Tuesday, November 16, 2010

In Business, You Get What You Expect

Clients sometimes say to me, “this organization is just too political.” At times it gets more specific, “that guy is a political animal."   With some folks there is resignation:  “I’m no good at politics; I need to get out of here!”  Politics are considered frustrating and counter-productive, which is often true.

In the business context, the word “politics” certainly has its negative connotations.  It stirs up images of the “yes man” (or woman), the “back stabber” (driven out of control by ambition), and the individual that says one thing and does another.  Why does anyone put up with this?  

The answer is simple:  You can’t avoid it. 

Anyone with kids has seen this play out from the earliest years.  Our twins were keeping score when they we two years old.  If you complimented one, you were neglecting the other.  At two they were competing for power in very simple and effective ways.

A business leader is expected to bring in the best talent, create a high performing organization, and hit the numbers.  In the “thrust and parry” of competition, there will be winners and losers.  No matter what, politics will be hovering around. 
So what should a leader do?  It is all about keeping it simple and clearly communicating your values.

People will model your behavior.  If want to minimize the impact of politics, be clear about what’s important.

Here is a simple exercise.  

Write down on a sheet of paper a single word you associate with a “political” organization. It should reflect behavior you have seen with your people.  Then come up with its opposite.

For example:

Negative                     Positive

BS                                Straight Talk

Showboat                    Team Player

Blame                          Accountability

Following this example you would simply, concisely, and frequently communicate to your organization that you value and expect: Straight Talk, Team work, and Accountability. In every interaction, you would consciously model these behaviors.  With the passage of time, the values will become second nature; most employees will be able to name and describe them. 

With all of the management theory and programs available regarding “culture change,” it's easy to forget the simple fact that really do you get what you expect!  If you want to minimize the negative effects of Politics, be clear about your values. Your folks will appreciate it.

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