Politics are present in just about every organization out there. The main issue is if those politics are legitimate or illegitimate and how they impact the work environment. We will look at this issue in this lesson.
Not Just for Politicians
Politics. It's surprising that a word as simple as 'politics' could elicit such automatic thoughts and visions in our minds. Some of us might envision a politician speaking about why we should do this or why that particular law should or should not happen. What we are seeing is a person with an agenda, one he or she wants to push through, and they are speaking about it to persuade individuals to their side.
In the business world, we can see that politics is actually some sort of activities where a person goes after a goal or something they want that is focused on their particular interests. The challenge is these individuals can do this either legitimately or illegitimately with varying reasons and consequences.
Two Types of Behavior
Looking at politics in the business world, we need to understand that there are two types, legitimate and illegitimate. Legitimate have far fewer reaching implications than illegitimate because legitimate politics fall within the guidelines of what could be considered normal or acceptable in the business world. I am not saying that legitimate politics are always right, but they are not intended to harm individuals and are part of everyday life in the business world.
For example, you might need a certain machine, which is in the hands of another department, to get your work done. You might start talking to your supervisor about how you need a machine like that and you have more use for it than other departments. Notice, you are not outright saying you want that machine, but rather you are, for lack of a better word, dancing around the issue, trying to push your own agenda.
So, by now you're thinking, okay, Rob, what makes these legitimate political business people cross over the line and start using illegitimate power? I wish the answer was an easy one, but quite frankly, it's not. Truthfully, people use illegitimate politics when they cannot get what they want by other, more acceptable means; or to be honest, they're just not good people. They see getting ahead at any cost or obtaining what they want as the key driver in their professional world and will do whatever they have to to obtain it.
As simple as it sounds, and this is where it gets kind of abstract, illegitimate politics goes against the spoken and unspoken rules of the business game. The reason it's abstract is those rules are in the eye of the beholder. What one person might think is within the rules, another might think it's outside the rules.
Causes and Consequences
For the most part, politics come into play in the business world when someone wants something they currently do not have. This could mean a position in the company, maybe more money, that choice account or any number of things. The level of politics seems to rise as that desired object increases in scarcity. The more scarce or coveted something is, the potential for the politics to move from legitimate to illegitimate - but once again, that resides on the individuals involved and how they view what the rules of the game are.
Consequences of politics are wide and deep. First, they are motivation killers. It's hard for individuals to stay motivated when they see fellow employees positioning themselves against each other to obtain what they want, even if that positioning is legitimate politicking. Next, individuals tend to pay more attention to the politics that are going on as opposed to their jobs, and that impacts productivity and quality.
They also kill the culture of an organization. The culture of the organization gets taken over by the politics and that becomes the culture of the company. Think about the organization trying to launch a new product or initiative, and everyone thinking more about how the employees are going to position themselves to get the most out of this new venture, as opposed to focusing on making the venture successful.
Finally, politics simply increases stress in the workplace. People begin to walk on eggshells and treat others differently for fear of reprisal or being sucked into politics and political issues they do not want to be involved with. They create an overall atmosphere of fear and self-preservation, which, in the end, builds into a mountain of stress.
As we can see, politics, whether legitimate or illegitimate, are not good for an organization but they are indeed present in all of them. The level and degree might change, but their presence is very real. There can be indeed legitimate politics, which fall within the guidelines of what can be or could be considered normal or acceptable in the business world, or illegitimate politics, which is when someone cannot get what they want by any other, more acceptable means. Regardless of the style of politics, they are usually open to the person's own thought process of what is right and what is wrong.
After watching this lesson, you should be able to describe the two types of political behavior in organizations and analyze their impact on a work environment.