause that brought them together. This fact gave rise to the old adage that “politics makes strange bedfellows”. Consequently, once a cause has been satisfied, the coalition typically dissolves. In its place others will form as interests, conditions, and circumstances change.

3. Applying harassment and pressure – In government politics, when pressure is applied there is an implicit threat from voters: “Do what I ask or I won’t vote for you”. From lobbyists, the threat is more along the lines of “Vote as we ask or lose our financial support”. From colleagues in Congress, the unspoken message is “Support my bill or I won’t support yours”. In organizations, pressure is applied differently, but the implicit threat is still there. Examples of messages and tactics used by internal politicians to apply pressure are: 1) Help me out or you will be socially ostracized by your peers; or the opposite, help me out, and you will be part of the crowd.-2) Help me out or something you don’t want known will be revealed.-3) If you help me out, I’ll help you when I win. If you don’t, you’ll be left out when I win.-4) Help me out or something undesirable will happen to someone you care about; or the opposite, help me out, and something good will happen to someone you care about.-5) Ongoing harassment that ranges from distracting to threatening behaviour.

4. Electioneering – In governmental politics, electioneering means participating in the election process. Participation can take many different forms including raising money for candidates, making contributions, and getting out the vote. Of course, the purpose of electioneering is to ensure that a certain candidate is elected. Electioneering in an organization is a similar process.

Internal politicians use electioneering tactics to ensure that selected individuals are promoted, that the right people are appointed to prestigious committees, and that selected people are chosen to chair important committees and task forces.

5 – Gossiping and spreading rumors – One of the most pernicious weapons in the arsenal of the internal politician is the creation of doubt. Doubt can be created effectively by using gossip to spread rumors about a targeted individual or group. When used by internal politicians, rumors and gossip are not of the harmless chitchat variety. Rather, they are intentional, coldly calculated attempts to advance the agenda of one individual or group at the expense of another.

Rumors and gossip have the greatest impact when they cast doubt on an individual relative to high-priority organizational values.

5. Impacts of internal politicians can have on the implementation of total quality. – Organizations stricken with the disease of internal politics ultimately suffer. –

1) Loss of morale due to infighting, buck passing, and rumor-mongering –

2) Questionable decisions made for reasons other than what is best for the organization

3) Counterproductive internal competition that saps the organization of its competitive energy .

4) Loss of the best and brightest employees as they make a statement about their dissatisfaction by leaving

5) Perpetuation of outdated processes, procedures, and technologies as internal politics is used to promote organizational inertia by those opposed to change.

6) Constant conflict as the political machinations of one group are countered by those of others

7) Loss of quality, competitiveness, and customers as the organization’s focus is diverted from what really matters.

Internal politics tends to perpetuate outdated processes, procedures, and technologies. This is because the tactics of the internal politician are ideally suited for opposing change. Change comes hard for most people. Psychological comfort with the status quo is inherent in the human condition. When internal politics becomes part of the corporate culture, organizations find it even more difficult than usual to make the changes necessary to stay competitive. With a little lobbying, some electioneering, and just the right amount of pressure wisely applied, the natural resistance of people to change can be magnified exponentially by internal politicians opposed to the change. When this happens, the employees of an organization gain the psychological comfort associated with the status quo, but the organization loses the competitive edge associated with change.

6. How managers can control internal politics in an organization. – Trying to control internal politics in organizations is a lot like trying to prevent overeating in individuals. Both involve, finding ways to subdue human nature, both require persistent effort, and both demand constant vigilance. Controlling internal politics in an organization requires a comprehensive effort involving all employees. Such an effort should have at least the following components: strategic planning, leadership, reward/recognition, performance appraisal, customer focus, conflict management, and cultural.

1. Strategic planning – The strategic planning components of an organization’s effort to control internal politics should have at least the following elements:-

1) Explaining the strategic plan to all employees and how it is to be used in guiding all decisions and actions in the organization. –

2) Building a guiding principle into the strategic plan that conveys the message that collaboration is the expected approach in the organization. – All employees should have a copy of the strategic plan, the plan should be thoroughly explained, and employees should be given ample opportunity to ask questions and seek clarification about the plan In other words, it’s not enough for employees to have a plan – they need to understand it.

One of the most important components of a strategic plan is the one that contains the organization’s guiding principles. The organization’s core values are described in its guiding principles. These principles explain in writing what is most important to the organization and how it intends to do business. Consequently, one of the guiding principles of every organization should be collaboration. If employees from the CEO to line worker, know that collaboration is a high priority, it becomes more difficult for them to play the games collectively known as internal politics.

2. Leadership – A fundamental premise of leadership is setting a positive example. Managers must be consistent role models of the behaviour they expect of employees. If a manager practices internal politics, employees will respond in kind. Consequently, it is important that managers be seen using the organization’s strategic plan as the basis for all actions and that they insist on all employees following suit.

3. Reward/recognition – If you want to promote a certain type of approach – for example, collaboration – reward it, and recognize employees who practice it. Managers should examine their organization’s incentives carefully to identify ways in which internal politics is rewarded, either directly or indirectly. The most obvious question is “What happens to employees at any level who are found to practice internal politics”? Another question is “Does the organization provide incentives that promote employee collaboration, and, if so, what are those incentives”? A well designed reward/recognition system will simultaneously provide disincentives to internal politics and incentives that promote collaboration. Disincentives that can work against internal politics include negative performance appraisals, verbal warnings, and written reprimands. Incentives can be both formal and informal, and there are hundreds of both varieties.

4. Performance appraisal – The periodic performance appraisal is how most organizations formally let employees know how they are doing. Consequently, one or more of the criteria in an organization’s performance/appraisal instrument should relate to collaboration, two examples: -1) this employee basis all actions on what is best for the organization, always, sometimes, usually, or never. -2) what is this employee’s collaboration rating, excellent, above average, average, or poor. Making collaboration an issue in performance appraisals ties it directly to pay and promotions. This is critical. Remember that internal politics is driven by self interest. Tying pay and promotion to an employee’s willingness to practice collaboration means that internal politics no longer serves his or her self-interest.

5. Customer focus – Customer focus is a fundamental cornerstone of total quality. In organizations with a customer focus, quality is defined by customers, and the organization’s strategic plan is written from the perspective of attracting, satisfying, and retaining customers. A customer focus is achieved by partnering with customers.

The full benefit of a customer focus—from the perspective of preventing internal politics—is gained by ensuring that all employees are thoroughly informed concerning customer input and feedback. In this way, customer needs and preferences become the critical criteria by which the viability of policies, procedures, practices, and decisions can be judged. Such criteria make it difficult for internal politicians to play their games. Even the most accomplished internal politician will find it difficult to justify recommending decisions that run counter to customer preferences.

6. Conflict management – Internal politics tends to generate counterproductive conflict. This is one of the reasons that managers in organizations should do what is necessary to prevent internal politics. However, it is important to distinguish between conflict and counterproductive conflict. Not all conflict is bad. In fact, properly managed conflict that has the improvement of products, processes, people, and/or the work environment as its source is positive conflict. By practicing conflict management, managers in an organization can make it difficult for internal politicians to play their games. Conflict management has the following components: -1) establishing conflict guidelines – 2) helping all employees develop conflict prevention/resolution skills – 3) helping all employees develop anger management skills – 4) stimulating/facilitating productive conflict.

7. Cultural – There are many different definitions for the term culture. The American Heritage College Dictionary defines it as follows: “The totality of socially transmitted behaviour patterns, arts, beliefs, institutions, and all other products of human thought”. The key part of this definition reads “socially transmitted behaviour patterns”. As applied to an organization, the concept means the way things are done in the organization. In other words, an organization’s culture is the everyday manifestation of its actual beliefs. It is important to note that the concept grows out of actual beliefs as opposed to written beliefs. An organization’s culture should be the everyday manifestation of the guiding principals found in its strategic plan.

8. Strategies for overcoming territorial behaviour. – Overcoming territorial behaviour requires a two-pronged approach: (a) recognizing the manifestations described earlier and admitting that they exist, and (b) creating an environment in which survival is equated with cooperation rather than territorially. Simmons recommends the following strategies for creating a cooperative environment:

1. – Avoid jumping to conclusions – Talk to employees about territoriality versus cooperation. Ask to hear their views, and listen to what they say.

2. – Attribute territorial behaviour to instinct rather than people – Blaming people for following their natural instincts is like blaming them for eating. The better approach is to show them that their survival instinct is tied to cooperation, not turf. This is done by rewarding cooperation and applying negative reinforcement to territorial behaviour.

3. – Ensure that no employee feels attacked – Remember that the survival instinct is the motivation behind territorial behaviour. Attacking employees, or even letting them feel as if they are being attacked, will only serve to trigger their survival instinct. To change territorial behaviour, it is necessary to put employees at ease.

4. – Avoid generalizations – When employees exhibit territorial behaviour, deal with it in specifics as opposed to generalizations. It is a mistake to witness territorial behaviour on the part of one employee and respond by calling a group of employees together and talking about the issue in general terms. Deal with the individual who exhibits the behaviour and focus on specifics.

5. – Understand irrational fears – The survival instinct is a powerful motivator. It can lead employees to cling irrationally to their fears. Managers should consider this point when dealing with employees who find it difficult to let go of survival behaviours. Be firm but patient, and never deal with an employee’s fears in a denigrating or condescending manner.

6. – Respect each individual’s perspective – In a way, an individual’s perspective or opinion is part of his or her psychological territory. Failure to respect people’s perspectives is the same as threatening their territory. When challenging territorial behaviour, let employees explain their perspectives and show respect for them, even if you do not agree.

7. – Consider the employees point of view – In addition to giving an appropriate level of respect to employee’s perspectives, managers should also try to “step into their shoes”. How would you, as a manager, feel if you were an employee? Sensitivity to the employee’s point of view and patience with that point of view are critical when trying to overcome territorial behaviour.

33 comments:

Jorge Acuna said...

Dibyendu,

Nice article, very comprehensive. And of course, as it is the case with all articles, one cannot cover every possible topic in one page. So here are two more pieces of the puzzle.

Preparing for the moment of conflict:

As conflict or politics happen, it is important for managers and leaders to have a plan. As you said, managed conflict is good. Some office politicians have learned this, and therefore they plan for chaos. Managers need to be ready, and prepare with strategies such as de-escalation and behavior management.

Coaching for success:

On many occasions a person may not even realize they are caught in the game of office politics and conflict. One key to reduce politics and conflict is to take individual responsibility and identify ways in which we keep from facilitating these negative behaviors. Managers have the duty to coach employees in becoming aware of their behaviors, the impact of the behaviors, and how to overcome them.

Best of Luck!

Sincerely,
Jorge Acuna
Development4Managers.com

Sanjeev Himachali said...

A good article in deed.

There is certainly a different between conflict, health competition and internal politics.

First there is a competition because in the corporate world it is only the survival of the fittest and the best. So, you cannot ignore the competition. But, everyone have ideas. Everyone can think. This leads to conflict. The conflict can be between two people, two teams as well as two departments. Discussions, debates and brainstorming helps to resolve the conflict which in turns leads to healthy competition. But, when you involve your position, your ego and you attitude in the way of healthy competition. That leads to internal politics. Internal politics is a mindset or a culture “to grow at the cost of other person”.

I hope this will make some sense to you.

Thanks and Regards

Christopher Goh said...

Dibyendu,

Politics as you have quite rightly pointed out is in every organisation. I also believe that everyone at some stage will most likely be involved in it. Essentially politics is the process of having an opinion and encouraging others to share or align at some level with those opinions. Internal politics is best described as opinions that people have about others within their internal environment, which is shared with others, generally soliciting an alignment of views.

As individuals, we will always work towards forming an opinion about someone that we have a relationship with (indirectly or directly). That opinion is not necessarily generalising them as good or bad, but largely about actions we have heard, read, or experienced and how those that are relevant to us should be perceived. That whole process of understanding a person then gets a little more murky when we voice that opinion and solicit responses from others and that is not necessarily 'bad' as per the definition of internal politics (provided in the the Blog). Good leadership can inspire continual positive opinions that can lead to better morale. But soliciting aligned opinion is often more a litmus test exercise than having a concrete opinion.

I found the details on the Blog in resolving conflict quite well written, and agree for the most part. As Jorge pointed earlier it is a difficult area to be comprehensive with in such a short space. I thank you for the opportunity to read your ideas. The only other thing that I would add that is important in minimising conflict is maturing a culture of process and decision making transparency (Transparency being the key word). Discussing individually is fine to deal with personal decisions and indiscretions, however if there is conflict based on politics, bringing people in conflict together and having very visible processes in tackling it allows people to believe there is a fair and equitable process in place (and this is more applicable as the size of the organisation becomes larger). Isolationist methods of managing conflict does not propagate an environment of trust and at the end of the day, trust is the key element in minimising conflict.

Regards,

Chris

Sourav Sam Bhattacharya said...

Dibyendu:

This is an excellent article. All too often people (employees in organizations) seem to forget that a right balance is necessary between their personal goals and the success goals of the organization. A stable equillibrium is much needed between multiple objectives, many of them often conflict.

On a day to day operation, bad mouthing needs to be controlled. If we all remember one proverbial saying -- that if you have nothing good to say, don't say it -- it helps tremendously. If one must speak negative, that should be the last resort. Anyone who begins to blabber negative air at the slightest issue or abbrasion is (at best stated) inexperienced or unwise. The same goes about gossip.

Well, anyways. Thanks for sharing your thoughts.

Happy new year.

Regards,
Sourav

Eugene Rembor said...

A good manager would care less about how to avoid internal politics but more about implementing good people management and a positive, appreciative working athmosphere. If the working athmosphere is a great one, internal disruptive politics will dissappear automatically.

Ray Miller said...

Very definitive article.
I use a simple analogy for office politics. It is tribal. There is the management tribe and the underlings tribe. And within each tribe there are sub-tribes.
The game is to be aware of the tribal affiliations and the characterisitcs of each tribe so as to better know how to interact with them.

Vernon C. said...

Dibyendu,

The ability to manage is compounded by the articles of the governments and the states regulatory by-laws, and the corporate interests. Consequently, internal friction is compounded by these and other concerns when dealing with personalities and the resultant conflicts, they're are no simple answers, and each institution and its policies have to be guided by the circumstances and the occurrence under each consideration at the time of resolution - meaning that each has to be dealt with uniformly but uniquely and efficiently for all concerned ... they're are no pat solutions, only requirements to mitigate and work them through.

My best regards, Vernon C./Vpc

Bernard Tan said...

Politicking is a natural process in every organization particularly among those in the position of power. Politicking becomes rampant in an opaque, toxic organization with unclear, ambiguous policies and systems often in violation of the basic principles of management. When things screwed up in a toxic organization, the management is unable to track down the underlying causes as to what, who, when, where and how things get screwed up. Finger pointing, mistrust, suspicions, rumor mongering become widespread creating an unhealthy working environment.

Rubina Ali said...

In an organization where managers put their personal goals above organizational goals and performance is not tied to rewards, employees tend play a survival game. Politicking becomes a tool to build their survival wing. An employee learns to build two wings, the expert wing and the survival wing. When both wings flap they soar high in a toxic organization. Employees who are good at depositing the good feelings into the emotional bank of their bosses to influence them to make decision in their favor have a better competitive edge over others to move up the hierarchy.

Politicking can be marginalized in a transparent organization with clear cut policies, systems and people in place. Managers are concern about achieving the bottom line. Promotion is based on merits. Employees holding position of power must have high integrity with the technical, people, management and entrepreneur competencies to make things happen with their peers, through their subordinates and for their customers focusing on accomplishing organization vision, mission, goals and objectives.

JN said...

I enjoy reading your very professional blog - keep up the amazingly good job!

Thx, Joakim

Doug Hering said...

Conflict will always occur because you can't stop two or more people from having different opinions and ideas.

Internal politics, as you defnine it, should be avoided because it is a systematization of conflict. It engenders conflict.

Periodic and normal conflict can be dealt with between healthy, productive, and mission driven employees.

Conflict caused by internal politics cannot because it's foundation and lifeblood is irrational protection of one's own department, position or whatever. What is being protected is not the overall success of the organization. Therefore, you are correct. It must not be tolerated. Normally internal politics is caused by the leader of a division or group. That leader must be quickly reprimanded or removed.

I don't think it's often hard to tell the difference. I think that an honest person striving to achieve that goals of an organization who brings up new and controversial ideas is easy to tell from a person who is just trying to assert his or her own agenda.

Narendran Subramaniam said...

The fundamental part issue here is communication. Conflicts arise due to lack of adequate communication and when certain assumptions made are not clarified. Assumptions are required to be properly spelt out / communicated and these assumptions are required to answered / eliminated, as the case may be (it is easier said than done).

Politics come to play when two or more individuals "EGO" comes into play. Though the rational mind of the individual may be in agreement with the clarification provided to the assumptions, the sub conscious mind does not agree. This is the ego of the individual.

It is extremely difficult to overcome the "ego". Once, the individual(s) overcomes the ego, politics cease to exist. Overcoming the ego means becoming selfless... and this rarely happens. Therefore, we need to accept politics as an intergral part of the system and continue to work with it.

karim said...

Good one and it helps a lot.Thank you for your great post.

Karim - Positive thinking

curtis said...

Hi

I read this post two times.

I like it so much, please try to keep posting.

Let me introduce other material that may be good for our community.

Source: Performance appraisal examples

Best regards
Henry

Ashish Shandilya said...

Thanks for sharing this useful info. Keep updating same way.
Regards, AshishChange Management

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