Sunday, December 07, 2008

Politics is the Tool of Cooperation

From the period known as the "New Thought Movement" in the late 19th century, Orison Swett Marden said, "We make the world we live in and we shape our own environment."  I believe politics is the tool of cooperation that allows us to shape and change our environment. 
Dr. Gary Ranker, Colin Gautrey, and Mike Phipps's book titled, Political Dilemmas at Work, provides useful and clear tools to assist you as a member of the work environment to effectively shape and positively change both your individual career dilemmas and offer wise solutions to the dilemmas of your colleagues.
I have learned through my personal and professional life (as so far) that you will interact with different people with varied agendas and backgrounds. You will see politics used for both good and bad in the workplace.  Expanding your knowledge of politics allows you to understand how other's agendas are shaping the work environment for better and/or for worse.  Keeping in mind you have an agenda just like your coworkers... so don't forget to look in the mirror.
"In politics we presume that everyone who knows how to get votes knows how to administer a city or a state.  When we are ill... we do not ask for the handsomest physician, or the most eloquent one, " - Plato
By understanding how you both use and are affected by politics you will be able to better exist and shape the environment you live and work in.
The more you embrace and expand your political astuteness the greater chance you will select the most qualified physician instead of the most eloquent.
Food for thought:

If we were all the same would we need politics?
The Importance and Value of Understanding Politics

Politics as I understand it refers to various rules of social interaction. I say various to capture the diversity and multitude of rule sets. Rule sets may stem form culture, gender roles, life experience, generation, industry, roles, etc. Additionally, these rule sets are not used in isolation; any combination may be used simultaneously by an individual. An additional layer of complexity center on situations in that rule sets may vary across different circumstances.

As we are all working toward some goal(s) (e.g., to just get through the day, to make a networking connection, to be good at our jobs, to get recognized for our work/contribution, to just get the paycheck, or to just fly under the radar) these rule sets are in play. The combination of our goals and the rule sets we have in our repertoire essentially drive our behavior and perception/interpretation of the events occurring around us.

In most cases, most people operate on a day-to-day basis without consciously considering what behaviors are driven by which cultural value or are stemming from some other background characteristic. Most just go on auto pilot. Having an understanding of organizational politics and specifically, what that means, what it looks like, and how it works is critical to functioning effectively within any role. Finally, under this explanation, it is clear that organizational politics in and of themselves are neutral. They are neither good nor bad. It is in their application that "charge" is set.

For example, Steve R. explained that to meet his goal of obtaining a desirable position within the organization, he made a point of learning what the goals and priorities of decision makers were so he could align his own efforts accordingly (and where appropriate). In addition to consistently doing good work and actively working to develop himself through coaching, he employed this tactic. He engaged this tactic openly and with good intent (therefore the positive charge) to successfully maneuver himself up the corporate ladder.

In the examples discussed by Keryl E., we saw how others used different tactics to get ahead. For example, taking credit for others' work, finding legal loopholes, confusing those around them, polarizing groups, etc. These tactics aren't done openly (meaning, people don't say out loud they are taking credit for others work to promote their own self interests). The impact of these tactics and the damage done to others is as results in a negative charge.

Being aware that people are working toward some goal and that they behave toward that goal (however effectively) is half the battle to understanding organizational politics. This simply occurs and is part of our human nature. Consequently, developing the skill in identifying tactics and identifying goals of others is integral to our effectiveness in supporting our clients. This is the main forum to which I apply the other theories (e.g., organization theory, group dynamics, executive coaching, organization diagnosis, etc). I keep in the back of my mind that organizations do not exist to simply meet their purpose (e.g., manufacturing a car). I keep in mind that organizations are made up of people all working toward some goal (e.g., earning a pay check, getting ahead, changing the world, etc.) and create additional under currents to the organization's purpose.

In all this, what I'm trying to say is that politics is a fact of life. I see politics as the forum of social interaction. My personal approach is to develop those skills to successfully navigate these interactions toward my many goals. Politics is not something to be judged negatively as activity engaged only by those with malicious ulterior motives. They should not be just considered the "games" people play. Finally, no one is immune from politics. Because politics is in the fabric of our human interaction, it is by design not something that can be avoided- it is something, we can learn to more effectively manage.

Friday, December 05, 2008

Up until just a couple of years ago, I never gave much thought to Corporate Politics and how it impacted my career or the organization I worked for. I recognized incidents of power struggles, internal conflicts, workplace gossip or drama, but never articulated them into any formal thought of organizational politics. When I shifted my career to I-O Psychology, I became more aware of the internal dynamics within departments, between employees, colleagues, and supervisors and noticed how those types of relationships played a significant role in how decisions are made. Now I can reflect on numerous incidents that occurred in the past where I was either in the middle or on the edge of political tactics. I remember an incident where I had to move my car from a parking space because someone in a higher position wanted it, although the parking space was not reserved for anyone. I was infuriated and at the time, and because I did not recognize it to be a power struggle or a political dilemma, I lashed out at HR and made myself look petty. My manager even pulled me aside and told me she was shocked that I had such a reaction to it. If I had understood politics at the time, I would have approached the situation differently and used my personal power and influencing styles or just taken a moment to reflect on the situation and use that opportunity to understand the company’s culture and what it meant that they would allow that to happen.
Understanding the importance and value of politics not only helps us in our own personal careers and jobs, but as future consultants and executive coaches, we need to be aware of how politics play a significant role in everyday situations. Before this Corporate Politics class, I never saw myself as politically savvy, and thought politics occurred only in grandiose gestures. I didn’t see myself as a participant of political games or struggles. Now, I see that politics can be much more subtle, and to develop a political antenna has allowed me to hone in on my personal influencing styles and power. Although I may not be politically savvy, I feel more empowered to not be a victim of political situations and use it to benefit me or the company.
I am excited to explore politics in more depth in future research, and this class has set the stage for my continuous development of recognizing and my role in participating in organizational politics.
We have all had experiences where our situation was not going our way. We either accepted it or tried different tactics to change the outcome. These tactics are often learned while growing up and then perfected as an adult.

As the youngest sibling of three, there was an occasion when my brothers didn’t let me play with them. I had remembered this when my brother asked me to play with him at a later time. As a result of this, I made him promise me that he wouldn’t play with our other brother before I agreed to play with him. This gave me the upper hand in our sibling rival hood and ensured me a playmate till Tonka Trucks and Barbie Dolls went out.

These childhood games are no different as adults, they are just better polished techniques used to get what we want. This is same reason why we are nice to those in positions of power. Have you noticed that people are nicer to you when you are higher on the totem pole? It’s not because you are suddenly more likable, it is because people try to control their environments to their favor. We learn our environments and build relationships with those who have the power to get our agendas met.

This can also mean ostracizing our competition. When individuals have a problem with another person they often try to get other to dislike that person as well. They don’t call is a rat race for nothing.

These political games are not confined to individuals, groups, families or organizations and they are not found in one gender, race or location. They are every where and affect us in everyday life. The only way to avoid falling victim to political games are to acknowledge and recognize the techniques used.

Corporate politics are not necessary good or bad. It is a function of many agendas. We should accept this and learn to understand it fully to understand its utility.


Thursday, December 04, 2008

Before entering the Corporate Politics class, I only thought that politics were played by the powerful, the upper crust, those that were type A business savvy people. Needless to say, I held negative perceptions of the "game" called politics. I now understand that politics is not game, per se, but a way of life. We are constantly being exposed to politics on a daily basis as long as we are engaging socially. I was only thinking about the aggressive and overt behaviors when first asked to define politics and power. I now understand that I have been apart of politics all my life.

I believe that everyone has their own style of politics. Their political personality that fits their style of social interaction. Those caught unaware that an interaction in the workplace holds more than its outward appearance, are those most affected by persuasion and outcomes of events beyond their control. Much like persuasion, politics needs to be inoculated against. Exposure to the variety of political personalities in a workplace will give an individual a better understanding of the relationships, culture, and your place at an organization.

Understanding politics also provides an insight into an individuals behavior and personality. This comes from the reflection of observing others demonstrate their political power abilities. With Dr. Ranker's help in defining others behavior in Political Dilemmas at Work, better preparation and action to remedy situations in the workplace will occur. Acknowledging that politics does take place and that you are apart of it regardless of your say in the matter is the first step to understanding how you can capitalize on the opportunities rather than being left behind.

From this class I have acknowledged the fact I am apart of politics. I am also aware that everyone engages in some type of politicking. This is nothing to be scared of, just to be aware of. When you are aware, you are prepared.

Wednesday, December 03, 2008

If you are the youngest of your siblings like me, you probably realized early on that you need to do certain things to stand out, get what you want and accomplish your goals. These strategies and techniques if you will, worked or didn't work in your personal relationships, socially and at work. What is unique about Corporate Politics is that the game often has very different rules and you might be playing the same way as you always have.

I have worked in a variety of jobs in my life. Among the multiple jobs I have had, I have always been told "Rachel, you have potential" and "you are smart." When it came time for promotions however, I was not the one chosen in most cases. My coworkers would tell me that it's because "you're too good at what you do" or "you need to get a Masters Degree to do that" and although the comments came from caring friends, I always suspected that there was more to it that I didn't know.

After getting laid off from what I thought was my dream job. I was heartbroken. They would not tell me why I was one of the people chosen to be laid off and wished me well with familiar words "You're smart. Go to graduate school. This has nothing to do with your performance. You can do more." I was puzzled. If it wasn't my performance, if it wasn't my intellegence, if it wasn't my capabilities than what the *&^% was it? It was organizational politics.

It was a bittersweet departure as I made the final decision to go to The Marshall Goldsmith School of Management (pic above of Marshall Goldsmith)to study Industrial Organizational Psychology. Partly inspired by the person who had just laid me off. Weird. My boss couldn't tell me that it was because I wasn't lying and cheating (which the other faculty were doing) to get funding and he couldn't tell me that it was because he knew that I was a potential whistleblower (which I never did). He could only say what he was "allowed" to say. I really don't blame him.

As with every other bad situation in life, something amazingly good came out of it. Although I was bitter for quite some time, I was finally able to let it go and look at the lessons I learned from what had happened. Had I understood corporate politics and had not been in denial about it, I would have saved myself a lot of grief.

Fast forward to 2008 and I hear about this seminar that is being offered titled "Corporate Politics" taught by a thought leader by the name of Gary Ranker (pic above). I had an opportunity to share my experience with others and get feedback on it. The first lesson I learned was: get out of denial about corporate politics. They exist, it's real and you are playing them (unconsciously) anyway so you might as well play smart. The second lesson I learned was: It happens to everyone. I am not a victim. I can do very practical, healthy things to overcome obstacles based on organizational politics. The third lesson I learned was: I can't do this alone. A coach to support me in accomplishing my goals is crucial for me to succeed, to push me beyond my limits and call me on my BS. I also need to trust my honest friends and family members that will give me the feedback and support I need.

Sitting in Gary Ranker's class has given me the tools to understand the importance of corporate politics and how to win the game by not playing dirty but still playing. As I graduate with my Masters Degree and enter the corporate world....may the games begin. Bring it.

Labels: , , , ,

Having grown up in a political family and working with several political elections I saw how nasty politics can be. Recently with the elections and trash that is brought up about people and their family shows that some people are willing to use any method they can in order to try and get ahead. In life we are all running a race. It is important to understand the how and why of situations. Corporate Politics provides an insight on how to play fairly and identify the situations instead of having to react to them.

I believe that it is important to apply politics within a workplace in order to try and accomplish an agenda. I have taken principles that have been discussed in class and applied them and I have had different results than I previously did. Unfortunately some people don’t believe that politics exist, but there are so many events that go on that are purely political interests.

After Colin’s lecture on the Victim, Rescuer and Attacker I had a situation at work where I was the rescuer. I said to the original attacker “don’t be a victim”. The original victim started laughing and I explained to her what I had learned in the class about corporate Politics. The original victim then proceeded to tell others about what had happened and I explained that in order to change the way politics is played it is important to first identify the political games.

I am excited to explore the area of corporate politics even further and try to find more ways to identify political events within organizations.

Tuesday, December 02, 2008

In looking back to when I was an undergraduate student, one of the main reasons why I wanted to go into a career in Industrial Psychology was that I would be considered an ‘outsider’ in the whole corporate game; that I would be impervious to any petty nuisances that occur in organizations whether as an internal or external consultant.

Fast forwarding six year to the present, my lens at how I look at my career and the environment in which I will be working in has dramatically shifted. I look back at my naïve undergrad mentality and see that maybe it is I that needs to change to my environment. Having this epiphany has helped me embrace different environments and different political agendas that are naturally evolving essences in organizations because as a free market society, everyone has their own (or their group’s) interest as their main focus for making certain decisions and actions.

It is easy for someone to stick their head in the sand and say: “Well, I’m too good/too ethical to play politics at my company” or “Politics has never and will never be a problem at my company”. By taking polarizing stances like these, you are proactively taking yourself out of your own company culture and restricting advancement opportunities because you are denying the actual existence that is your company. As the old saying goes, “Failure follows the path of least resistance”.

In order to be an effective executive, the need to be politically aware is becoming more and more prevalent in today’s business environment. It is not only recognizing political issues within your organization, it is how you react to political situations. Many executive careers have been derailed due to the mishandling of political issues within their organization (see: Carly Fiorina at HP).
This is Nikki Prestidge. First let me apologize for the blog name “KyleandNikki”. I entered the sight under an old blog name.

Why is politics important? I love this question now because I have an answer for it! Two months ago I may have said, “Politics is something I try to avoid, therefore it is unimportant to me.” Today however, I recognize it is important to understand politics because politics exists around all of us whether we want it to or not. By acknowledging politics exist around us, we are given the option to avoid politics, or understand politics. I personally like to have a better understanding of the circumstances which exist around me and influence me each day. By increasing our understanding of politics we are able to gain a wider picture of others around us, our interactions with others and “the way things are”. In understanding these things we are able to identify political dilemmas which we face and begin generating ideas of how we may respond to them. This is a much healthier approach to politics, as opposed to doing nothing or responding in the moment (which we may regret later). Understanding politics increases our objectivity toward our circumstances. Then we may be proactive in determining how to respond to circumstances and people.

Understanding politics is valuable because politics have the power to make us or break us. Politics has this power because we allow it to by not acknowledging or understanding it. Politics have a genuine affect on people. Choosing to understand the politics at work around us is valuable because it helps us in gaining control of a situation that may be out of control. Once we are able to think through our dilemmas and create an outcome we are able to influence those around us, our daily work environments, our career path and the emotional burdens some of us carry home each day. Because politics have such a large impact on our work environment and even our personal lives understanding them could not be more important and valuable.

As stated before, politics exist around us and influence us regardless of our approach to the subject. Understanding politics is important and valuable because it changes our role from the influncee to the influencer.
Before enrolling in this class, I knew very little about corporate politics. It's not that I had never been exposed to them, or had never seen some of the consequences (good or bad) that resulted from them; it's just that I wasn't aware of the importance and the valuable role that they played amongst individuals and organizations today. In fact, I used to view the idea of corporate politics in a negative light. The word 'politics' had a very negative connotation in my mind, and I would not have imagined any good coming from them. However, through Dr. Ranker's teachings and guest speakers like Steven and Collin, I have learned that one can actually take organizational politics and use them in their favor. It is also clear to me now why it is so important for individuals to understand the politics of their organization. Without the proper knowledge and understanding of the things that are going on around you, it is very easy to fall into the "trap" of political dilemmas at work.

At first I was naive enough to believe that I could just "avoid" corporate politics by not "getting involved" with problematic situations and workplace dilemmas that arose. I understand now that corporate politics cannot be avoided. Whether we like it or not, they are, and probably always will be, a part of our lives in one way or another. Although we cannot all afford to hire on a political coach or mentor to guide us through the politicking that may be going on around us, it would be wise for each individual to take it upon themselves to study the subject and become better acquainted with the ideas, solutions, etc. that come along with them. With books like Political Dilemmas at Work being available to us, it is important to take advantage of these types of resources. Upper management and CEO's should also strongly consider attending seminars and/or presentations about corporate politics, so that they can build their own personal tools for dealing with political dilemmas. I personally feel as though I have greatly benefited from our monthly seminars and from reading the assigned book. I have learned what to do in certain situations and how to handle difficult problems that may be thrown my way in the future. We all know that until we get the real life experience, it's hard to say that we are 100% confident of our ability to do something, but at least I can say that I am knowledgeable about this topic now and can continue to learn more about it through my studies at Alliant.

Monday, December 01, 2008

Everyday I am becoming more aware of the important role politics plays in an organization and the role it has played in getting me to where I am today. If you had explained corporate politics to me 10 years ago, I might have thought twice about choosing a career that required working with or in an organization. I definitely would have reconsidered anything that involved interaction with others or working in teams! After all, I considered myself as someone who did not “play games” and would never partake in such deceptive behaviors.

Yet, I have learned through group discussions with Gary and Colin and by reading their book that politics does not have to mean deception or self-serving behaviors. Politics can also provide structure to an organization and, when properly managed, encourage diverse opinions and healthy competition. Positive politics can also provide a basis for personal growth and leadership development.

Someone once told me, “no one will ever care about your career more than you do.” This saying has stuck with me over the years and served as a guide when I needed to make critical career moves or decisions. Recently this saying served as a reminder that politics will always play a factor in my career because they are inherent to organizational life. Thus, it is up to me, for the future success of my career, to understand them and learn how to handle them effectively.

Labels: ,

The Importance and Value of Understanding Politics

In my opinion, politics is the result of combining of social dynamics and power and the ensuing consequences. Social dynamics arise from the interaction of individuals and groups with each other. In most social environments, including work situations, such groups and individuals try to consciously or unconsciously acquire the power to achieve certain desired results.

The "importance" of politics is comparable to the importance of increasing leverage or range of ability to get what you want, whether that is through personal power or by acting through others. Due to the growing size of organizations and the rising dependence on teams, the likelihood of a person being able to meet ambitious organizational goals in isolation is miniscule. Thus, the need for any individual to increase her/his power in order to influence the course of projects and the behavior of larger and larger groups of people is a skill that cannot be denied. The way that physicists study the laws of the universe in order to harness its materials and energies to benefit mankind (we hope, e.g. nuclear bombs) is similar to the way that an organizational politician may study the nature of human beings in order to marshall available psychological energy and physical resources to achieve some end.

The "value" of understanding politics is threefold. First, it is the value of increasing the probability that one gets what one wants. Second, it is the value of being able to have an impact on an increasingly larger scale as the number of people influenced by you grows. For example, take the cause of recycling and protecting the environment. In our culture, it is fairly well understood that celebrities can have as much impact on the individual American's behavior as the government, sometimes more where consumerism is concerned. Therefore, it is as effective a political move to advertise a celebrity endorsing the cause of recycling and protecting the environment as it is to pass bills supporting organizations who have "greener" practices. The goal is the same - to get large groups of people to change their behavior to achieve the desired result, though the types of influence may differ. However, without the use of politics, this scenario might simply have been isolated individuals and companies trying to enact change with little result. Influencing on a larger scale can mean more widespread and longer-lasting results. Finally, the value of understanding politics is the value of having more options and control over "how" things get done. Wise politicians value politics because they realize that the manner in which a goal is reached can affect how they feel about themselves and the goal itself. Ultimately, politics is a means to an end in which how one gets to the end is as important as what the end looks like.