A colleague of mine once remarked that office politics in universities are so intense because the stakes are so small. Same too for companies except in some cases the stakes grow and the battles simmer.
Another friend recently reported that she’s in the midst of a big political battle and this got me wondering about the source of politics, the role that the organization plays in fostering politics and what politics are to begin with.
Having not spent much time in big organizations I had to do some serious thinking about what politics really are and I’ve decided that it’s an attempt to gain power so that one can do one’s job. Wikipedia says that it’s the use of power for the pursuit of self-interest without regard to the effect on the organizations ability to achieve its own goals.
But I don’t buy this. I think politics exist when someone is trying to achieve his or her own organizational objectives, not personal ones. I think people are just trying to do their job to the best of their ability and meet the goals set out for their role in the organization. The difference is important because if the source of politics is personal then the organization doesn’t have a role in it. But if the source is organizational then you can blame the company for its existence.
When people have to fight for resources including funding, personnel, authority and even attention to get their jobs done then politics will break out. The fight isn’t one to gain personally but to gain by achieving their own organizational objectives. That’s why the organization is at fault. It has created an environment where people have to battle internally to do their jobs.
Back again for another day of questions to ask in a job interview. If you want to get ahead, you have to know how you’re doing on a regular basis.
In the industrial economy or if you’re in sales, you always know how you’re doing. No need to be told. There are all sorts of dials and levers that will tell you. In the knowledge economy though you can’t know unless someone tells you. And once a year when you’re getting your appraisal isn’t enough.
So when you’re looking for a job you need to figure out where you’re going to get feedback from.
- Will there be metrics?
- How often will you get metrics reports?
- If there aren’t metrics how will you know how I’m doing?
- How often will you meet with your new boss to discuss how you’re doing?
This is called performance management and is something done weekly in great places, done monthly in good places, done quarterly in OK places and done annually in poor workplaces.
If you want to tear your hair out, try working without feedback. Caveat Emptor.
I was asked an interesting question the other day by someone who is looking for a job. She wondered that with all the idiot bosses out there, how can you tell in an interview whether or not you’re going to have a good one.
I didn’t have a good answer so I thought a while on this one and here’s what I decided:
If you want to be successful in your next job, you”re going to have to be working in an environment that supports success. This is your boss’s job, to ensure that you’ll be as successful as possible.
I hadn’t thought about this as the boss’s job but when you get down to it, this is what a boss has to do. A boss has to manage or lead you in a way that makes you successful. So to figure out whether the boss will be any good, that’s what you’ll have to find out, whether she’ll do the things necessary to make you successful.
I’ve said before that if an employee fails, it’s the boss’s fault. He has failed to hire correctly, train correctly, or supervise correctly. But what about an employee’s perspective? What does an employee need besides native capabilities to be successful.
Well it comes down to four things. Besides the right resources, an employee needs to:
- Know exactly what is expected of them,
- Know how they’re doing,
- Know how to get better at it, and
- Know how they’ve done.
If a boss can do those things then you should succeed. For the rest of the week I’ll propose questions that will attempt to get at answers to these questions.
I’m so excited. I’ve been trying to figure out all week how to play Rock Paper Scissors with Power Politics and I think I’ve figured it out. (Those who know me well know that I actually used Rock Paper Scissors in my divorce agreement as a method to settle future disputes.)
If you’ve been paying attention this week, I’ve gone through the major types of power that exist in the workplace, Positional Power, Expert Power, Coercive Power, Reward Power, Referent Power and so on. The problem is, I couldn’t figure out what to do about the use of these powers. And I’ve finally figured it out.
You can turn Power Politics at the office into a game of Rock Paper Scissors. The thing is knowing what beats what. Let’s look at the three main sources of power, position, expertise, and likeability (referent power).
The thing is that most people see positional power as the ultimate source of power but it isn’t. We know that a bonehead with a title can override an expert. And that ultimately, it doesn’t matter how much you’re liked if there is a respected expert telling you what to do.
But what I just realized that someone who is likeable can often get more done than someone in a position of power. When we have a boss we don’t like, we’ll often go out of our way to ignore or sabotage trivial edicts. But we’ll do lots of unnecessary things for someone we like.
So that’s it. Position beats Expert which beats Likeability (Referent) which beats Position.
Now you just have to figure out how to play the game. When someone tries to occupy a power position at work, you just have to figure out what type of power they are calling upon and use the appropriate one to beat them at their own game.
The best thing about playing Power Politics like this is that you don’t both have to declare at the same time. You can wait until they’ve displayed their base of power before you pull out one of yours that trumps it.
I watched an excellent video today with Mario Laudi and Kristina McDougall of The Laudi Group. While the topic is about hiring, I think it is an excellent perspective on what you must have to get a new job and succeed in a small company.
It’s a long video but well worth the time.
To me it’s all about aptitude. If the world is changing so fast, what you know now won’t matter in 5 – 10 years. What you need is the right attitude and the right set of soft skills to be able to learn what you’ll need to be successful.
I’m still at this leadership theories thing and have found so many more theories that it is quite amazing. I guess the thing to do is make up a theory and then you can charge big bucks for consulting.
This theory is what I suspect forms the backbone behind all of the employee engagement work done by Gallup and others. It postulates that leadership is a process by which a leader engages and forms a connection with followers to increase motivation. Success in transformational leadership comes in meeting the needs of followers in order to enable them to reach their maximum potential.
In contrast with Transformational theory is transactional theory which focuses on exchanges between leaders and followers. This theory makes it a leader’s job to make it clear what is expected and what the consequences are for not meeting expectations.
Then there is also Path-Goal Theory and Servant Leadership Theory and I won’t get into those as I’m beginning to see where we might have gone wrong with all of these leadership theories.
Is leadership engrained as a trait or is it a skill? Is it a behaviour or is it a set of exchanges? In the end, I’m not sure that any of this matters as we seem to suck at it no matter how it is defined. Perhaps any approach will work but there is something else that needs to be present for one of these approaches to work.