Sunday, December 07, 2008

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.


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