When we hear the word politics, we almost immediately think of our local, state, and federal officials. Their actions and activities are forefront in the news. Not in the news are politics that occur not in just government, but in many aspects of our lives. This is especially true in business. While governmental politics deals with power, office politics usually revolve around who is rewarded and who is not. That is why politics can be detrimental to a business.
“The set of activities associated with the governance of a country, state or an area. It is the achieving and exercising positions of governance, or an organized control over a community”.
Politics has a very ancient history. Aristotle regarded ethics and politics as related but separate. Ethics examines the good of the individual, while politics examines the good of the City-State.
Representation of a community is supposed to result in providing for the good of that group . Those who step forward to take that responsibility have ideas and plans on how that should best happen. They politic with those who will elect them. And they have to convince the community that they represent that they should be re-elected to continue to do so.
When they are not running for office, they are to be working for the good of their constituents. Even those who did not vote for them. They usually cannot affect programs and changes on their own. They can if they are the dominant party. If not and representation is divided, the different factions are to work together. This is through a compromise of plans and actions.
In theory, politics should work, for the greater good.
In reality, this doesn’t always happen. Especially in today’s very divided and partisan atmosphere. Rather, each side tries to bludgeon or disparage the other publicly. They try to force them to accept the other’s plans. This becomes a very messy process and in many instances there is gridlock and nothing at all happens.
When the different sides work together for the common good, some great things can happen. When they do not work together, it becomes a problem, as those in power tend to dominate what does or doesn’t happen. The result may be a forced decision that favors only part of the electorate. Sometimes a political stalemate occurs in which case no actions of any kind happen. Doing nothing can be the most dangerous result. No work on trade, immigration, economic growth or whatever can have a harmful effect on society.
While governmental politics certainly plays a part in my life, it is office politics that has had the biggest influence. If done well it can have a good effect. When done poorly, politics can be detrimental to a business.
This writing is about the politics in business and the dangers it causes.
Business or office politics happens in many companies. It is covert not overt. Decisions are made in a very closed and secretive way. The actions taken are not widely publicized. But, they have implications for many individuals and for the entire organization. That is why politics can be detrimental to a business.
As with governmental politics, when done correctly, office politics can have some good. However, when done poorly or selfishly, it can have a detrimental effect on people and the business itself. Politics played poorly can lead to:
- People placed in leadership positions they cannot handle.
- Very bad decisions based on politics and not on the best interests of the company.
- Gridlock in taking necessary actions, because people can’t agree on anything and there is no compromise by opposing factions.
I have found that office politics usually revolve around who is rewarded and who is not.
Individuals that are not held in high regard or who are average workers at best are suddenly promoted to positions that they are not qualified to hold. They then either make very bad decisions that cause problems that others have to deal with or clean up. Or, they continue to do what they previously did. This doesn’t move the organization’s strategic plans ahead and results in gridlock.
I saw this happen on at least two occasions. The first occurred when the company management decided that it was a good idea to take a person from Human Resources and put him in charge of manufacturing. He became the plant manager for the main production plant. He had no production experience of any kind. Yet he now held one of the top manufacturing positions in the company.
I asked a friend in Human Resources why this was happening. I was told that the person was liked by the president and had expressed that he wanted to enhance his career. Through this experience he felt that he would do that. The president was an experienced Sales person. He didn’t hold manufacturing in high regard. He felt that anyone regardless of background could do the job. How wrong he was. So, he was given the job because he was liked, not because he was competent. This type of action is why politics can be detrimental to a business.
Many managers in the manufacturing and operations arena offered to help him. We offered to spend time educating him and that we would work closely with him. Then he could become more comfortable with his new role. He told everyone to mind their own business. He felt that with his HR experience he could manage his subordinates and didn’t need help from anyone.
Boy was he ever wrong. He assumed that manufacturing was easy and things would take care of themselves. They don’t and they didn’t. As problems cropped up with materials, machinery and people, he panicked.
He blamed his direct reports for everything that went wrong. With no experience and knowledge on how to fix things, he became more even belligerent. He would castigate his reports in private and in public. He regularly lost his temper. He would throw objects at people during his staff meetings. Especially if he was particularly mad at someone or something.
His boss, the Vice President of Operations, did nothing to control him. He didn’t resist this move from the start. And he didn’t correct it when the situation erupted. Instead, he allowed it to go on.
He was afraid to go to the president and tell him this was wrong and tried to work around him.
Finally, the workers in the plant had had enough. They were not political. Nor were they intimidated by the president or any other executive. They complained loud and long, until he was removed and placed back in Human Resources.
A new plant manager was assigned. He had the requisite knowledge and experience to both run the plant and undo the damage. Within a few years this HR person was fired by the company.
The second was a colleague who started as a manager in Quality Control.
He did an ok job, but nothing that was outstanding. Then, through some unusual events he suddenly got promoted to some very important managerial positions. In each instance he created many problems, which I and others ended up fixing.
What caused his ascent? He was liked by the president and had connections that were profitable for the executives.
First, he was promoted to Director of Operations for two of the operating divisions. That was a big leap from a quality manager to an operations director. One of his main responsibilities was to reduce product costs. He did so by playing a numbers game with the standard costs. All claimed cost reductions were calculated by calculating the new standard costs versus the old ones. It did not take into account actual costs. So if negative variances occurred these were not taken into account and cost savings were claimed. This is an example of why politics can be detrimental to a business.
After he left this position it was found that most of the claimed cost savings did not actually happen.
In fact, the costs of many items increased instead of being lowered. Much work had to go into getting them back to where they needed to be. But there was no credit for doing this, as the reductions were the variances and not the standards.
His next position was head of Quality Control. During his tenure, he claimed that quality was maintained or even improved. Once he left, it was determined that the methodology for measuring quality was flawed. Actually, quality had gotten worse. Consumer complaints were at an all-time high. Much work had to be done to resolve the quality issues, he helped to create.
As the corrections were made, the Vice President of Operations came under some extreme pressure from the Vice President of Sales. He didn’t own up to the problems. Instead, he claimed that the fixes were the problem. He also said that quality was not being properly reported.
To make matters worse, the person who caused this problem was now the plant manager. With control of production, he completely abandoned quality focusing on meeting production schedules. He allowed products to be made and shipped that didn’t meet the company’s quality standards. He was protected from any criticism by the same people his wife had helped to become “richer than God”. This is another example of why politics can be detrimental to a business.
He was finally removed after two disastrous years.
In that time the number of consumer complaints rose. It cost the company a lot of money resolving these issues.
Politics played a key role in all this.
His support was due to the financial gains that the executives had experienced through his connections. It was not because of his skills or accomplishments. Yet, he was still rewarded for their gains.
I discussed these matters with one of the Vice Presidents that I was pretty close to. He told me that we are rewarded not on what we do, but on how we are viewed. If we are liked, then we will be rewarded well. If we are not, then those individuals won’t get much concerning raises or promotions. This person was well liked and because of this, the damage he caused was overlooked and even rewarded. And this is why politics can be detrimental to a business.
I was very naïve when I first started working for companies full time. I thought that if you did a good job, showed competence and worked hard that you would be rewarded. That does indeed happen to many people.
What I did not know, but came to understand was that you could be rewarded for the exact opposite of those things. For a while, I puzzled over why certain individuals were promoted. They were even lauded by the executives. Yet when I dealt with them or spoke with others regarding their actions, we could not ascertain how they had risen to a fairly important level in the company. Finally, I had an epiphany….
It was politics pure and simple.
I do not like politics. I cannot understand why people subject themselves to run for public office. If they are disliked for any reason or are a threat to the power structure, they and their family are trashed. And others who put on the happy face and kiss up, while being totally incompetent are hailed, as the greatest leaders ever. Unfortunately the same is true in business.
I really despise politics in the workplace.
I am not good at it and don’t really want to be. I feel that by “playing the game” I am sacrificing my ethics and who I am. I want to do the right things and to get along with everyone. But, I am not willing to do so by trying to pretend to be someone who I am not. Nor will I suck up to someone for whom I have little or no regard, just to get ahead.
Dysfunctional politics can sink an organization.
The reality is that politics is prevalent. It’s accepted as another influencing process along with norms, formal authority and expertise. To get along it’s important to understand the forms it can take. And how to use it for the well-being of the organization and your own preservation.
When deployed effectively, politics can help the company meet its strategic goals and live up to its values. But, we would be naive if we didn’t acknowledge politics as a potentially destructive force when misused. In too many instances it is.
Politics also involves compromise.
Not every idea or plan that you develop will be taken as originally drawn up. After being reviewed and discussed by others, changes will inevitably be made. There will be compromises regarding what is to be accomplished, how it will be done, and who will do it. The tricky part is to not allow it to be changed so much or watered down that it barely resembles what you started with.
How you deal with company politics is up to you. I learned to play the game, but only on my own terms. It cost me in certain respects. But, I knew that at the end of the day I could live with myself, even if it cost me a higher position and a larger salary and bonus.
When I had had enough I went into my own business as a consultant.
There is politics there as well, but to a different degree than in working for a company. And I could pick and choose who I wanted to work with and for and who I didn’t.
At dinner with a client one night, he asked me if I had any regrets with my career and how I conducted business. I told him, “No, not at all”. I believe that and continue to operate that way today and will do so for as long as I am in business.