Change to meet your Needs

Thursday, May 1, 2008

R u part of Organizational Politics?

According to an Ipsos-Reid survey published by RBC in November 2007, 36% of Canadian employees complain that office politics are one of the biggest roadblocks to productivity. Ten years prior only 19% of survey respondents felt that way.

Canadians have not been the only ones to notice the rise in office politics. According to research done by UK-based firm Roffey Park, organizational politics is now ranked as the number one cause of stress in the workplace. In 1998, the issue was at the bottom of the list of managers’ concerns. This had been recent problem noticed in Indian Organizations also, which had never been felt by the earlier generations.

What happened in between is that companies have considerably flattened their organizational charts and to save the costs of operations. In the old top-down management days, one would get mainly requests from their boss. Dotted-line chain of commands and matrix environments now mean everyone must become an expert at influencing, negotiating and networking.

Take Fatima (not her real name). The 32-year old manager works for a well-known multi-national conglomerate. To thrive in such an environment, or even just to survive, proficiency in office politics is a must, we can imagine easily.

If you need data to do your work, chances are you’ll need to ask someone working in another department or for another subsidiary. Sometimes this person doesn’t even work in the same country as you. If you just send an email requesting help, good luck to you. In school they tell you you’ll succeed if you’re competent at what you do. Truth be told, in big organizations, you’ll never get anywhere if you just do your job. The video below is about the awareness of the political situation of any Organization.

What you need is to know the right people and excel in the art of convincing them to help you. This isn’t done facing your computer screen and working hard on your deliverables.

Too many people live under the illusion that you can opt-out and stay away of the office politics, none can escape it. If you hold a job somewhere in some department, you’re already dealing with organisational politics and part of it.

At the start of one’s career, young professionals can expect to devote about 20% of their time to interpersonal issues, which is just another name for politics. The technical part of the job gets less and less important as you climb up the ladder. At the top the ratio is reversed. Upper-level executives spend 80% of their time dealing with people instead of technical stuff,” add Poirier.

Does this mean that shy people can never dream of having a prime career in the corporate world? Not necessarily, says Charles Larocque, a Montreal-based industrial psychologist with 30 years experience.

Fortunately interpersonal or political savvy can be acquired. Many universities, firms and professional organizations offer training in the field of human relationships and communications.

Besides, you don’t have to become everyone’s best friend, says Larocque. But you do need to become aware of what other people think, and interact with them. Ask coworkers for their help, and then return the favour when required.

Say you want to present a new idea to a big boss. Being good at politics can be as simple as asking their administrative assistant when is the best time to contact them. “She’ll probably be pleased to inform you that her boss is less rushed at some particular time of the day,” explains Larocque.

Here are other pieces of advice from our two experts. Use them to build up your political quotient:

Become a player. Realize that if you decide not to play the game of influence, you’re nonetheless part of the game. Those who withdraw from office politics are in fact relinquishing their power to somebody else. They’re bound to feel frustrated as decisions will always be imposed upon them.

Seek win-win situations. To do this, you need to understand other people’s objectives and motivations. Put yourself in their shoes. Try to find a common ground-solution which benefits everyone to some degree.

Master your emotions. Vulnerability can leave people flooded with negative emotions, which trigger a fight-or-flight response. Both fighting and fleeing are to be avoided since they create win-lose situations. One has to be able to take a step back, and think of a more political savvy solution.

Don’t burn bridges. If you can’t make friends with everyone, at least do your best to not become someone’s enemy. When negotiating, always allow the other person to save face. Try to look good, but not if it means making somebody else look bad, especially a higher-up.

Exchange services. You’ve heard the phrase « Scratch my back and I’ll scratch yours”? This is actually the best leverage you can use. Information doesn’t come free. Ask for something in exchange of your help. And don’t forget those who have helped you.

Don’t be a one-man show. Show you’re a team player by asking for feedback. Test your ideas on your peers and consider incorporating some of their input. They’ll feel valued and all the more willing to help you with your project.

Perk up your ears. Become of keen observer of office politics. To play the game you need to know the rules. Informal networks often hold an important key. Do you know who carpools with whom? Who eats together? Who got promoted recently? Choose your friends wisely but don’t forget that power can change hands quickly.

Don’t hide behind your computer screen. Take time to know your colleagues. This one tip is tricky, though. If you enquire about somebody’s plans for the weekend you have to really care about their answer. Fakes are promptly unmasked and create a sense of mistrust that can be hard to overcome.

Conceived by: Isabelle Laporte


Chase Hoffman said...

Honestly I've always just been myself, tried to be honest to everyone and not a jerk, and it's done well for me. I don't know if that's some form of "playing politics" or not, but it's certainly not active.

It seems to me that if you concentrate on doing your job, and doing it well, everything else will fall into place. The company doesn't pay you to play politics - it pays you to accomplish your set goals/function.

Jim Turner said...

Anyone who thinks they can avoid office politics is as mistaken as someone who thinks they can walk through a pit of snakes w/o getting bitten.

The point is - you have no choice whether you participate in office politics or not. You learn how to manage it or you will become a victim of its its deadly practices.

Jim Turner

Carsten Cumbrowski said...

I did opt-out and became self employed and my work does not involve anybody else but me.

Except from that you are right. You cannot opt out of office politics, but you have more or less influence on your role. They are different for an outside consultant for example than a regular guy in the office working at a companies office.

Rajesh Natarajan said...

Yes. And as you rightly mentioned, not possible to stay out of it. Though don't really enjoy being a part of a grapevine that sets objectives quite distinct from the organizations!

Jitendra T said...

It dosen't matter if you wish to be the part of organizational politics or not.In the end you are a part of the politics.As it is said you have to be a part organization so you have to deal with every aspects and politics is a part of it.

Sunil Tiwari said...

No one can escape this. Only ways are either you learn how to stay top in politics or go away.

Cor Gabriƫls wrote: said...

(Office) politics are first of all not necessarily bad, it is just the way a group of people respond to their immediate environment, trying to find the balance between spending energy and focus towards self-realization and achieving organisational goals/objectives.

It only becomes bad when that balance is disrupted, and someone is abusing his "seat of power" to achieve predominantly only self-realization objectives, and looses sight of group, organization or company goals & objectives. It is then also, that politics become harmful to the common goals of an organization or company.

Apart from this, there are a lot of levels in playing politics. From just being friendly and cooperative to enhance teamspirit, up to manipulating and socially blackmailing colleagues or associates into positions or mindset's that are supportive to one's individual set of goals and not necessarily contributing to the other persons goals/objectives.

So, opting out? Not a chance. Either you are an active player or your being "victimized" by company/group politics. Even when you are self employed, you will still try to set your working environment, in that case customers or business partners, in a modus that will be most beneficiary to yourself.

Politics is not something that only the high and mighty exercise, we all do it, even subconsciously it is part of human behavior.

So do not opt out, but opt in, stay on the active side of "the game" not on the passive side. But always let it have a rational purpose, supportive to the balance between your own set of objectives and group objectives. If you like 'the game" so much, that you are playing it regardless of these objectives, then it's rogue behavior and will - ultimately - only cause damage, not benefit.

Brock Henderson said...

You can no more opt-out of Organizational Politics than you can opt-out of life.

If you are part of an organization - (or any group) - there are automaically inherant politics. You may choose to "go with the flow", but you can not escape being a part of it.


Doug Hering said...

Of course. We are all part of the politics. The real issue is how to handle it and how bad they are. Where I work, the good news is that while there is politics, we usually can resolve it with positive although sometimes confrontational discussion. We have what may be a rare situation where honest conversation often gets us to where we need to be.

That being said, one does still have to choose one's battles.

Leo Bottary said...

Jim Turner's snake metaphor is colorful, but he should acknowledge that one of the reasons the snakes will bite is they don't like getting stepped on.

People tend to behave in ways that fuel their self-interest. If one were to define office politics in terms of being negatively charged in a manner where self aggrandizement (valid or not) is practiced at the expense of others, the leadership is to blame - whether they actively foster the environment or are oblivious to it. Both are inexcusable.

The leaders need to set the tone and it should be a tone you as an employee can embrace. We choose where we work, not the other way around.

Subhankar Sengupta said...

I think, being direct,simple and transparent help. At least these will bring mental satisfaction.
As someone said, make it simple, make it ours make It happen

Todd Rhoad, MSEE, MBA said...

If you're looking to make the most of your career, office politics will certainly be your biggest challenge. One reason I think many people are seeing an increase in office politics, especially in the US, is because of two things: delayering and organizational change. In the 1980's and 1990's, companies engaged in downsizing and delayering to reduce their cost of operations and maintain profit margins. These changes had the effect of removing much of the middle layers of organizations; thereby, putting those at the lower levels closer to those at the highest levels. Naturally, these two groups haven't had a long history of working together closely so complications arise. The executives essentially push the politics to the floor. This is how they do business so everyone else must learn it.

As for the second issue, organizational change is also a big proponent of politics. In one of my client's organization, their company was purchased twice in less than one year. This naturally spawned reorganizations. The political environment became almost hostile as everyone began to jockey for position. Trust was thrown out the window. As new management came in to take over, the fireworks began as high level managers quickly established their cliques and initiated smear campaigns on those outside their group. The first clique to establish trust with new management won and the others were fired or demoted.

Organizational change is moving rapidly as executives attempt to respond to global pressures. Just pick up the Wall Street Journal and read a little. Change is the flavor of the day. Change also forces people to use whatever competitive advantage they can use to keep their jobs or even better their position. Politics is great for this purpose.

Battling office politics is tough and why I decided to create a method people could use to keep their careers mobile. You can read more about it at the link provided.

Rahul Sonawane said...

Hi Dibyendu,
You have raised a very sensitive issue.
I do agree that everyone has to be a part of office politics either by choice or compulsion. Its a rat race and survival of the fittest.
All we can do is "Be a Game" for it, play your card's smartly and manipulate the scenario to make the most out of it.
The only option is to opt out of the rat race.


Timothy Johnson said...

Yes, regardless of the organization (corporation, not-for-profit, churches, education), you will experience office politics. Because there will always be two people in the organization who either don't agree on the objectives or they don't agree on how the objectives should be obtained.

The trick is not to determine whether or not you're embroiled in office politics (you are, so just admit it), it is imperative to learn how to navigate through the politics to keep your integrity intact AND help the organization move forward (yes... sigh... it's not all about you).

And it is possible to be proactive about office politics, rather than just reacting to the crises and drama of the workplace. I've included a few web resources below.


Well Politics is good to see in office but it very bad when it come on you ,Its like natuer where every you go you have to see so so just need to adapt this rule to you profesional life but dont learn it for future life

Mohammed Hussain Kalsekar said...

Have you ever felt powerless to implement an important new idea?
Have you ever been "blind-sided" at a meeting?
Have you ever lost good employees because you could find no way to keep them from attacking each other?
These are some of the issues of organizational politics. Many of us have get involved in them from time to time, but we've also known some people who seem to be able to engage and prosper.
Yes, it does happen.
Keeping one's integrity intact, one learns to concrete techniques for dealing with the problems that arise in workplace politics. This is all about the focus of this program.
And by default, I am or have to be a Politician.
Courtesy: Organization.

Private Note:
Good one. Keep Posting some interesting more! Cheers.

Vijay Kurhade said...

My take is moment there is more than 1 person involved; some or other time politics do kick in for various reasons like personal interests or other ones; Politics on organizations is healthy sometimes unhealthy sometimes. More than politics bureaucracy and too much of strict hierarchies are not very practical in today’s dynamic and globalize world.

From an individuals point of view it’s all about learning and managing how to deal with politics around as well managing relations internally as well externally along with delivering expected work matters a lot.


Sainath Bandhakavi said...

Higher the altitude of your career, stronger is the magnitude of organizational politics. There's no escape from the organizational politics, its only the magnitude of the politics you are dealing with.

Patrick J. Murphy said...

I think office politics can be avoided to an extent in general. Members who avoid negative gossip and never talk badly of anyone can usually fare a bit better politically in an organization where most people know each other. But it doesn't always work. E.g., when there's major upheaval the dynamic can change. Better to control what you can, i.e., do great work and help others when possible.

Sunil Beta said...

Politics is another facet of Socialization which is one of the functions of a work environment. As almost everyone who's answered has mentioned, one cannot avoid being part of Office Politics. Unfortunately most people tend to see this in negative light.

Office politics is the way the people (the social group) in an organization relate to the organization. Communication within Office politics can take place through direct channels, gossip channels, off-the-record mailing lists or bulleting boards.

The strength of Office politics is in helping Group Morale. (If this works wrong, then it can work towards pulling it down.) A healthy group of people who have a strong association with the organisation (usually created by reciprocity) will use Office politics to raise group morale, social association within the organization. The converse is also seen, all the more often.

The net effect of Politics inside work-environments usually reflect the health-level of the work-environment. Back-biting, bickering and negative gossip usually is indicative of dropping morale and deteriorating work-environment. Thankfully, the same can be addressed. Office Politics in most organizations helps in reading the pulse of the organization. Good Management will use this as a strong feedback system.

The only thing to keep in mind is "Office Politics" does not mean nor create negative work environments nor harm morale and work ethics (as is projected in many work-places.)

Alan Hill said...

I like the part in your blog where you recommend:
"Exchange services. You’ve heard the phrase « Scratch my back and I’ll scratch yours”? This is actually the best leverage you can use. Information doesn’t come free. Ask for something in exchange of your help. And don’t forget those who have helped you."

As a career and executive coach I am actively promoting among my clients and prospects an alternative to the pyramid structure - a trade based structure that primarily functions based on the same rules as a free market economy. Imagine a village with local craftsmen and farmers. Each needs to bring to the local marketplace items to trade and things (or services) of value to others. Imagine if we created a local village inside the corporation - What would it look like if employees gained more in value the more they contributed?
I have been working on an ebook with more examples of this.
If you would like a copy once I have completed it, i would appreciate your feedback.
Alan Hill
Corporate and Executive Coach

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