I’ve Been to the Puppet Show and I’ve Seen the Strings

Answer the Question

Have you ever watched a politician being interviewed, particularly when then interviewer is trying to get a straight answer to a straight question? Typically the politician gives a very long answer which includes points of his/her party policy, maybe some facts and figures, perhaps a dig at another political party. They skilfully avoid actually answering the question or being painted into a corner. One of the reasons of course is that live TV or radio presents them with a unique opportunity of communicating to millions of people without interference or editing. This is why you always get the facts and figures and the dig at another party. The answer is a political one not intended to move things forwards other than toward a very long term political agenda which in government politics boils down to capturing your vote. But what about company politics, is that more or less straightforward?

Are There Politics in Your Organisation?

The answer to this has to is an unequivocal yes. Organisational or company politics is far less straightforward than government. There are political agendas but now these are at organisational, leadership and personal levels so there are a myriad of different effects coming into play. It is a human trait that in any organisation political factors will come into play. The difference compared to government politics is that there is no manifesto, no published agenda, no overt allegiances and therefore no real possibility of control or of harnessing this energy. Internal company politics therefore is a drain on your business because people are using paid time to position and move towards their own agenda which by definition is unlikely to be aligned to your business. This is really people seeking to advance their careers by means other than merit or their contribution. They are simply ‘gaming’ the organisation.

People Politics

People Politics

Can Internal Politics  be Value Destroying?

I have written in a previous post on Discretionary Contribution about how you can release discretionary contribution from your people to get more effective contribution to your business. Internal company politics can have an adverse effect.

How do internal politics sit with having your business operating with integrity? Well clearly since people are taking some of the time and energy you are paying for and diverting it to other ends it does not. As for destroying value, even if it is ineffectual it is destroying value through stealing productive hours but if its effective it can wreak further havoc. Can you think of a single example where it might actually create value?

Be Careful What You Wish For

As a simple example, think about performance bonus schemes. Generally these are put in place to incentivise the people in your business to respond to stretch targets and meet objectives. Ideally the objectives should come from the top and be flowed down from the corporate board to their first line so that they are responsible for delivering an element of the business strategy. This hierarchical flow down typically continues but after a couple of levels the objectivity dilutes and we end up with fairly generic objectives and the objectives lose some coherence with the board level objectives. You may then inadvertently create behaviours that you or the organisation didn’t expect. If people are incentivised by their bonus then this will drive their priorities and ultimately actions and behaviours, they will ‘game’ the scheme to maximise their financial position. So the incentive works just not necessarily in the way you intended.

If you are a manager, be very careful about setting expectations to individuals, they may take this out of context and use your name in vain.

You just have to accept that company politics will grow like weeds in a garden if left untended. You cannot ignore them as it is the ambition and inventiveness of human nature that feeds them.

Try to implement processes and procedures rather than creating policies. Policies are much harder to test and to refine to ensure that they are effective for the business and as their very name implies the politically driven will gravitate to them because they always give room for interpretation. Think about the loopholes that people find in:

  • Your relocation policy
  • Your work from home policy
  • Your expenses policy
  • Your compensation and promotion policy

3 Ways to Minimise Value Destroying Politics

  1. People: Make sure that your company values employees with the ‘right’ variety of ambition: people who will put the company’s success above their own advancement and trust that if they do a good job they will be recognised
  2. Process: Make sure your policies around promotions, pay increases and reporting lines are clear and unambiguous. Have clear criteria for promotions and pay rises and ensure that all of your managers adhere to this process, don’t allow any exceptions or secret pacts. Ensure that nobody can change reporting lines without approval so that empire building is minimised
  3. Talk: Make sure that you don’t engender a culture  where people talk about and complain about others behind their backs.

And finally…

Accept that company politics are inevitable and that unchecked they will be value destroying and you have at least made a start.

Consider the 3 ways above to minimise value destruction.

Think about ways of harnessing this energy and making it coherent. If anyone has any examples of this I’d love to hear about them.

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