By Bruce Gillies
Organizational politics have a bad reputation. As a leadership coach, I’ve heard many employees describe them as an impediment to getting things done. For some, the joy of receiving a promotion is tempered by the fear of getting pulled into workplace politics.
In reality, organizational politics are a powerful, and almost always available, way to get things done faster and more efficiently. When you get right down to it, organizational politics are really the struggle over scarce resources. “I need more people to get this job done right.” “If I don’t get the funding for this new project, we can’t move it forward,” or, “How come Sally’s department gets new computers and we are still struggling with Windows XP?”
One resource that is often at the core of organizational politics is power. What does power bring? Time with the boss. The capability to influence events. The ability to approve or deny requests.
Here are some practices that can improve your organizational political power:
• Be consistent in your actions. Walk the talk.
• Watch out for “dirty” politics and tackle them head on.
• Learn the culture of the organization and the “rules of the political game.”
• Establish credibility.
• Build your network, both inside and outside the organization.
An important but often-neglected use for organizational politics is getting new and innovative ideas accepted. Having a great idea that will work is only 15 to 20 percent of implementation, even if it has been shown to work elsewhere. You must sell your idea. Often, it needs to be sold to those other individual stakeholders who will have to live with the outcome. So, identifying the key stakeholders is of prime consideration. Stakeholders can also be individuals and groups external to the organization such as stockholders, customers and the community in which the organization operates. Developing and maintaining relationships with stakeholders is key to new project implementation and acceptance.
Understanding the cause of organizational politics is key to using them to your advantage. Quite often, there is a crisis of sorts with a void in authority. This often leads to competing coalitions. Recognize these coalitions early and work to get them into your camp or neutralize them.
Often, diversity of ideas is a source of organizational political conflict as well, which it should be. Organizations need to realize that conflict is necessary for growth, but functional conflict is much different from personal conflict.
Other ways to increase your organizational political savvy and effectiveness include the following:
• Understand the principle of reciprocity. Reciprocity is when you treat other organizational members in ways that help you achieve individual and organizational goals. These can be positive or negative (retaliation). Know which kind to use and when.
• Analyze and develop your organizational network, both inside and outside your organization. Identify who in your network is a positive or negative influence on your goals. Develop strategies for expanding your network.
• From your positive network, develop your coalitions. Coalitions are groups of people that represent diverse interests and agree to work together toward a common goal.
• Increase your visibility. Take on the high-profile projects.
• Avoid “tainted” organizational members. These types of individuals can really drag you down in organizational political power.
• Support your boss. This should go without saying, but you would be surprised how many folks don’t support their supervisors but expect them to support their new ideas.
Organizational politics are a fact of business life. While you can try to deny that they are present or avoid using them, you do so at our own peril at the hands of the individuals who do realize their power.
• Bruce Gillies is the director of the Organizational Leadership Program in the California Lutheran University School of Management.