Leading beyond Office Politics
Managing people is like herding cats. Beyond being terribly independent, employees can as in the swish of a cat’s tail be the best of co-workers. The next are barring teeth while plotting at the water cooler. How then does one lead beyond office politics that fuel many of the confrontations to ongoing disharmony in the workplace?
1. Conduct and Values
The first key is leadership must craft and then share a Code of Conduct or a Values Statement. This is a statement of acceptable behaviours to be demonstrated not only in the office but outside as well including social media. Values statements are part of the overall strategic planning process. One of the reasons these are not found in many small businesses because they have no strategic plan. Hence why so many firms have the herding cats issue when it comes to office politics.
During this sharing, leadership not only reviews the acceptable behaviors, but they also provide examples of non-acceptable behaviors. For example, many businesses include the word “respect” in their Values Statements. Those who engage at gossiping at the water cooler would inform such behavior is non-acceptable because it violates the stated positive core value of “respect.”
When employees believe they can behave in this way or that way, they must be informed their behaviors are causing harm to others including the organization. Until they are formally notified, personal agendas and conflicts can continue to drive unacceptable behaviors. These behaviours fan the flames of the fire of office politics leading to even more discontent and lost profits.
By not informing employees drains the productivity and hence profits of any organization. A survey published in 2004 by SCQuARE of 1,500 managers and management consultants, revealed the UK British economy lost £6.2 billion a year in lost productivity due to office politics. This survey also suggested the average manager lost 1.5 days of work each week due to time-wasting impact of office politics as well as unproductive meetings. Yes, office politics is costly, very costly.
2. Bad behavior is called out
The second key again is owned by leadership who must consistently enforce the Values Statement. People, like cats, when given an inch will take a mile or the entire bed.
Bad behavior must be called out and warnings given to the offenders. Ignoring the contrary behaviors only weakens the overall organization. Cracks appear from the foundation up all the way to the Boardroom.
Not only must those below the Boardroom be called out, so must the C-Suite. Executive leadership must model the Code of Conduct. They too must be called on the carpet when they fail to lead by example. Unfortunately, there appears to be still too much of “Do what I say and not what I do” leadership mentality.
3. Cultivate emotional intelligence
Emotional intelligence is the third key. This key is owned by C Suite Leadership to the front line workers. When individuals recognize and understand the emotions of others; recognize and understand their own emotions and then learn how to manage both, everyone is far better off.
The research on emotional intelligence coupled with ongoing brain research supports this is a key skill to manage people who comprise the office politics. Those individuals who are emotionally intelligent have the ability to diffuse confrontation and encourage collaboration.
4. Training and coaching
Finally, the fourth key is training and coaching. Many individuals require some training around emotional intelligence, communication, teamwork, etc. and then ongoing coaching to ensure their skills are being consistently applied.
For example, the word “need” from an emotional intelligence perspective is viewed as being judgmental to critical. When employees learn how to change their words, along with their body language, this suggests they are becoming more aware of the emotions of others as well as their own.
Additionally, the organization can appoint two coach liaisons who can coach out an effective resolution to a dispute created by office politics. These individuals would understand the difference between training, mentoring and coaching.
When these four keys are used together to unlock the productivity and potential in the workplace, office politics can be dramatically reduced and better yet even eliminated. The challenge is making an investment in all four keys and to avoid the quick-fix mentality that appears to infect some organizations. Behaviors, like Rome, were not built in a day and will not change overnight.
This post has been reviewed and updated in October 2019