Organizational politics can be defined as, "when observers view the tactics as self-serving behaviors at the expense of others and sometimes contrary to the interests of the entire organization or work unit"(McShane & Von Glinow, 2009). More often than not organizational politics has a negative stigma put against it. Many critics pose it to be a threat to the collaborative efforts and synergy of an organisation. This essay aims to identify the claims that political strategies are not conducive to the growth of a business attempt to discuss the possibly debilitating aspect of organizational politics as well as finding possible advantages for organizational politics to come to a balanced conclusion.
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In order to realise the extent and effect of organizational politics, one must first analyse the structure of an organisation. Academics conventionally understand the structure of an organisation to either be arranged either vertically or horizontally within groups and individuals and an organisation is made up of multiples of these groups and individuals therefore it is fair to assume that a group or individual is a microcosm of an organisation. Ideally, Each group would represent a certain designated task and be interdependent on other groups. However, in some instances workers will adapt to a competitive situation and can erroneously breed into self serving behaviour. Workers may even be inclined to bond together to form small decentralised groups that pay no attention to their work. One may perceive that situation to be an example of organizational politics albeit unconventional. A more perhaps conventional form of organizational politics may be when a coworker attempts to influence their boss using coercive techniques therefore showing that individuals often take actions that are directed towards the goal of furthering their own self interests without regard for the well being of others or their organisation(Kacmar and Baron, 1999). This shows that organizational politics deserves its negative stigma.
However, perhaps organizational politics could be viewed from a positive perspective. This is because it may have a positive influence on the relationship between the employer and employees which could then lead to departmental development which helps with the overall success of said organisation. In addition, it could be said that we can mitigate the detrimental effects of organizational politics by providing clear boundaries in terms of resource allocation, fraternisation, free flow of information and having ethical management(Davenport, Eccles & Prusak, 1992). Being able to ascertain the political conditions of a company will pose an advantage for leaders. It will be useful for them to know that the indicators needed to assess the political conditions of a company are job satisfaction levels, responsiveness to innovation, and the efficacy and speed of decision making(Buchanan & Badham, 2008). Understanding these factors will lead to a smoother political environment as well as enhancing their leadership credibility.
On the other hand, one thing that is often found within organisations is that the major source of conflicts is due to the differences between line managers and staff which could be said to be, "characterised by more conflict than cooperation"(Agarwal, 1983). This conflict is said to be caused by line managers being resistant to ideas postulated by staff. Staff have even claimed line managers to have little knowledge of practical solutions(Agarwal, 1983). This political climate is said to be caused by a myriad of factors including; the dependency of senior staff on line managers, unclear role delegations, and neglect from upper management. All these factors create a perfect storm for a toxic corporate environment caused by organizational politics. Moreover, in such a toxic corporate environment sources of conflict can permeate all the way through the organisation up to management. Upper management will attempt to endear themselves to their superiors whether it be the CEO or heads of departments. Attempts will be made to make themselves eligible for promotions. However, where conflicts begin to arise is when it is clear that the higher up the hierarchy, the fewer the prestigious positions available. This undoubtedly causes competitive rivalries among these employees as they attempt to outdo each other thus engaging in "competitive conflicts"(Alper, Tjosvold & Law, 2012). This reveals hidden agendas which could later set the basis for more substantial political battles. Therefore, it could be said that organizational politics inhibits cooperation among employees as it causes them to become more inclined to look after their own self interests. Although, it must be considered that organisational life is often characterised by politics but the challenge of a leader is to traverse the political climate adequately as well as ensuring rules are changed and improved so that politics do not prevent the organisation from changing and adapting to new challenges.
There is some management literature that posits that the detrimental effects organizational politics can be mitigated by an amalgamation of transparency and communication or even if needs be pruning dissenting sections of the workforce. However, this is dichotomised by certain findings that posit that conflict exists at all levels of an organisation. It could even be argued that organizational politics, "has to do with power not structure"(Mintzberg, 1989). What this means is that attempting to cultivate a culture predicated on transparency and communication will not be able to completely eradicate the political problem in a corporate environment. According to Mintzberg, an organisation functions on a myriad of influence systems including; authority, ideology, expertise, and politics. He then goes on to say that, "the first three can be considered legitimate in some sense". However, illegitimate ends may be a motivator using those factors. From this the argument could arise that organizational politics lowers the ethics of an organisation and therefore has no place in a company.
Undoubtedly, management is the derivation of organizational politics due to the amount of influence they hold over all aspects of an organisation including the workforce. A manager with organizational politics in mind will increase their leverage as it makes them more dynamic in order to more easily maneuver the inherently ingrained institutional politics that is commonplace in most organisations therefore making promotions more accessible to them. This shows the importance of the understanding of organizational politics for the advancement of one's career. Consequently, it can be surmised that managers have power in an organisation. However, it is important to understand the meaning and effect of power. In its base form, a corporate environment is predicated on the fact that employees have intrinsic needs and managers have the capability to extrinsically fulfil those needs(Singh, 2016). Power in an organisation has been said to, "encompass the capacity to engage in certain kinds of performance"(Wrong, 1979). In order to lower the negative effects of organizational politics, managers have the power to repress a toxic political environment that negatively impacts the attitudes of employees and therefore lowering organizational outputs. This is because of employee wants and organizational objectives are inextricably linked as if employee wants are not met then how can an organisation be expected to meet their organizational objectives. Therefore, it makes sense that combining these two maxims in order to have shared objectives will help with the realisation of personal needs. This as well as aided by the values of communication and transparency will help to cultivate a culture built on traditions of trust which helps to increase the level of trust in a company. This is crucial in ensuring that progressive values based on collaboration to achieve organizational goals take precedence on the cut-throat nature that organizational politics can be.
It is important for a manager to understand the organizational politics of their organisation so that they can build alliances that will serve them well in their career. Academics do have a consensus that there are pros and cons in organizational politics which can either result in a promotion or a demotion or even worse loss of a job. Organizational politics isn't exclusive to management but is an organisation wide process as each member of the workforce regardless of the level of importance will have partaken in power games at some point. Power games could be said to be a tool to secure organizational rewards (Fairholm, 2009). But it may be exclusive to a certain sect of the workforce as Fairholm then goes on to say that, "Older group members use it more than those newly inducted into the organisation. From this one can assume that the use of power games is more effective the more experience and longevity you have with the organisation as you may have more leverage and knowledge about the way the organisation works. As a result of this power games lower the equitable nature of the workplace as new inductees have less of a playing field than the more tenured employees. In order to make things easier for new inductees they should consider undertaking the following factors; create alliances, admit mistakes, know and understand the chain of command, achieve credibility by pursuing favouritism, increase decision efficacy, avoid making powerful enemies, understand the motives of rivals, make your goals at one with organizational goals, and seek common ground in arguments by agreeing to disagree.(Forster & Browne, 1996)
It is important to not discount the political influence of departments as it pertains to the organizational structure. Departments are formed in organisations due to division of labour in an organisation. These departments undoubtedly are a microcosm of the political alignments of the upper management who oversee and supervise said departments and even the organisation as a whole. Ensuring that political alignments are in tune with employees compared to functional goals is of vital importance to the effectiveness of departments even if they may not be parallel to each other. The political influence of departments can be best illustrated through a scenario involving specific departments. For example, the marketing department has a myriad of functions including; boosting sales and diversifying company products. Whereas, the production department has to make sure inventory systems are as robust as possible and keeping stocks of products intact. The result of this particular scenario is the possible political alignment of the employees in both departments due to the product centric nature of both departments. Although it must be noted that both departments will have differences caused by the division of labour which are then strengthened through distinctions in the training, backgrounds, and previous socialisation of individuals(Pfeiffer, 1981).
An example of where organizational politics was commonplace was in Apple. Although Steve Jobs was known as an innovator and game changer in the tech industry, he was infamous for cultivating a toxic political environment prior to his initial removal as CEO in 1985. He demanded perfection and openly encouraged faction wars between different project teams. Jobs was known to be, "one of the great intimidators"(Kramer, 2006). Upon analysis of Jobs' leadership style, it could be said to derive its effectiveness from coercive power which is described as, "threat of physical, social, or financial harm in the absence of compliant behaviour"(Kotler, 1986). The result of all this was lower job satisfaction in certain sections of the Apple workforce. However, Jobs was also reported to imbue his employees with a "messianic zeal", to make them feel that they are working on the world's best product thus giving them a sense of relevance and giving meaning to their work. Here, Jobs is using referent power which is when, "intermediaries are proud to be identified with the manufacturer"(Kotler & Armstrong, 2015). Although this could be construed as an example of organizational politics, it is for the betterment of the company in order for workers to not be alienated from their work which means they'll identify with it more and thus provide higher quality work which will undoubtedly benefit Apple.
In conclusion, organizational politics is a natural part of corporate life but it is a controversial and conscientious issue. On the one hand, untenable levels of political behaviour would lower job satisfaction, hence lowering worker performance to the detriment of the company. On the other hand, academics such as Wong and Pfeiffer have come to a consensus that attempting to completely suppress organizational politics is a futile exercise due to the intrinsic nature of competition and survival imbued in humans which is only strengthened in a merit driven work culture. There are many reasons as to why politics and competition is breeded in the workplace but it seems that the overarching theme is scarcity of resources. As employees on all levels of the corporate ladder compete for positions, monetary incentives and other miscellaneous objectives. However, an organisation only has so many resources to go round. Therefore employees will compete for resources so they can have what is available. Consequently, Organisational politics can be used as leverage to claim these scarce resources. Overall, although it is important to be aware of the potentially inimical effects of organizational politics in order to minimise their negative effect, John Kotter put it best when he said, "we face the inevitable prospect of becoming immersed in bureaucratic infighting(..)which greatly retard organizational initiative and performance" (Kotter, 1985). Therefore it could be fair to say that politics is an effective way to get things done in an organisation.
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