Company Politics


It seems that at every dinner party or braai there will always be someone who brings up the topic of politics in the workplace. Within a minute or so everyone will be chipping in with their own particular horror story, so just how prevalent is it, how does it occur,and how should it be handled?

It appears to be fashionable these days for companies to have mission statements and/or company values in which are listed values that are hopefully prevalent in said company.Unfortunately it is often found that the values so prominently displayed in the office are little more than wish lists that are a contradiction with the office environment reality experienced on a daily basis by the staff. I bet that if you have company values as part of your promotional material they will invariably include items such as accountability,integrity and respect. The lack of such attributes, combined with senior management mentioning them at every staff meeting really seems to get up the noses of the indignant dinner party and braai attendees.

I recall being told the story of a company conference where the first morning was devoted to senior management extolling the virtues of the company, with particular reference to the wonderful culture that they fondly believed existed as well as the values commonly held by the staff. The next morning, the story goes, a guest speaker went through the stated company values and selected accountability. He asked the audience if they lived out this value everyday at work, and 98% of the audience said they did. He then asked them to consider what they would say to a new employee regarding the "way things really get done around here." He then asked them to vote by secret ballot if their team, office or unit was really accountable; guess what? Only 12% of the audience regarded accountability as an attribute found in their work environment! When he asked why there was such a disparity between the votes another secret ballot revealed that over 80% believed politics to be the cause.

Politics is by definition where staff move their careers forward without outstanding performance. The same happens when the dreaded restructuring occurs and consistent performers get retrenched. Politics has become so prevalent in these tough economic times, particularly in corporate's, that it has been suggested that staff change their attitudes from doing what is best for their company to doing what is best for themselves i.e. change from being what has been described as a ' white-collar cubicle slave ' to becoming the CEO of ME Company, where the focus is on improving marketability.

Compensation is often a fertile breeding ground for serious politics, particularly in the area of out of cycle increases. As a manager you should be extremely careful about rewarding anything that doesn't actually add value to the company. Lets say someone has been made an offer in writing by a competitor and you don't want to lose them. You will be tempted to increase their salary but then you will be rewarding them for deviating from your process, not for exceptional performance. This will inevitably encourage political behaviour in that others, who are not necessarily totally competent,will start to request similar increases. What will happen to you? You will almost certainly have to resolve political, and not performance, issues. The outcome will be that aggressive staff who deviate from policy and procedure to punt their own agenda will be seen to be rewarded at the expense of less political staff; get ready for a noticeable increase in political activity!

Then we all know those who spend lots of time and energy sucking up to their managers or anyone else they believe will assist them in moving forward in the company. They have to say something ( anything! )at a meeting with their boss, no matter how trivial, just to show that they are a ' team player ' ; this happens at all levels of a company, it just tends to be less overt with a focus on forming alliances to push mutually beneficial personal agenda's. The problem with this behavior is that it often detrimental to the company as a whole. I was told of a situation where an ambitious but mediocre senior manager approached a senior executive with a request for mentorship by the executive. This was agreed to and to everyone's amazement in a short space of time the ambitious manager was promoted to a position way beyond the competence level of the manager.What happened is that the the newly promoted manager's team were seriously hacked off and made it obvious that they felt the appointment was not warranted. They then started to do the bare minimum to highlight the inadequacy of their new boss. You can just imagine the negative impact on the company as well as the cost of rectifying it! Be careful of people with massive ego's but limited talent who are street-wise and hugely ambitious!

So, how is a politicised environment created? As with most things it usually begins with the CEO and executive management. However, they may not be all that political themselves but often don't realise that they are encouraging political behaviour. An example of this is where staff approach management to complain about or criticise other staff. This will be about either behaviour or performance. In terms of both issues how it is handled is critical. I had an incident once where I listened and merely said I would investigate and revert. A few hours later the company grapevine was saying that I had agreed with the complaint. Staff started to stop listening to the manager, who soon became ineffective.

This leads us to what to do to lessen the impact of politics on your company. Remember that politics can quickly and easily turn your company environment into a toxic battlefield.

Firstly, develop simple and well communicated systems for where you would expect political activity to occur. On your list should be the following:

*Performance appraisal methodology

*Salaries

*Incentive schemes

*Innovation

*Promotions

This is by no means an exhaustive list. However, there is one golden rule for these politically sensitivesystems: DO NOT DEVIATE FROM THEM! You will save yourself a lot of angst by spending time onthese areas of your company and ensuring that all levels of staff have the correct understanding of thesystems.

Secondly, ensure that your staff's personal success is aligned with the company's success. How often haveyou heard the whinge that someone got a huge bonus when their business unit did'nt even make target??

Thirdly, you need to be attuned to changes in office/factory ' atmosphere'. You need to ask staff at alllevels what its really like to work for the company ie. if your sister joined your particular business unitwhat would you tell her about the reality of ' how things work around here ' , who to warch out for, andthe easy way to advance her career. You could quite possibly be amazed at the responses you get!

In conclusion you need as a leader to surround yourself with people who have the same principles andAvalue systems that you have ( remember to check whether your hiring procedures incorporate thiscritical issue. ) Also bear in mind what one of my mentors told me: you hired your staff, you did'nt adoptthem!

It is extremely difficult to handle political issues due in the main to their invariably highly emotive nature.

Having an external qualified party to resolve political issues is a highly appropriate response they will betotally objective. Make your work environment a fun, fulfilling and productive place to be again

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