Every individual is driven by some purpose in his or her life and mostly looks for constant growth. To achieve success, they must have the right mindset, views, and capabilities. The organization or institution they work with becomes the vehicle for their personal fulfillment, and in turn the organization’s purpose gets served. When the interplay of people and organizational goals is healthy, it becomes a win-win situation for all. Dynamics among the people within the organization can turn out to be a dampener that curbs growth or it can propel your career towards resounding success. But when there are sparks in the dynamics, workplace politics or organizational politics come into picture.
As per Wikipedia, “workplace politics is the process and behavior in human interactions involving power and authority.” If we look at the definition of politics, words like power, authority, governance and control stand out among others. And since, there are no standard rules for such aspects of business, politics in organization becomes a subtle art that depends on every individual’s orchestration. Over the years, businesses and professionals have seen so many negative effects of organizational politics that it is among the most blamed words in the corporate world today. It touches every person in an organization and is beaten for all the wrong things happening to an individual in an organization.
But what are professionals doing about it? Have they become a slave to organizational politics and have given up? If no one is spared from this interplay of people, then why should we create a taboo around it? Let us decipher its nature and understand it. Awareness will help us in dealing with it better than just running away from it.
With my corporate experience spanning over two decades I have deciphered a theory which buckets the employees in any organization into three categories:
Competent people know their subject very well and are eager to learn. Owing to their high level of knowledge, they are the ones that really take the organization forward. You cannot catch them on any functional flaw in their area of expertise. Apart from elevated capability, they have the right attitude towards getting the work done from their team. These types of people grow in the organization through their competence, both technical as well as managerial.
This is the set of people who have mastered the art of building and leveraging relationships. In other words, they are the networkers. They know how to strike the right chord with people, connect with them, nurture the relationships, and build a high level of trust with people. The strong tie of their relationship with others in the organization often forces people to see their point of view with a positive bias. In the case of relationship people, performance is not seen as a standalone, and they are judged in a positive way. Their excellent relationship forming capability also makes them influencers in their peer group and the group below them. This social capital gives them the negotiation power with higher management.
This category of people smoothly plays on the power dynamics in the organization. They have the ability to see where the fulcrum of power lies and how they can associate with certain people in the organization, which can eventually help them to grow. They are somewhat similar to “Relationship People” category, but the difference is that the relationship is not to many, but to one power hub in the organization. If, along with sponsorship, they are competent then they become the most sought after category in the organization. This combination gives them the capability and influence which can make them create an impact and redefine the future of the organization.
How is politics brewed?
Now, let us talk about the governing and control mechanism in the organization. If it is done by any of the above category of people, the running becomes smooth. But when it is being driven by the hidden interests of people who don’t belong to any of the above categories, organizational politics starts to emerge. The challenge starts arising when people belong to any of these three categories partially. These inbetweeners start defining control and governance mechanism as per their hidden agenda and benefit, which is mainly to survive in the ecosystem. In the absence of strong capabilities, relationship forming power, or influence on decision-makers, these people often resort to tactics, manipulation, and gossip to get their way. Thus, giving rise to organizational politics.
Due to all the negative connotations attached to organizational politics, you should try to acknowledge where you stand and steer away from it intelligently. In this game of survival, the best way to play clean is to become aware about which category you fall into. If you do not fall in any one specific category, then what are your most prominent traits that can be identified with the above mentioned categories? If you do not fall into any category, can you adapt easily? You can also do the same activity for your peers and subordinates.
Once we identify which categories people fall into, we need to create a plan to help them reach the full state of that category, so that they can realize their true potential and do not resort to organizational politics to further their personal agenda. Once people realize that they can grow in the organization without taking part in politics, then the scenario would be quite different.
There is hardly any professional in the world that does not have to deal with politics in the organization, so there is no point in ducking your head in the sand or looking the other way. The best solution to survive organizational politics is to acknowledge its presence, understand its nature, and stay professional by adapting to the category which is closest to your natural self. As Darwin said in his theory of survival, “it is not the strongest of the species that survives, but the most adaptable.”