Last time, we began taking a look at a number of common management mistakes that only seem obvious when we’re looking back. Because we are strengths-based in our thinking, we spend more time focusing on what’s going right in an organization – or with a leader – than what is going wrong. But these mistakes can be career-killers if you make them often enough. The good news is that you don’t have to make them at all! We continue our series today…
(To read part 1, click here).
Playing favorites. The best way to create sibling rivalry is to treat one sibling in a special way. This immediately generates rivalry and resentment in the family. And when an atmosphere of rivalry has been created, all manner of mischief will unfold (e.g. sabotage, blame-shifting). It’s the same thing in organizations.
Peers do not normally celebrate the fact that a coworker has been acknowledged and accorded special favors (e.g. access to the boss, special assignments, etc.). But for a variety of reasons, not everyone on a team can be treated the same.
As an example, resources are often distributed unevenly. The issue becomes apparent when special favors are granted to certain team members over others. More often than not this has to do with access to the manager – I can ‘grab the manager’s ear’ more than you can!
If there is a need for certain team members to have greater access, resources, etc. over other team members, this needs to be acknowledged up front, in the presence of the entire team, so that the rationale can be spelled out. Generally speaking, the only good reason is when such an arrangement is critical to the accomplishment of the organizational mission in some way.
Not minding the political landscape. Every organization of three or more people is a political organization. This is inescapable.
Organizational politics are informal, unofficial, and sometimes behind-the-scenes efforts to sell ideas, influence an organization, increase power, or achieve other targeted objectives. Work in organizations requires skill in handling conflicting agendas and shifting power bases. Effective politics isn’t about winning at all costs but about maintaining relationships while achieving results.
Organizational politics are not inherently bad. Instead, it’s important to be aware of the potentially destructive aspects of organizational politics in order to minimize their negative effect. Of course, individuals within organizations can waste time engaging in political behavior. HR Magazine found that managers waste 20% of their time managing politics. However, as John Kotter wrote,: “Without political awareness and skill, we face the inevitable prospect of becoming immersed in bureaucratic infighting, parochial politics and destructive power struggles, which greatly retard organizational initiative, innovation, morale, and performance.”
Power issues often arise around scarce resources. Organizations typically have limited resources that must be allocated in some way. Individuals and groups within the organization may disagree about how those resources should be allocated, so they may naturally seek to gain those resources for themselves or for their interest groups, which gives rise to organizational politics.
Simply put individuals will ally themselves with like-minded others in an attempt to win the scarce resources. They’ll engage in behavior typically seen in government organizations, such as bargaining, negotiating, alliance building, and resolving conflicting interests. Politics are a part of organizational life, because organizations are made up of different interests that must be aligned.
In fact, 93% of managers surveyed reported that workplace politics exist in their organization, and 70% felt that in order to be successful, a person has to engage in politics. In the negative light, saying that someone is “political” generally stirs up images of back-room dealing, manipulation, or hidden agendas for personal gain. A person engaging in these types of political behaviors is said to be engaging in self-serving behavior that is not sanctioned by the organization.
Examples of these self-serving behaviors include bypassing the chain of command to get approval for a special project, going through improper channels to obtain special favors, or lobbying high-level managers just before they make a promotion decision. These types of actions undermine fairness in the organization, because not everyone engages in politicking to meet their own objectives.
Those who follow proper procedures often feel jealous and resentful because they perceive unfair distributions of the organization’s resources, including rewards and recognition. Researchers have found that if employees think their organization is overly driven by politics, the employees are less committed to the organization, have lower job satisfaction, perform worse on the job, have higher levels of job anxiety, and have a higher incidence of depressed mood.
The negative side of organizational politics is more likely to flare up in times of organizational change or when there are difficult decisions to be made and a scarcity of resources that breeds competition among organizational groups. To minimize overly political behavior, company leaders can provide equal access to information, model collaborative behavior, and demonstrate that political maneuvering will not be rewarded or tolerated.
Furthermore, leaders should encourage managers throughout the organization to provide high levels of feedback to employees about their performance. High levels of feedback reduce the perception of organizational politics and improve employee morale and work performance. Remember that politics can be a healthy way to get things done within organizations.
Not doing the little things that build trust and a positive culture. Trust is built on numerous little behaviors performed – often unconsciously – in the course of relating to people. These ongoing behaviors establish a pattern of behavior, which demonstrates to everyone the priorities and commitments to which a person is dedicated. Because these ongoing behaviors are largely unconscious, the danger of acting in violation of our stated values is very high.
In other words, I may say that I am committed to the value of developing the professional competence of my direct reports, but in actual behavior, I rarely if ever demonstrate this by carefully discussing a report’s career trajectory and how I can assist in helping that report realize their goals and aspirations. This incongruence between stated values, and lived values and priorities is the principle cancer that eats away at trust.
Failing to discuss a report’s career goals may seem like a small thing, but this type of casual and forgetful behavior often points to a larger pattern that demonstrates that the things I say do not match the way I live.
Photo cred: Mathis Group