So many people suffer from organisational politics, so I decided to pursue this topic by recently interviewing about 15 managers. In this episode, I share some of my findings from this study. Here you will find an overview of what is dirty politics, and what is the cost people at work.
What is politics?
[1:41] Politics is way of meeting goals. The question is: whose goals? When politics is used to get past management inefficiency to reach organizational goals, they are more along the lines of good politics.
Take the case of a small company where the Director of Operations was completely mismanaging the executive team. He was leading teams into conflict and complete inefficiency between the sales and execution. The VP of Strategy planned to overthrow the director and takeover the company, leading it to a much better level of execution. Of course, it was sad to see the Director go, but was this move good for the company? Clearly, it was. Political games played with a good intension can be advantageous.
“When personal ambition is not detrimental to that of the organization, that kind of politics is very well supported by the people.”
There is nothing wrong in including one's self ambition with that of the organization, but that's not always the case. When politics comes with a good intension to bring meaning to people and take the company to the next level, that kind of politics requires courage which comes only from the bravest of hearts. This requires you to put yourself in the line of fire for the sake of a better future both for yourself and the organization.
What is bad politics? When does politics get dirty?
[4:43] Often, politics holds a pejorative connotation where people influence using their soft skills to gain more power, recognition, and move ahead in their career; things are done with one’s end goals in mind and not that of the organisation. Decisions are manipulated for self-interest. There are so many tactics involved in these kinds of moves.
Imagine the amount of time people spend on hiding mistakes, trying to look good, trying to make colleagues look bad, strategising to secure the biggest budget for the next five years, and so on. What a waste of effort for the organisations!!!!
“When actions come from the intension of self-interest, then it becomes manipulation and it just gets dirty.”
Intensions determine if politics is about influencing for a good cause or for manipulation.
What is the cost of dirty politics in organizations?
[5:56] From the survey I did where I interviewed managers from various organisations, one thing was clear: the bigger the organisation, the bigger the political games to privilege the self over the organisation. I’d like to share traits from three different kinds of people that I met and how dirty politics impacted them:
Politics adds to the complexity of decision making. Managers recall that you would be naïve to think that you can do it without politics. Everyone plays politics, but what changes is the degree to which they play. Several of them mentioned that they play scenarios in their head, doubting the intensions of people without knowing if the proposal is genuine or intended to make them fail.
Running through different scenarios in your head on the intensions of different stakeholders is like having several television channels switched on in your brain and trying to figure out which one is the right channel.
When people become hyper-vigilant we lose creativity in the organisation.
- Political stress
[7:54] Operational issues and thriving in international matrix organisations is a challenge and has its own stress. Politics adds another layer to this stress, and how we deal with it depends on our composure. 95% of the people I interviewed mentioned that it affected them in the following ways:
- Political stress affects sleep: becoming vigilant and paranoid on other peoples intensions and sincerity.
- Political stress increased feeling of loneliness: as you dont trust your colleagues easily.
- Political stress increases irritation at home: as people tried to keep a calm demure at work. The smallest of things at home annoyed them.
This made them emotionally numb at work as a way to protect themselves with peers. So at a peer level, keeping a certain distance and playing political games have become a norm.
As a leader of a team, being empathetic building relationships means ones needs to switch on the emotional channel. This can be a stretch to switch on and off the channel the emotional connection and made people feel less authentic. As on one side you need to shut down your emotional channel, and on the other side you need to connect through data and emotions to motivate and work with teams.
- The “blame badge.”
[10:40] When people fail in an organisations, they don’t fail alone. Other people fail to become successful because in an organization, we’re working in a chain and depending on the work of each other. This can lead to collective finger pointing that makes the person feel terrible; it destroys the foundation of their personality. Think about the consequences: how much anger will this person have towards his colleagues? What is the level of trust between their teams?
“When two managers are in conflict, it’s absolutely no surprise that their teams are also in conflict. Managers set the weather of their teams. Blame Badge has lots of consequences.”
When a child falls from a bicycle in a park, and you dont see parents around, you help the child dust off the mud and help them get back on the wheels. In an organisation your failure becomes an opportunity for people to walk over you.
What if next time when someone fails unintensionally, you could go ask: Does it hurt? How are you? How are you really doing? How can I help you?
What are 2 tips we can take away?
- [13:53] When you see someone fail, take the first step to bring more humanity into the organization by helping them. Ask them how they are so they don’t feel labelled or isolated.
- Take a ten-minute walk in nature before you go home so you can let go of the stress that you’ve accumulated in your work day by workplace politics.