“Politics is a Profession; a serious, complicated; and in its true sense, a noble one” ….Dwight D Eisenhower
Workplace Politics: Good or Bad?
Back-stabbing, scapegoating, prejudice, sucking up, sand-bagging, cajoling, lying, undermining, slinging dirt, defaming, sabotaging reputation and what not…..Everything that has negative connotation comes to mind when we think of Workplace or office Politics. Is someone taking away the credit of your work or even after years and years of hard work you are not getting the promotion you deserve? Is it all bad or is it being used in the wrong spirit?
Some six years ago, when I started my Professional Journey, I got to hear from senior team members, ‘Don’t be too honest’, ‘Do not share all your knowledge else you will minimize your value’, ‘Do not be-friend anyone at workplace’, ‘Do not ever indulge in any sort of office politics’…… and the list of ‘Do not’s goes on and on. This was so …I would say …un-natural to the type of person Narendra was and is. He was certainly, off on the wrong foot and with some un-inspirational people. He thought do we have to be like ‘this’ to excel in Career, Do I have to become like others and not being my proud self? Well, today with insights from my workplace experience and my Management studies, I can say that the list of all those ‘Do not’s ‘mentioned in the beginning of this para were words of all those mediocre people and there is not a percent of truth in their saying. There is altogether a different definition of the genius…
It took me some time to write my second article of 2014. Workplace Politics was a small chapter in Organizational Behavior during my Management studies. I had not studied it as sincerely as I did to write this article. The thoughts presented here are a combination of my personal experiences and insights gained from many journals and newspaper articles I read in couple of weekends. Yes, today I take a closer look at workplace politics with the intent to grow awareness in people across the globe to practice workplace politics in the right spirit.
Aristotle has told “Men are by nature a Political animal”. Believe it or not, there is some degree of Politics going on in every work environment everywhere on earth. Be it in the form of favoritism, groupism, pulling legs, busting others development, un-apt use of positional power which forms the negative side of the coin or utilize it wisely to get business for your organization, do good and work for the upliftment of yourself and others which is using politics in its true sense.
Politics today has become synonymous with ‘Bad Politics’. Whenever we think of the word ‘Politics’, most often, images of corrupt, criminal and all time big scammers comes to mind. Wikipedia defines Politics in general as ‘the practice and theory of influencing other people on a civic or individual level’. Further, Wiki definition for Office Politics is ‘the use of Power and Social Networking within an Organization to achieve the changes that benefit the organization or individuals within it.’ Where does that negativity come into place? So whenever someone says ‘they are playing politics – for things like Groupism, Un-fair favoritism, Un-deserved Appraisal rating, Un-deserved Promotion and so on just because of closeness to higher officials,’ what they mean is ‘bad workplace politics’. This brings me to coin-in the concept of un-ethical (bad) and ethical (good) workplace politics but before that let me share with you the big WHY? Why do people practice politics in first place? Is it all bad? Should we or should not we become part of office politics?
The former HR of Knight Ridder newspapers, Jacqui Love Marshall, shares ‘At the heart of office politics is that daunting word: POWER.’ It would be a false statement to say that power is a bad word or an unpleasant concept. In reality Power is a currency that can be employed for good or bad. In workplace context power can be minted in various forms like knowledge and information, access to resources, decision making authority, and so on. I personally do not believe in positional powers for this does not stay for long rather build the power of influence that stays for long and irrespective of your position, people come to you seeking solutions. Marshall iterates ‘The ability to capture some of the power to get things accomplished is critical to one’s success. Power is not a bad thing, if you understand it and can deploy it for constructive outcomes.’
Before I go further, let me share the concept of Animal Model in an Organization which will help us understand Workplace Politics in a much deeper sense.
Our Goal alignment with the organization and how politically intelligent we are, are the two criteria which forms the basis of animal model. Let us say X-axis represents the Goal Alignment with Organization and Y-axis resembles the Political intelligence. The model suggests that there are four type of people in an Organization and designate it by four animals, namely, Cow, Sheep, Fox and Squirrel. I have slightly and deliberately tweaked the animal’s name for those animals have double meaning in certain cultural contexts.
Cows are determined, hardworking, noisy, bad-tempered, and a plodder but sure-footed. They fall in the first quadrant with more emphasis on Personal Goals and stay away from any sort of Politics. Sheep are trusting, innocent, naïve, basically followers, gentle and timid and are loyal to the organization. The fall in the second quadrant. Beware of the Foxes. They form the third quadrant. Foxes are clever. These people have high political intelligence and use it primarily in the pursuit of their personal goals. Squirrels, which form the fourth quadrant, are wise and possess high political intelligence and they align their personal goals with that of the organization. They believe that time; effort and energy are wasted if the goal alignment does not happen. Squirrels like the clever group, know how to maneuver around organizational procedures when required and do so by revealing their motivation to others so they are not misunderstood. They work in ways that are beneficial to both the organization and themselves. They are unlikely to undertake activities solely in pursuit of their own interest.
Based on the above explanation you can decide which Political animal you are at present and which one you want to become in future. Most obvious choice by most of us would be Squirrel, however it’s not easy. It takes a lot of effort, understanding and guts to be politically wise and make your workplace the temple of personal and professional development for everyone
Politics is important for us because we are in an Organization with others. Dealing with workplace politics is a means of rising to our responsibilities in the Organization. By being political we exhibit our allegiance, commitment to our idea, advocating for it strongly. To further advance in our career and for the overall benefit of the organization, just working hard and staying under the radar screen isn’t always enough. In a competitive work world, being politically adept is as critical as being smart talented and hardworking. Career Coach, Win Sheffield has said it so well, “For our Plans, ideas, whatever it is to succeed and for the overall benefit of your account, your Organization as a whole, there is going to be others in the organization who must be accommodated, negotiated with, befriended, and perhaps even evaded or outwitted. If these other players are not engaged, you will fail to achieve your objective.” Powerful and rightly said.
Plato has said it well, “one of the penalties for refusing to participate in politics is that you end up being governed by your inferiors.” Many people who opt out of workplace politics pay the price by Lack of influence, Loss of Career Development, Inability to progress, Can’t seem to get the budget, Project or work they want. People who stay away from politics often fail to fully achieve their objective or they are at a high risk of to be undermined in some future objective.
As such taking an active approach towards workplace politics gives us more control towards our work life and career.
When the interest of participants are narrower and means of reaching decisions are manipulative or even worse. When individuals network to serve narrower and counter-productive interests; when the primary focus is on some hidden agendas that serve them to be in power, there by undermining people they do not like. This is unethical politics. It is unethical not only because it is based on selfish interests and relies on deception, but also because of the strain it places on the organization.
Narendra’s Appeal to each one of you reading him today: Practice Ethical Politics
At this point, I recall one of the quotes of famous philosopher and poet of ancient China, Lao Tzu, “Be honest to those who are honest, and be also honest to those who are not honest. Thus honesty is attained. Treat those who are good with goodness, and also treat those who are not good with goodness. Thus goodness is attained.” Beautiful! Isn’t it? I insist on practicing ethical politics or no politics at all for the real meaning of politics is to do good for others.
Anything done with a noble intention and to do good for masses is good and anything done with a bad intention for masses and just for personal gain is a SIN. Well, you cannot please everyone, there will be people who will be unhappy and jealous all the time; Sorry cannot help such people.
By embracing politics and making a choice to enter the Workplace politics in an ethical way, we can minimize unnecessary shortfalls and sacrifices. Eminent Business Leader and Author of Political Savvy, Dr. Joel R Deluca, has written “When you understand people –and realize that an organization is a human system – then you know that you will always do better if you strive to create win-win scenarios.” Well, the basic principle of all ethical action is to promote happiness and well-being for others and do no harm. Create an environment in workplace that allows freedom for everyone to grow and develop rather than trampling over others to surge ahead. “Any Organization that lacks ethical sense tends to live by some version of the law of jungle. The strongest, the most cunning and most unscrupulous people grab all they can. The weaker ones are exploited and despised” says the Writer Adrian on lifehack.org website. He further illustrates that “any ethical approach to organizational life requires self-restraint in pursuit of an ultimate goal: a business that operates smoothly and promotes the well-being of its employees, customer and society of which it is a part.”
My Final Words:
The achievements of any Organization are the result of the combined effort of each individual. Let us do our bit to make the workplace environment as harmonious as we can. Let us be brutally honest in our work; Let us share our knowledge as much as we can, Let us encourage and credit a co-worker for what he deserves, Let us work for the upliftment of others rather than busting other’s dreams and development, Let us have respect for every individual’s work and time, Let us assume power for the good, and Let us practice ethical, and only ethical politics. Yes, my friend let us do our bit to make Organizations we work in and eventually this whole world a better place to live in.
With Tons of Gratitude and Best Wishes!
Monday, April 14; 3:30am