Office politics will eat management strategy for breakfast

By Scot Herrick | Job Performance

Feb 23

Ah, yes — strategy. It is what management does to determine the next direction for the team (or company) and is a way to out-flank the competition. Management strategy is the fun part about management because it is hard — but theoretical.

Execution of the management intent, however, is real. That means, if not handled correctly, that your office politics can eat your management strategy for breakfast. Most strategies fail because their execution runs smack into office politics.

Here’s five ways you can keep office politics from derailing your strategy:

Sell the problem

Change is never easy. Yet management rarely focuses on the “why” behind the change; they forget that all that time they spent working through the problem that justifies the change hasn’t yet been shared with employees. Nope. Instead the change is simply stated as the new direction with no justification, supporting evidence or reasoning.

Sell the problem. Otherwise, your office politics will start cooking “no sale” yummy pancakes.

What’s in it for me? (WIIFM?)

It’s great to have this theoretical new direction to overcome a problem, but the very first question a person will ask after hearing it is this: what is in this new thingy for me? Change, especially big change, causes fear. Will I get laid off because of this? Will I be left out of the group with this change? Will my work no longer matter as much to my customers?

If you, as a manager, think that all your employees are thinking about is how cool your new strategy is and how it will conquer your competition, your office politics will be serving a side of “WIIFFM” bacon with those pancakes.

Have an implementation plan

Every management strategy has a story — here is the problem, here is how we plan to fix it, here are the results we think we’ll get.

Unfortunately, the implementation plan is fuzzy, or one where the manager looks for help from the team to build. The employee engagement is great, but fuzzy plans — combined with not selling the problem and the WIIFM mentality — means employees think management is clueless.

Much better to have a good implementation plan that employees can attack. Yes, attack. That gets your objections out early, gets employees thinking how to make this plan better and know that management has thought this through. Without a good implementation plan at the ready, your office politics will be serving a “blown up” 3-egg omelet in no time.

Get your reporting lined up

Every time a big change comes along, it is important to get early wins to show that the new direction can succeed. It doesn’t mean that you design an easy win into the plan, but it is important to look for evidence that the plan is working or not working. This is done through the reporting that is set up to see how the plan is working.

Instead of working the reporting to monitor the progress of the strategy, too often we keep the information loop the same. Or we hear anecdotal stories about the success or failure of the strategy.

Employees need to see independent reporting to validate the success of the new direction. Without it, your office politics will cook up that no-win breakfast quiche.

Make sure small issues don’t become big issues

No strategy is perfect. In fact, no management strategy survives the same way one day after a roll out. A new direction bumping up against the reality of your team means that you’ll find problems with the change or how it gets implemented.

Managers and employees need to focus on the little problems that immediately surface to ensure they don’t become big problems. Employees will see that management engages the issues early and managers will get big hints of future issues from the small issue right now.

If you don’t deal with the small, early issues, your office politics will serve up a hearty serving of “big-issue” hash browns instead of accepted change.

Office politics can help your management strategy

Office politics can often have a bad reputation, deservedly so. But handled correctly, how you go about selling and implementing your management strategies can greatly improve by helping your team understand the problem, knowing the plan and working the early issues.

Has implementing your management strategies come back as a seven-high pancake stack for breakfast?

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About the Author

Scot Herrick is the author of “I’ve Landed My Dream Job–Now What???” and owner of Cube Rules, LLC. Scot has a long history of management and individual contribution in multiple Fortune 100 corporations.

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  • Hi Scot,

    This is so true. So many business strategies die in the ditch because office politics completely undermine them. Some organisations completely deny that office politics exist. But they're a fact of life, and smart managers will both try to understand what they are, and then figure how to work the internal political system to their advantage.

    I've seen it be really useful for managers, when some sort of change or new direction is being thought about, to engage some of those most influential in the office political system to help describe the problem and to work with management to come up with the solution. When this is done, a lot of the objections and side-winders get dealt and indeed can be incorporated with well ahead of implementation.

    Challenge with this is that it takes a certain kind of manager to handle it. Most would rather write PowerPoint on their own and announce fait accomplis! Ah well….!

  • […] Office politics will eat management strategy for breakfast by Scot Herrick on Cube Rules […]

  • IMD OWP says:

    Interesting post! And great tips to help combat office politics. Most large companies can perform multiple functions, are active in more than one line of business, and operate in multiple countries. For many companies, such complexity leads to serious internal conflicts, slow decision making, duplication of costs, and a silo mentality. For all the attention given to crafting a smart strategy, most organizations lag far behind in the ability to execute strategies. Bringing about alignment and coordination in complex organizations is one of the most important challenges facing managers today.

    The IMD OWP 2010 will present the central principles of managing complex organizations and then guide managers to apply these principles to their own companies.

  • And I’m sure whining liberals are going to use this as another excuse to impose more government meddling into private companies and make it harder for companies to compete, employ workers and do business by heaping another pile of stupid regulations upon them.

    • Scot Herrick says:

      No doubt. Plus the reality they live in will undoubtedly be very different then the space time continuum you seem to be occupying at this time. I’m sure office politics will affect government regulations big time in your universe.

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