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Dealing with Organizational Politics – All Part of the BRM’s Kitbag

Value Centric Leadership / 07 Dec 2015 / By Robina Chatham

In the workplace, organizational politics are a fact of life.  Organizations, being made up of people, are essentially political institutions.  All business professionals need to be adept at dealing with political situations, but some are better at it than others.  

Researchers Baddeley and James studied leaders who had attained long-term political success within their organizations.  They attributed their success to the following two key dimensions:

1.  Acting from an informed and knowledgeable position that demonstrates:

  • An understanding of the decision-making processes within their organization.
  • An awareness of both the overt and covert agendas of the key decision makers.
  • An innate understanding of who has the power within the organization and what gives one power.
  • A willingness to go above that extra mile to help others even if it is not part of their job description.
  • An understanding of the style and culture of the organization.
  • A sense of the meaning of ‘politics’ in the context of their organization. 

2.  Acting with integrity as defined by the following principles:

  • Avoiding playing psychological games with people.
  • Accepting themselves and others for what they are – human beings who all have their associated strengths, weaknesses and imperfections.
  • Seeking to find win-win strategies in difficult/conflicting situations.

The model below (adapted from the work of Baddeley and James) utilizes these two dimensions.  Each quadrant is illustrated with an animal analogy to create a political zoo.  The innocent sheep acts with integrity but hasn’t a clue about what is going on in the organizational sense.  The clever fox knows exactly what is going on but uses this knowledge to exploit the weaknesses of others.  The inept baboon neither acts with integrity nor knows what is going on.  The wise dolphin possesses both understanding and integrity and hence represents my icon of political success.


Figure 1: The political zoo

Figure 1: The political zoo 

As an IT business partner looking to bridge the gap between Enterprise IT and the business, ‘dolphinism’ should always be your aim.  You need to demonstrate your worth, the benefits of working with you, and also be someone who can be trusted and relied upon.  As a BRM you do not have position power to fall back on, so people have to want to do business with you. 

The five single most important things you can do are:

  1. Develop your network – build positive relationships with everyone and anyone; create allies and advocates, build coalitions and alliances.  Use your network to find out what is going on, to learn, to acquire those nuggets of wisdom and to tap into the organizational grapevine. 

  2. Be someone that can be trusted – always do what you will say you will do, never give people false hopes.  Don’t give empty promises because it is the easiest thing to do, and genuinely mean what you say.  Remember when it comes to trust, actions speak louder than words. 

  3. Be generous – give a little of yourself to others, whether that’s your time, your expertise, your knowledge, your help, your support, without expecting anything in return.  Look for the good in others, assume they have good intentions and stay curious to find out what these are even when they are not obvious or the person is behaving negatively.  Be prepared to forgive and offer people a face-saving route if they need to change their minds or behave differently.

  4. Listen and learn – actively listen to others, focus on what they are saying rather than thinking about what you are going to say next.  Accept what they say without judgment or criticism, try to put yourself in their shoes and view the situation from their perspective – you may learn something that surprises you.  Remember that perception is reality in the eye of the beholder. 

  5. People are far more likely to do something that you want them to do if there is something in it for them.
    Look for the win-win – if you want somebody to do something for you, always consider why they should do it; the ‘what’s in it for them’ question.  Think about why you do things that others have asked of you, or why you haven’t, as the case may be.  It may be because you like the person, because it is an interesting task or because it will enhance your skills or reputation.  It could be to gain ‘brownie’ points, because you owe someone or to build trust and of course many, many more reasons.  People are far more likely to do something that you want them to do if there is something in it for them.  Learn people’s motivators and tap into them; this way you will engage both heart and mind. 

Remember the key is in the title B ‘Relationship’ M.  As a BRM, relationships are the foundations to everything you do, they are the gateway to being heard and respected.  Never forget that ‘being right’ is not enough!

Footnote: This post is extracted from Robina’s fourth book, The Art of IT Management: Practical tools, techniques and people skillsISBN: 978-1-78017-290-3

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