COMING from a large corporate background, I have been treated to master classes in political behaviour simply by observing colleagues and superiors engaged in their favourite pastime.
Surprisingly, I have also seen the same kind of behaviours in lots of smaller businesses. Many refer to it as playing the game.
Is there value in political manoeuvring or is it simply dysfunctional behaviour that has no place in business?
I have vivid memories of one of my bosses telling me that I needed to cease having lunch in the work restaurant with friends if I wanted to enjoy career progression.
Instead, I was told who I ought to have lunch with from Monday to Thursday and to reserve lunch with friends for Fridays.
I was shocked at the time to learn that career progression came from schmoozing with the “right people” and not from hard work and measurable performance.
Was I simply naïve or was this a common reality?
Unfortunately, it has proved that my boss was offering sound advice. But does it really have to be that way, and particularly in smaller and more nimble businesses?
I have always intensely disliked the idea that employees should have to endure the indignity of massaging egos to hold onto their jobs or gain well deserved promotions.
I abhor the idea that honesty has no place in business and that you should tell your superiors what they want to hear.
Perhaps this is the reason, more than any other, why I have chosen not to stay in the corporate sector.
However, dysfunctional behaviour such as politicking is not confined to large corporate entities. It is pervasive and all too common in smaller organisations as well.
Politics in business has the tendency to create “groupthink”, where everyone espouses the same views in order to fit in.
Being an independent thinker is often frowned upon. Bright people fear to put their heads above the parapet.
Well, guess what?
The meltdown of the financial services sector in recent years has resulted directly from this herding tendency.
So how do you banish this turgid behaviour from your business?
You do so by exhibiting leadership in your business.
The chief executive officer must surround himself with executives and board members who are not afraid to challenge the status quo. Diverse opinion and open discussion must be encouraged.
Shining the shoes of superiors should result in negative consequences for the shiner, metaphorically speaking, of course.
Political appointees simply perpetuate the problem of groupthink in a business.
Replace them with people who espouse ethical behaviour and openness.
Create a policy for corporate governance that makes it clear to all how your business adheres to ethical business standards.
Honesty and openness in business is what creates value. Promotion should be on the basis of real contribution and merit.
If senior executives or board members display political behaviours, then this ought to have negative consequences for them.
It is all about making it clear to all employees that there will be a policy of zero tolerance.
Reward the right behaviours
Ensure that your performance measurement system and reward structure result in the right behaviours.
Encourage diverse opinion and open discussion. You don’t want a democracy but you certainly need a meritocracy.
The surprising thing that happens when you decide to transform your business from political favouring towards meritocracy is that the underlying culture of the business changes for the better.
The work ethic changes radically. There is more contribution from those who preferred to stay in the background in the past. Staff morale goes up and so does productivity and profitability.
It takes courage to move away from politics and to challenge the status quo but the benefits can be enormous.
In my view, politics has absolutely no role in small and medium businesses.