Surviving Office Politics: Swimming with the Sharks
Politics Occur Naturally in Organizations
Competition for scarce resources
• Salary • Staff
• Dept. budget • Office
• Position • Space
• Recognition • Benefits
What is Office Politics?
Using covert tactics to advance
Controlling other people through
Being cautions about telling the truth
“ Involves intentional acts of influence to enhance or protect the self-interest of individuals or groups.”
Attacking or blaming others.
Using information as a political tool
Creating a favorable image.
Developing a base of support.
Praising others (ingratiation).
Forming power coalitions with strong allies.
Associating with influential people.
Creating obligations (reciprocity).
Are there politics in your organization?
Politics Reflect the Competing Interests of Stakeholders
Stakeholders: Groups with an interest in the organization, its inputs and outputs
Examples of Office Politics
Pete is a supervisor who is ambitious to a fault. Everything he does is for effect. One of his ground rules is that only positive information makes its way from him to his boss. Negative news is totally ignored. He makes it clear that anyone in his group who says bad things about him or the organization risks getting fired. If an employee openly disagrees, he or she is labeled a non-supporter. Everyone who reports to Pete agrees the best practice is to fall into line and be a “yes person”.
Example: Looking Good
Mike is a young marketing manager. He sees work as a game and compulsively seeks to be a winner. He gets turned on by challenging, competitive activities where he can prove himself. He hates being pushed around. His goal is to become more powerful because power means freedom. To expand his influence and to increase his chances of advancement, he is developing very strong relationships with major customers who can make demands on his company.
Example: Power by Association
Larry was hired as the heir-apparent to the CFO. Cora, a financial analyst who had been with the company for two years, made herself indispensable to him. When Larry was placed in charge of the annual budget review, he made Cora his assistant. At a point where his views clashed with those of a Senior Auditor, Larry fired the auditor and promoted Cora to that position even though she wasn’t the most qualified person for the job.
When Kate became a copywriter for a newspaper in a large city, she was invited to join her group for lunch her first day on the job. She discovered the group met informally once a week to gossip, to exchange inside tips, and to get to know one another better. Kate quickly learned the value of trading information at these events. The message was clear: lunch was political. A final note : It’s important to remember that to be human is to be political. Whenever people’s priorities, values, and interests diverge, some type of politicking usually takes place.
Example: The Copywriters’ Clique
Problem: A non-management employee runs the department grapevine for gossip and her information is usually correct, including the news that you are about to take over as manager.
Solution: It might be tempting to sit her down immediately and explain that the grapevine is dead and that any information will come from you in the future. An effective manager must have access to the grapevine to learn employee concerns. Even when the message is untrue, gossip usually reflects employee concerns and fears.
Tips for dealing with the office grapevine:
Listen to whatever is being said without getting too emotional or losing your temper. You don’t know what message will get sent back through the grapevine.
If the information is accurate, don’t go on a witch hunt to find the leak. You can’t close the grapevine down, but you can put a crimp in access to it.
If the information is totally false, don’t make a public denouncement. Nothing cuts a grapevine deeper than a completely false story.
Pump as much accurate information into the system as you possibly can. Prevent rumors by consistently leveling with employees. Correct false rumors immediately. Communicate in person whenever you can. Memos, e-mail messages, and comments that get passed through numerous people are usually wide open to interpretation.
Don’t try to kill the grapevine. It’s human nature for people to want to exchange “inside information” about what’s happening in the office. Too many attempts to manage the flow of information will make employees suspect you’re covering something up.
Managing Office Politics
Reduce System Uncertainty
Break Existing Political Fiefdoms or clichés
Create interdependent reward structure
Positive Political Strategies
Know your own interests and goals
Focus on common interests rather than differences
Inside the organization
Outside the organization
Vertically as well as horizontally
“ Politics is a necessary evil and often it’s just plain evil. Unfortunately, it’s also how things get done.”
Mr. Blaine Pardoe, Director
Ernst & Young LLP
“ Office politics fills a leadership vacuum… If you build a unified company-wide team, politics won’t have a place.”
Mr. Lawrence B. Seruen
Author “The End of Office Politics”,
published by the AMA
Pardoe’s Five Principles for Dealing with Office Politics
1. You can’t win unless someone else loses.
2. Just because you don’t get what you want
doesn’t mean you’re getting the shaft.
3. Politics is about power — and power is
measured in weird ways.
“ Always learn the unofficial history of your company: who got into power, how they did it, where the bodies are buried. The unofficial history isn’t always accurate; history gets distorted by the victors. But it will teach you how politics gets played at your company — how far people will go, what happens when you lose. You’ll never see that stuff in the annual report.”
Principle 4: The past is prologue
“ Information is power, and lots of information comes in the form of rumors. But too many people believe too much of what they hear — and make bad decisions as a result. Whenever I hear a rumor, I think about it for a day. Does it make any sense? Who stands to gain from spreading it? Is there an acid test that I can use to evaluate whether it’s true? Nine times out of ten, I conclude that it just doesn’t hold water.”
Principle 5: Don’t believe everything you hear
Rational persuasion . Trying to convince someone with reason, logic or facts.
Inspirational appeals . Trying to build enthusiasm by appealing to others’ emotions, ideals or values.
Consultation. Getting others to participate in planning, making decisions and changes.
Ingratiation. Getting someone in a good mood prior to making a request; being friendly, helpful and using praise or flattery.
Personal appeals. Referring to friendship and loyalty when making a request.
Exchange. Making explicit or implied promises and trading favors.
Coalition tactics . Getting others to support your effort to persuade someone.
Pressure. Using intimidation or threats.
How To Extend Your Influence by Forming Strategic Alliances
Conflict between Self-Interest and Mutual Interests Requires Managerial Action
Self- Interest Political tactics Mutual Interests (organizational effectiveness) Influence tactics Empowerment Motivation team building communication leadership
“ The process by which people attempt to control or manipulate the reactions of others to images of themselves or their ideas.”
Delegation, Initiative and Empowerment
The Evolution of Power: From Domination to Delegation None High Power Distribution Followers: granted authority to make decisions. Power Sharing Manager: leader & followers jointly make decisions. Influence Sharing Manager: leader consults followers when making decisions. Degree of Empowerment Authoritarian Power Manager: leader imposes decisions. Domination Consultation Participation Delegation
Delegation “ The process of granting decision-making authority to subordinates.”
Barriers to Delegation
Belief in the fallacy, ‘If you want it done right, do it yourself.’
Lack of confidence and trust in lower-level employees.
Fear of being called lazy.
Vague job definition.
Fear of competition from those below.
Reluctance to take the risks of depending on others.
Lack of controls that provide early warning of problems with delegated duties.
Poor example set by bosses who do not delegate.
Personal Initiative: The Other Side of Delegation Levels of Action Decreasing time to action to solve a problem Taking action Asking for approval to act Asking someone else to act Telling someone about a problem Noncompliance Apathy
Tips for Personal Initiative and Taking Action
Go beyond the job.
Follow through on new ideas.
Don’t be defeated by criticism; learn from it.
Look ahead and around.
Bluffing (making something look better than it is)
How to Keep Office Politics from Derailing Your Career
– adapted from “Get your foot off my neck! How to move up when office politics has you down,” by Dawn M. Baskerville and Joy Duckett Cain, in Essence
Make superiors accountable
Meet with your direct supervisors and ask for a written list of what you need to accomplish in order to advance to the next level. If you
can demonstrate that you have already
met these goals, ask when your status
will change. If not, work with your
supervisor to create a timetable for
meeting the goals and being promoted.
Be the squeaky wheel
After your initial meeting, continue asking for your supervisor’s feedback and direction – and make sure your supervisor is aware each time you check off something on the list. Do not assume your boss knows all your accomplishments.
Find a mentor
Find someone high up in the ranks who can become your champion, guiding you through the maze of corporate politics and helping you develop professionally.
Look for someone with whom you
share a common background, interests,
and chemistry – someone who will take a personal interest in helping you get a head.
Raise your profile
Join professional organizations and become active in community programs.
Many times, those in power positions
are more likely to take notice if you are
hosting a charity event than if you are
back at the office with your nose to
Cut your losses
R emember that timetable you created for getting ahead? If you keep your end of the bargain, but the promotion is not forthcoming, start looking for new opportunities elsewhere. Why waste your energy continuing to play a game you can not win?
Summary of Survival Strategies
Know your goals / interests
Focus on common ground. Not differences with your stake holders