Preserving the quality: Securing HR-related careers in the murky waters of organizational politics
A pair of piercing eyes gazes deeply into the labyrinth of city streets through the laminated windows of an opulently furnished penthouse. From the above, the manifestation of life seems to be an unremitting march of insects moving at a frenzied pace with an intoxicatingly preordained harmony. Suddenly, a voice, laced with a respectful tone, cuts through the reflective silence. “We need your review and advice on the succession plan for senior management, Sir”. The heavyset owner of those penetrating eyes, with a face strewn with scars from years of tough decision-making, turns towards the smartly dressed Director of Talent and Organizational Development (OD) sitting at the farther end of a discriminating table, and utters an impassive baritone. “Leave it on the table and I will get back to you soon.” Grabbing an exquisitely designed paperweight, the Director of Talent and OD pins the succession plan by positioning its bottom end towards the empty snooze-inducing chair that boasts the honor of housing the Managing Director (MD) of the organization and leaves with an imperceptible bow by deftly closing the richly ornamented door.
A week later, the aforementioned succession plan is received by the Director of Talent & OD with a roughly scribbled Post-it® note attached with the heading “Revise and Consider” followed by the names of the ‘desired’ successors, and ending with a succinct directive, ‘dispose’. The Post-it® note negates all the previous efforts done to produce an ‘astutely comprehensive’, ‘legally defensible’ and ‘delightfully fair’ succession plan. However, it is ‘obeyed’ religiously and destroyed untraceably, with the ‘new’ succession plan formulated and sent for ‘final approval’ to the MD accordingly…please hold your questions and insights…we will visit this example later in this article...
The pervasiveness of corporate scandals are a testament to the aptitude of career-minded ‘budding leaders’ being reduced to nothing by the upper echelons of power, who are blinded by the desire to ‘preserve’ their own turf
We often hear the cliché, ‘World has become a global village’, however, this is often stated in positive terms and the detrimental impact of the narrowing of ‘personal space’ is frequently discounted. One of the more virulent ways in which the world is changing and continues to surprise the insightful observer is the liquefaction of boundaries between the government and the corporate sector. The precarious business climate that has rattled the leading economies and reverberates throughout the world with tumultuous impacts like the overthrow of ‘stable’ dictators, has incentivized several governments to take the gavel of a corporate administrator, whereas, the internal skirmishes between egos residing at the head of various functions within major companies have resulted in the proliferation of politicians at various rungs of the career ladder vying for the ‘approving eye’ to trample the ‘true talent’ within the discerning organizations.
While the governments wrestle with an ‘identity crisis’ of primarily being the ‘supreme economic benefactors’ or the ‘ultimate protectors of citizenry rights’; the Talent/OD/HR professionals within a significant number of corporate entities are inadvertently caught in a dilemma, after being subtly advised to ‘routinely’ take care of the upcoming ‘talented sycophants’ from the influential voices 'clouding' the workplace environment. Their challenge is complicated by the 'embedded duality’ of the role that has to project an external image of a ‘company that cares’ with the internal image of a ‘company that scares’. Examples of pressures on them to ‘oblige’ and waive their right of a ‘factual rebuttal’ can include:
- A ‘programmed encounter’ from the ‘top’ with a menacing undertone reminding the significance of ‘career preservation’
- Delay/denial of ‘agreed’ job privileges, especially, pertaining to family benefits
- Stiffening/stifling of the reward, recognition and promotion criteria
- Drastic reduction in allowing progressive training and development opportunities
- Victimization in whimsical ‘witch hunts’ for disciplinary violations
- Long working hours on account of mundane assignments to increase fatigue
- Heavily restricted ‘exposure’ opportunities in corporate events
- Cutting budgetary allocations without decreasing operational efficiency expectations
- Fed to ‘chronically suspicious’ union bosses without a strong mandate to negotiate
- Fomentation of rumors regarding character weaknesses/professional shortcomings to pave the ground for an unceremonious exit from the organization
- Incentivizing the immediate supervisor to create a trail of disparaging performance appraisals to buffer against any legal challenges in case of dismissal
- Threat of industry blacklisting to prevent a prolific career elsewhere
Consequently, while the ‘lofty ideals’ of effective talent management are sustained as an embodiment of best practices in HR through ‘corroborating’ metrics, the actual succession planning becomes an exercise in futility since decisions are primarily taken on the merits of ‘proficiency in organizational politics’ and the steady stream of ‘selected future leaders’ become pawns in a chess game between the various powerbrokers, while, the actual ‘engines of growth’ fume on the ashes of ‘burnt aspirations’.
While the ‘lofty ideals’ of effective talent management are sustained as best practices in HR, the actual succession planning becomes an exercise in futility since decisions are primarily taken on the merits of ‘proficiency in organizational politics’
The pervasiveness of corporate scandals within the ‘giants’ of industry are a heartrending testament to the aptitude of career-minded ‘budding leaders’ being reduced to interpreting and acting upon a ‘captivating nod’, a ‘mischievous wink’ or a ‘wry smile’ from the upper echelons of power, who are blinded by the desire to ‘preserve’ their own turf and doggedly ensure an enduring legacy that cripples/marginalizes or, in a worst-case scenario, banishes the organization into the corporate wasteland. The example presented at the beginning of this article, with an artistic license, was an actual incident that was narrated to me by a ‘wizened’ peer who had to ultimately plan and execute a ‘graceful exit’ for a more invigorating environment. Having overcome similar challenges with success, I empathized with him and offered the following perspectives as my guidelines for negotiating the career curveballs:
- Do not put your self-worth up for auction since that is your best asset and the last refuge in moments of despair
- Your life should not be dictated by a continuous stream of compromises since you need to pass your introspective audit
- The is something seriously wrong if you need to make a list of what matters to you most in your personal and professional spheres
- Always strive for a blissful marriage between knowledge and practical experience to remain relevant in a dynamic world
- Leverage your achievements in building a robust legacy that goes beyond devising ways to hug a bigger paycheck
- Channelize your core competencies in enabling others to become your partners in success
- Mix equal proportions of humility and self-confidence in preparing the potion to ward off disappointments at work
- Befriend “Failures’ for learning and embrace ‘Successes’ with caution
- You don’t become a ‘Giant’ by standing on the shoulders of other ‘Giants’, therefore, invest feverishly in developing your own identity and formulating the path to achieving exemplary professional excellence
- Never underestimate the power of a peaceful sleep after a hard day’s work enriched with integrity
Fortunately, all is not lost since a healthy amount of examples pertaining to good governance are duly recognized in prominent professional publications, e.g., Great Place to Work®. For the complacent/indifferent organizations, there are plenty of ‘lessons’ available in the ‘corporate landfills’ that are littered across the annals of industrial history. It would be prudent for such establishments to take necessary corrective/preventive actions in a timely fashion to avoid the race to oblivion.
In parting, Ladies and Gentlemen, do acknowledge and take the time to know us and don’t hesitate to shake our hand while passing us in the corporate corridors since we are also in the trenches with you…the floor is now open for your questions and insights…