I had a very enjoyable interview about Stay or Leave? on Wednesday on the mid morning show with Jenny Kendall-Tobias for BBC Guernsey. During it, we were talking about the importance of being yourself, rather than what everyone else wants you to be. And that rather than do this, we often go along with everyone else rather than stick our head above the parapet, for fear of the flak that might result. And I was saying that this happens both at home and at work.
So I thought I'd pursue this line of thinking today in my blog.
The Nature of Company Politics
I am sure you're well aware of all the game-playing, withholding, non-cooperative, snide, them and us, aggressive, sabotaging, negative, blaming, win/lose behaviours that go on in hundreds of interactions everyday in your organisation - the company politics. And of the negative effects this is having on your productivity, performance and morale.
Those who indulge in such office politics do so in order to achieve their personal agenda at the expense of others in the organisation. In the process, they demoralise the motivated and sabotage the organiation’s success. Given their limited numbers, like one or two bad apples souring the whole barrel, they are disproportionately powerful.
Personal agendas are usually called ‘ hidden agendas’, even though they are rarely, if ever, hidden! Everyone knows certain colleagues who consistently act out of their personal agendas and how this influences the tone, content and outcome of discussions, meetings and task accomplishment.
Yet, when we fail to get an honest opinion, cooperative response or a straight answer from a so-called colleague, rather than deal with the personal agenda, we prefer to avoid confrontation and instead express our anger, frustration and powerlessness in ‘ corridor meetings’ with friends.
Both the company politics and the unwillingness to confront it results in an organisation culture characterised by:
· Low morale
· Internal competition
· Lack of communication
· Senior executive non-cooperation
· Interdepartmental conflict
· Inaccessibility of the CEO
· Lack of strong, cohesive leadership
· Feelings of powerlessness
You may have participated in traditional attempts to change organisational cultures or team dynamics by empowering people. They rely on developing a supportive, communicative and cooperative environment where you feel safe to use your creative potential in the pursuit of organisational goals. Though successful in the short-term, this approach generally results in the organisation or team reverting back to their old culture in the long term reaffirming your original sense of powerlessness.
My alternative approach is to help people to take personal responsibility for consistently confronting company politics in a hostile environment. This approach not only encourages people to recognise that they have the power to change their environment by choosing to take risks but also challenges them to consider their own part in the difficulties they’re having.
As in my approach to personal relationships, in organisation too, it empowers by showing people that they are their own jailer. Even though the quality of their working lives and freedom to reach their optimum performance is severely limited by the pressures inside the organisation, people are not merely victims of circumstances beyond their control. They are responsible for the consequences not only of what they do but also what they fail to do. For example, what they may do is blame others for not creating a safe environment and what they may fail to do is act themselves.
My belief is that organisation development programmes need to reverse the process. First company politics needs to be confronted and eliminated or its effects severely constrained even when the environment is unsupportive, uncommunicative and uncooperative. It is this which will then lead to the creation of a safe environment, long-term change and increased productivity, revenue and profit.