Dealing with corporate politics and politicians
Once a young boy went to a "Boishakhi Mela" with his father and came upon a vendor selling parrots, which he wished to have dearly. The father inquired about the price of the first one and the vendor quoted Tk 2,000. When asked why it was so costly, the vendor replied that it knew Word, Excel and PowerPoint! Bewildered, the father turned to another one, only to find that this one was a whopping Tk 4,000 because this one knew programming too. Frustrated, he turned to a sleeping one and hoped the price of this one would be much less. But to his utter surprise, the vendor quoted Tk 10,000! Confused the father asked what this one could do. And the vendor replied that he had not seen it do anything but the other two called it boss!
Like the two parrots, it is common in the corporate world to pamper leaders of the organisation in such a manner that they often tend to forget what they are valued for. The leaders start to believe in themselves for all the wrong reasons. Fraught with corporate politics, often organisations get divided into groups or camps of different leaders or managers. People at the lower level try to get close to the powerhouse and the perceived easiest route is through flattering, humouring and indulging. And most leaders often fall into this trap! From the corporate leaders' end, the politics often starts with individuals or groups within a company competing for power, influence and resources. This can happen at any level in the company's leadership structure.
Some common practices of corporate politics are – backstabbing a colleague and boss, forming malicious alliances against other colleagues or groups, gossiping or spreading rumors, intentionally withholding information to put others into trouble and bullying.
How to identify the culprits of corporate politics? Generally, they are those who always agree with the boss, no matter what. I find that they have a very interesting similarity with magicians. They both use smoke and mirrors to distract you from the truth. Those who are seasoned at the corporate political game know how to work the system and seem to always keep a finger in the air, trying to figure out which way the wind is blowing. Such leaders lack character and go with the flow!
Corporate politics is the key cause of dissatisfaction, reduced productivity, low morale, mistrust and loss of talented resources. When I joined the telecom industry, I had encountered fierce power plays within the organisation in various divisions. It worked for some, as the company used to work in a silo. After a year of hard work, we could reduce the level of politics by removing the silo. In doing so, we significantly improved the collaboration culture by introducing a cross-functional team with a lot of empowerments. There must not be more than one powerhouse in an organisation.
Eliminating corporate politics is not always in our hands. But it can be managed better by developing soft skills, maintaining formal and informal relationships, positive and open communication and understanding the power flow. In summary, the culture of collaboration and open communication come hand in hand with trust and performance. If corporate politics reaches an extent where its toxicity can be felt in the general atmosphere of work, then its key players should be removed by those who are in the position to do so in order to restore a healthier work environment for all concerned.
Politics is everywhere – at home, at school, at work, at the club! However, politics can also create positive conflict which may drive clarity, innovation, and creativity, if it is constructive. Eliminating bad corporate politics may not always be possible, but it can be managed to a large extent. If corporate leaders sincerely strive towards the best practice, then our national leaders would do the same for our country!
The author is a telecom and management expert.