It is unfortunate that the word “politics” is almost immediately seen as a negative term. Perhaps there is good reason for the negative connotation after watching some of the shenanigans and unscrupulous actions of some local, state, and Federal officials. Office politics are always present, but in most cases, are driven by the desire to influence or persuade others to adopt a particular point of view or take action in a certain way. All of us are constantly attempting to influence those around us. Most of us have good intentions and truly believe that our position is the best and most logical approach that others should be willingly adopt. However, in the office setting, the competitive nature of some individuals causes them to put their own self-interest ahead of the best interest of the organization. Sarcastically, this appears to be the case within the US Congress, with many members, who start out with humble beginnings, leaving office as “government-made millionaires.” Putting that example aside, as well as the small minority of business colleagues that have less-than-noble motivations, the reality is that there is seldom only one approach or answer to a business situation. Instead, there can be many alternatives, and based on one’s point of view, one alternative may appear to be clearly better than others. It is during these everyday occurrences that “politics,” the art of influencing others to adopt one’s point of view, takes place.
This issue, being responsive to change, is included as Principle 6 of this collection: “Promote and Maintain a Positive Response to Change.” In virtually every case, someone must take the lead and advocate the need for change. They will attempt to build a consensus by convincing others of the need for this change. Others, with differing opinions or resistance to change, may begin to accuse the initiator of engaging in office politics as their rationale to resist the acceptance of the proposed change.
Instead of denying the existence of the situation and creating an undertone of cynicism, it is better to acknowledge that different individuals and groups are likely to have different motivations for pursuing a certain new or different course of action. Publicly and unemotionally discussing these issues and acknowledging the fact that differences will always occur can help to create a culture of acceptance. This will minimize the feelings of animosity that can quickly develop between various groups and individuals with different ideas. Rarely are decisions made or courses of action followed that cannot be reversed or modified later if the decision proved to be ineffective or just plain wrong. The larger error is to not take any corrective action and proceed to blindly continue down the wrong path. This lack of corrective action or denial is usually caused by the reluctance of some individuals to admit that they were wrong because they are afraid of the “political fallout” that may occur. When members of the organization see that the organization is willing to reevaluate decisions based on actual results and take no punitive action, they are more willing to compromise and accept plans in the future that do not totally align with their opinions. As discussed in the article in this series, “Consensus versus Confrontation,” healthy debating, giving all sides an opportunity to express their views, is a critical element in the decision-making process.
Most significant changes in business occur over time with ample early warning signs that some change is required. It may be driven by customers, competitors, internal innovations, the government, or a host of other factors. As an example, think of the profound change that the Internet has had on business and virtually every other aspect of our lives. Most people do not realize that the Internet was created over 45 years ago and the World Wide Web protocol is 25 years old. When alternatives and the need to consider changes occurs, individuals and organizations usually have ample time to consider the need for change and consider alternatives. Once a decision is made, a useful approach to put minds at ease is to announce that the change is final; until circumstances deem it necessary to change again! This technique helps to end second guessing and allows the organization to move forward. It is the official “end of debate” message, but leaves the door open to future debates. Essentially, the “election is over” and a new “election cycle,” with its associated politics, will start again at some later date.
Embracing change and the “political” discussions that accompany its formulation is a byproduct of the company culture that promotes open and objective dialogue.