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Monday, July 16, 2012

Politics: Power in Action - Power and Politics

Politics is defined as those activities that are not required as part of one’s formal role in the organization, but that influence, or attempt to influence, the distribution of advantages and disadvantages within the organization.
Organizational politics is the management of influence to obtain ends not sanctioned by the organization or to obtain sanctioned ends through non-sanctioned means and the art of creative compromise among competing interests. The above definition clearly points out the following:

a. Political behavior fall outside the ambit of one’s specified job requirements.

b. It includes efforts to influence the goals, criteria, or processes employed for decision-making.

c. It includes a variety of political behaviors such as, withholding vital information from decision makers, whistle-blowing, spreading rumors, leaking confidential information, etc.

In this context, it is necessary to make a distinction between legitimate and illegitimate power dimensions within organizational contexts.

The “Legitimate-Illegitimate” Dimension may be explained in terms of the following (Farrell & Peterson, 1988):

Ø  Legitimate political behavior refers to normal everyday politics–complaining to your supervisor, bypassing the chain of command, forming coalitions, etc.

Ø  Illegitimate political behaviors that violate the implied rules of the game, such as sabotage, whistle blowing, and symbolic protests, etc.

Ø  The vast majority of all organizational political actions are legitimate. The extreme illegitimate forms of political behavior pose a very real risk of loss of organizational membership or extreme sanction.

There are two quite different schools of thought found existing in the analysis of literature on organizational politics.

The first tradition builds on Machiavelli’s philosophy and defines politics in terms of self-interest and the use of non-sanctioned means. In this tradition, organizational politics may be formally defined as the management of influence to obtain ends not sanctioned by the organization or to obtain sanctioned ends through non-sanctioned influence means. Managers are often considered political when they seek their own goals or use means that are not currently authorized by the organization or that push legal limits. Where there is uncertainty or ambiguity, it is often extremely difficult to tell whether a manager is being political in this self-serving sense (Pfeffer, 1981).

The second tradition treats politics as a necessary function resulting from differences in the self-interests of individuals. Here, organizational politics is viewed as the art of creative compromise among competing interests. In a heterogeneous society, individuals will disagree as to whose self-interests are most valuable and whose concerns should, therefore, be bounded by collective interests. Politics come into play as individuals need to develop compromises, avoid confrontation, and co-exist together. The same holds true in organizations, where individuals join, work, and stay together because of their self-interests being served. It is equally important to remember that the goals of the organization and the acceptable means are established by organizationally powerful individuals in negotiation with others. Thus, organizational politics is also the use of power to develop socially acceptable ends and means that balance individual and collective interests.

Factors Contributing to Political Behavior

1. Individual factors:

Researchers have identified certain personality traits, needs, and other factors that are likely to be related to political behavior. They are as follows:

a. Employees who are high self-monitors, possess an internal locus of control, and have a high need for power are more likely to engage in political behavior.

b. The high self-monitor is more sensitive to social cues and in all probability be more likely to be skilled in political behavior than the low self-monitor.

c. Individuals with an internal locus of control are more prone to take a proactive stance and attempt to manipulate situations in their favor.

d. The Machiavellian personality is comfortable using politics as a means to further his/her self-interest and does not see it as an unethical action..

A person’s investment in the organization, perceived alternatives, and expectations of success will influence the tendency to pursue illegitimate means of political action. The following alternatives are possible in this context:

a. The more that a person has invested and the more a person has to lose, the less likely he/she is to use illegitimate means.

b. The more alternative job opportunities an individual has, a prominent reputation, or influential contacts outside the organization, the more likely he/she will risk illegitimate political actions.

c. A low expectation of success in using illegitimate means reduces the probability of its use.

1. Organizational factors:

Political activity has got to do more with the organization’s characteristics than of individual difference variables. When an organization’s resources are declining, and the existing pattern of resources is changing, as also when there is opportunity for promotions, politics is more likely to come into play and surface. Certain important findings in this regard are:

Ø  Cultures characterized by low trust, role ambiguity, unclear performance evaluation systems, zero-sum reward allocation practices, democratic

Ø  decision-making, high pressures for performance, and self-serving senior managers will create fertile grounds for politicking.

Ø  When organizations downsize to improve efficiency, people may engage in political actions to safeguard their existing status-quo.

Ø  Promotion decisions have consistently been found to be one of the most political in organizations.

Ø  The less trust there is within the organization, the higher the level of political behavior and the more likely it will be illegitimate.

Ø  Role ambiguity means that the prescribed behaviors of the employee are not clear. The greater the role ambiguity, the more one may engage in political activity since there is little chance of it being visible..

Ø  Making organizations less autocratic by asking managers to behave more democratically is not necessarily embraced by all individual managers. Internally if the managers believe in autocracy they would use the required committees, conferences, and group meetings in a superficial way as arenas for maneuvering and manipulating.

Ø  Top management may set the climate for politicking by engaging in certain behaviors, thereby giving a signal to people below in the order that is alright to engage in such behavior. When employees see top management successfully engaging in political behavior, a climate is created that supports politicking.

To counter the effects of politicking and protect oneself in organizational contexts, individuals may use three strategies:

1) Avoid action and risk taking

2) Redirect accountability and responsibility

3) Defend their turf.

Avoidance: Avoidance is quite common in controversial areas where the employee must risk being wrong or where actions may yield a sanction. The most common reaction is to “work to the rules.” That is, employees are protected when they adhere strictly to all the rules, policies, and procedures or do not allow deviations or exceptions.

Redirecting Responsibility: Politically sensitive individuals will always protect themselves from accepting blame for the negative consequences of their actions. Again, a variety of well-worn techniques may be used for redirecting responsibility. “Passing the buck” is a common method employees and managers use. The trick here is to define the task in such a way that it becomes someone else’s formal responsibility.

Defending Turf: Defending turf is a time-honored tradition in most large organizations. This results form the coalitional nature of organizations. That is, the organization may be seen as a collection of competing interests held by various departments and groups. As each group tries to increase its influence, it starts to encroach on the activities of other groups.

There are certain other interesting findings regarding people’s responses to organizational politics

Research evidence indicates strong points out that perception of organizational politics are negatively related to job satisfaction. The perception of politics results in anxiety or stress. And when it gets too much to handle, employees leave the organizations. It may thus be a de-motivating force and performance may suffer as a result. The effect of politics is moderated by the knowledge the individual has of the decision making system and his/her political skills. In this regard the following observations have been made:

Ø  High political skills individuals often have improved performance.

Ø  Low political skills individuals often respond with defensive behaviors–reactive and protective behaviors to avoid action, change, or blame.

Reaction to organizational politics is also influenced by culture. In countries that are more unstable politically, workers will tolerate higher levels of politicking than more politically stable counties

D. Farrell and J. C Petersen define political behaviour in organizations as "those activities that are not required as part of one's formal role in the organization, but that influence, or attempt to influence, the distribution of advantages and disadvantages within the organization". The table below summarizes basic ways people use political behaviour.

Ways to use political behavior

What They Can Influence
Face- To-Face Methods
Exercise of power based on position
Behaviour within zone that the other perceives as legitimate in light of the obligation.
Quick - requires   no outlay of tangible resources.
If the request is   outside the
acceptable zone, it will fail; if it is too far outside, others might see it as illegitimate.
Exercise of power based on Perceived expertise.
Attitudes and
behaviour within the zone of perceived expertise.
Quick - requires   no outlay of tangible resources.
If the request is   outside the acceptable zone, it will fail; if it is too far outside, others   might see it as illegitimate
Exercise of power based on identification with a manager.
Attitudes and
behaviour that are not in conflict with
the ideals that underlie the identification.
Quick - requires   no expenditure of limited resources.
Restricted to influence attempts that are not in conflict with the ideals that underlie the identification.
Exercise of power based on perceived dependence.
Wide range of behaviour that can be easily monitored.
Quick - can often succeed when other methods fail.
Repeated influence attempts encourage the other to gain power over the influencer.
Coercive exercise of power based on perceived dependence.
Wide range of behaviour that can be easily monitored.
Quick - can often succeed when other methods fail.
Invites retaliation - very risky.
Use persuasion.
Very wide range   of attitudes and behaviour.
Can produce internalized
motivation that   does not require monitoring;
requires no power or outlay of scarce material resources.
Can be very time-consuming- requires other person to listen.
Combine these   methods.
Depends on the   exact combination.
Can be more potent and less risky than using a single method.
More costly than using a single method.
Indirect Methods
Manipulate the other's environment by using any or all of the face-to-face methods.
Wide range of behaviour and attitudes.
Can succeed when face-to-face methods fail.
Can be time-consuming; is
complex to implement; is very risky, especially if used frequently.
Change the forces that continuously act on the individual; formal organizational arrangements, informal social arrangements, technology, resources available, statement of organizational goals.
Wide range of
behaviour and
attitudes on a continuous basis.
Has continuous   influence, not just a one-shot effect; can have a very powerful impact.
Often requires a   considerable power outlay to achieve.

Maccoby’s Four Political Types:

In his book "The Gamesman", Michael Maccoby describes four types of organizational politicians. They are:

1. The Craftsman: Craftsmen, driven by achievement, are the least political. They are often technical specialists who like details and precision. The person is usually quiet, sincere, modest and practical.

2. The Jungle Fighter: Jungle fighters, although very different in behaviour, are apt to be active politicians. Unafraid to step on others to get ahead, this fighter believes employees should be used to get ahead in the company. They desire success at any cost. There are two types of jungle fighters:

a. Foxes: The foxes make their nests in the organization and manoeuvre from this safe base.

b. Lions: Conquer others' territories and build empires.

3. Company man or women: As politicians go, these are conservative people. They possess a strong desire for affiliation and may not exhibit a lot of political behaviour. In fact, this individual's identity rests with the powerful, protective company. The concern of such people is for humans; however, they are more involved with security than success and may miss opportunities that arise.

4. The Gamesman: The gamesmen are apt politicians. They view business as a game and take calculated risks. The Gamesman tends to be charismatic, thrives on challenge and competition and motivates employees with enthusiasm.

The major contribution of Maccoby's work is that it shows that individuals differ in their behaviour as political actors.

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