Are you one of those people who hates organizational politics and tries to avoid them at all costs? If so, you may be like one of my clients who said to me this week, "I hate politics and I don't want to deal with them." Although we can all relate to this view point, the challenge with this mindset is that it leads to ineffectiveness in a leadership role. In reality, politics exist in every organization whether you deal with them or not, and if you don't deal with them, you will lose power and influence in the organization. To function effectively in any leadership role, it is important to understand organizational politics and to learn how to navigate them effectively. This article will get you started. What are corporate politics?
Corporate politics are a fundamental part of organizational life and part of the social fabric of organizations. Corporate politics come from the reality that everyone in the organization has an agenda. Everyone is striving to get something done that they view as important, or that someone with significant power has has told them is important to focus on. Some people are forthcoming about what their agenda is, and others keep it hidden, or only communicate part of it. For example, one person's agenda could be to win a customer, another person's agenda could be to get the CEO to notice and like them so they get a promotion. In an organization these agendas create an under current of activity that extends beyond the organization's larger purpose like servicing customers, or manufacturing widgets.
What is political skill?
Political skill is the ability to recognize people's agendas in an organization and to develop an influence strategy for engaging stakeholders to achieve a common goal. It is usually closely tied to competencies around influence, knowledge about organizational power, an interpersonal style that includes keen social perceptiveness, and the ability to change one's behaviour depending on what the situation requires in order to build trust, confidence, and allies. These capabilities impact how others respond to you and their willingness to help you achieve your goals and your agenda.
The Link with Power
Dealing with political issues can sometimes require a lot of effort, mindfulness, and personal will. The degree of effort required to successfully deal with politics varies depending on the amount and type of power a person has in the organization. For example, if a person has a large amount of positional power they may be able to get things done and mobilize resources by raising their eyebrow, whereas someone with less power may have to work harder at building allies and overcoming resistance.
How to Strategically Manage Politics
Here are a number of strategies that you can use to strategically manage politics. These are tactics that we often guide people through in a coaching engagement, yet these tips will get you started.
- Realize that organizational politics in and of themselves are neutral. They are neither good nor bad.
- Clarify your own political agenda and goals. If you are clear about your agenda, you will set the stage for creating an influence strategy and navigating politics.
- Identify your stakeholders. Map out the key stakeholders who are critical for you to engage with in order to move your agenda forward. For each of them, consider how bought in they are to your agenda and the degree of trust between you. Then, consider what competing agendas they may have to your own.
- Familiarize yourself with political tactics. There is a wonderful booked called, 21 Dirty Tricks at Work by Colin Gautrey and Mike Phipps. Familiarize yourself with this book and identify which dirty tricks you use most often, and the ones most often used by your different stakeholders.
- Think about your power base. There are many different sources of power in an organization - positional, social, resource, network, technical. If you don't have positional power, or you only have a limited number of power sources, you will have to work harder at driving your agenda forward.
- Expand your influence tactics. Most people only rely on rational persuasion to get people to do what they want. This is very limiting because it is what everyone else is using. You must use a variety of influence tactics such as coalitions, inspirational appeal, and finding advocates to drive your agenda home.