Posted by Bill Dann

I‘ll start by defining politics. As I‘m using it here, politics is the total complex of relations, often conflicting, between people living in a society. In this case, the “society” is your organization.

What drives politics inside an organization is the tie to one‘s sense of self-worth. Elements of self-worth include position in the hierarchy, the importance of the work itself, authority, number supervised, inclusion on vital teams, salary, inclusion in vital meetings, conversations, decisions, whether one‘s opinion and counsel is sought, and whether others seek to socialize, (e.g. go to lunch).

Organizational life is a volatile, shifting world that each employee reassesses every day. The result of that assessment impacts morale and commitment to work.

Why consider this?

Handling politics is often the link to morale, commitment and, therefore, productivity. Which makes the phenomena of politics rise to a principle that should be considered by leaders.

A common occurrence in my consulting practice is hearing leaders‘ surprise and dismay as decisions and changes blow up over seemingly “petty” issues. “Why don‘t they see the benefit of this?” Well, the answer is that, even if they see the potential benefit to the organization, it is the benefit or damage to them personally that trumps it.

What are the dynamics of politics?

There are perceived winners and losers associated with virtually every decision. Someone or “ones” gain, while others don‘t. Sometimes the winners and losers are obvious. Examples of decisions with clear cut winners and losers include budgets, strategies, investments, hiring and promotion decisions. But many decisions are more subtle. Who gets copied on emails? Who is included in meetings? Who gets training?

How to employ this principle

It is not my counsel that all decisions should be popularity contests; quite to the contrary. Instead, I would counsel that you consider the following:

  1. Be aware of your actions. Your every action as a leader or manager is being carefully scrutinized as part of the assessment I described above. What jokes are you telling? Who are you telling them to? Who do you talk to in the hall? Who do you avoid? Understand that your every action or lack of action is indirectly impacting organizational performance.
  2. Manage the politics with communication. I know every leader‘s time is scarce, but when you understand the dynamics here, you will better understand the return on investment of the time you commit to communicate and sell your decisions. Ignorance and misunderstanding means that you have no potential impact on these dynamics.
  3. Utilize opinion leaders. Identify those in your organization who have influence over others, i.e., those who are opinion leaders. Even if these persons have no direct relationship to a decision you are making, what they say about that decision can impact your success. Be aware of what opinion leaders are saying and assure that your communication plans regarding decisions being made include them to some degree.

In summary, don‘t back off on decisions that are needed. At the end of the day, what matters most to employees is that leadership is confronting and handling issues, even if those same employees disagree with the decisions made. But, your success will be easier to achieve and more assured if you understand and influence the political dynamics that surround you.

Need some help?

Have questions or need some coaching regarding the politics in your organization? E-mail me, and I will be happy to get into conversation with you.

If you are interested in learning about Dann’s Principles 1 – 2 and 4 – 9, or the list as a whole, click on any of links below:

Introduction to Dann’s Principles of Management

Principle 1: There is Another Side to Every Issue

Principle 2: What is, IS

Principle 4: Performance Set By Example

Principle 5: The Leader Truly Leads

Principle 6: Being Honest

Principle 7: Consistency

Principle 8: Two Way Dialogue

Principle 9: Everyone will Find Fairness Somehow