“I don’t play politics.” It’s not uncommon to hear an HR pro utter this phrase, usually colored with a tone that hints of disdain and self-righteousness. It seems than many of us in the business of HR have decided that politics are root of all evil within our organizations. This is a mistake. Adopting a mindset that politics is evil can be the kiss of death for any ambitious professional.
Politics is a natural part of any organization or group of people. If you look up the definition of politics, this is what you’ll find:
Politics is a process by which groups of people make collective decisions. It consists of “social relations involving authority or power.“
When two or more people come together as a group for a common purpose, there is politics. Your family has politics. Decisions within your family are made in a certain way. The amount of input a child is allowed to have in family decisions is politics. The way spouses make major (or minor) purchasing decisions is politics. Politics are everywhere.
Politics is a process. They aren’t good or bad. They simply exist and they affect how work and life happen every day. But political systems like our companies involve people and that’s where things get complicated. People can have hidden or ulterior motives that drive how they use politics. And that’s where politics has gotten its bad wrap. Bad behavior within the political system doesn’t make the politics bad.
So, the HR leader who wants to be successful must become a student of political systems. Rather than “playing” politics, study them. Be curious about how decisions are made and how information travels. Observe how people play the game and make note of their behavior. Because, once you understand the political system, you can use that information to navigate successfully to create positive change.
Below are a list of questions that are useful when studying corporate politics:
- How do major decisions really get made?
- Who seems to be involved in every decision?
- What factors are considered most frequently in promotional decisions here?
- Who has risen up the corporate ladder the quickest? What is the story about how that happened?
- Who has the most power to help me make change and what do they care about?
- Who has the most power to prevent me from making change and what do they care about?
- Who are people most intimidated by within the organization?
- Outside of the CEO, who appears to have the most power to affect corporate direction?
If you can get objective answers to these questions, you will be well on your way to understanding the political system within your organization. And, you’ll have a road map for how to navigate your way through that system to do the important work you need to do to propel your company forward.
Jason Lauritsen is a former human resources executive turned consultant and keynote speaker. His company, Bulletproof Talent, helps organizations to develop accountable leaders and employees who are bulletproof to their circumstances. Bulletproof Talent helps organizations implement a more reality-based approach to employee engagement and talent development. Jason is the co-author of the book, Social Gravity: Harnessing the Natural Laws of Relationships and is half of the dynamic and provocative speaking duo, Talent Anarchy.