Illustrative Example #3: Introducing Managers to Organizational Politics-Goal Setting

At the outset of the week,  I related to a lack of systematic initiation into organizational politics, resulting in talented and motivated people losing out to folks with more political acumen.

Then, I began a series of five short posts illustrating how to initiate managers for more political awareness in the post 2008 zoo.

The goal of these posts is not to prescribe behaviour, rather to illustrate a gamut of frequently observed political behaviours, both positive and negative. It is my belief that in the same way that young kids should not learn sex from watching porn stars, neither should young managers learn organizational politics by being screwed, or by listening to some idealistic consultant or coach describe organizational life as it “should” be.

The first example dealt with committment management in over committed organizations

The second example related to managing your boss.

Once again today, I will provide illustrative examples about how managers can be politically sensitized. We will look a a few particularly Machiavellian tactics in goal setting!

1) At face value, a manager should set reasonable goals and achieve them. If the results are outstanding, he should be rewarded and if the results are not achieved, lesson should be learned and corrective action should be taken. Easy stuff.

2) Yet goal setting can first and foremost a political process and a negotiated process of managing a boss’ and the organization’s expectations of its managers.

3) In highly political organizations, goal setting probably has a political script which is quite different from the real and more “functional” script. For example, the budget “exercise” from Oct-December may be a political script written for the “street” or for worried investors and nosy analysts. The “more realistic” goals become apparent based on the real world, which often is very “detached” from the budget exercise.

4) Politically astute managers either under promise and over-deliver, or under promise-then-negotiate rather than being too realistic upfront (to prevent undue pressure), or “throw out” promises to calm the budget planners and the CEO, only to gradually slip and provide excuses.

You can follow me @AllonShevat

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Illustrative Example #2: Introducing Managers to Organizational Politics

In my next to last post, I related to a lack of systematic initiation into organizational politics, resulting in talented and motivated people losing out to folks with more political acumen.

Yesterday, I began the first of five short posts illustrating how to initiate managers for more political awareness in the post 2008 zoo. The goal of these post is not to prescribe behaviour, rather to illustrate a gamut of frequently observed political behaviours, both positive and negative. It is my belief that in the same way that young kids should not learn sex from watching porn stars, neither should young managers  learn organizational politics by being screwed, or by listening to some idealistic consultant or coach describe organizational life as it “should” be.

The first example was related to a project manager named Ted in a company called 3Q. In the next four posts, I will provide illustrative examples about how managers can be politically sensitized. Today we will look a a few particularly Machiavellian tactics in managing your boss.

  • Some people find it useful to support their boss at all times, right or wrong. This helps brand an employee as fiercely loyal, which is seen as a distinct advantage in a highly political environment.
  • There are  things that your boss may not want to know, because he may feel it may implicate him. For example, if a team needs to work every weekend for the next two months, the boss may resist wanting to know. However, it make make sense in certain cases to push unwanted information to your boss to mitigate the blame than the boss’ subordinate needs to shoulder.
  • Over-involving a boss in the level of detail clearly spells out the obstacles that one is facing.  Even though NO is not being said, the expectations of the boss are “managed” more realistically.
  • Disagreeing with a boss does not necessarily need to be done directly. Common less confrontive  disagreement tactics are “yes but”, foot dragging and tacit coalition building with other more powerful people who may help.
  • Often, extremely unpopular bosses get screwed because their bitter employees merely carry out instructions. This is both a legitimate and  powerful political tactic.

You can follow me @AllonShevat

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Illustrative Example of Introducing Managers to Organizational Politics


In my last post, I related to a lack of systematic initiation into organizational politics, resulting in talented and motivated people losing out to folks with more political acumen.

In the next five posts, I will provide illustrative examples about how managers can be politically sensitized to improve their chances of survival in the post 2008 zoo.

The first example will relate to a project manager named Ted in a company called 3Q.

3Q promises an upgrade to all its key products every three quarters; although 3Q never delivers as promised, 3Q is performing much better than its competitors.

Employee satisfaction at 3Q is very low; he atmosphere is aggressive; yet 3Q rarely fires employees and pays fairly well. Project managers have a yearly churn rate of 20% worldwide.

Ted comes from the military, where he was educated in rigorous and disciplined project management. For Ted, a commitment is a commitment is a commitment. The work at 3Q is Ted’s first exposure to project management in a non military environment.

Ted has 5 choices to manage the ludicrous commitments which have been rammed down his throat:

1) As he did in the military, in which case he will branded as a naysayer and pushed out of strategic projects.

2) Ted can agree to all commitments forced down his throat, and wait till someone else does not deliver a component  to him, and then “pass the blame”.

3) Ted can mask risks in ambiguity, so that what he says can be understood several ways. Eg, “while the goals appear aggressive, effective risk mitigation has been put in place to secure the needed focus etc.”.

4) As delivery deadlines approaches, Ted can start to very slowly expose delays and problems when he smells organizational “readiness” for more transparency,he can then ask for more time in exchange for future functionality.

5) Ted can over consult his boss or flood his boss with details,  until Ted’s boss is forced to attitudinally align with the commitment sham.

Ted chose to tell it as it is, military style; “I want to be a straight shooter; we need 5 quarters for this project”, said silly Ted. Ted was assigned to managing a minor project in supply chain, and  he left the company after 6 months.

You can follow me @AllonShevat

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Initiation to Organizational Politics and Sex Education in the 1950’s

The ways and means that managers learn about organizational politics today reminds me of sex education in the late 1950’s and early 1960’s.

All my friends thought my Dad was a liberal when he gave me a Playboy magazine to “catch up” on what was not covered in the biology class in the Protestant school I attended. (Jews were then sent to Protestant or Catholic schools in Quebec). My friend’s dad  was “more radical”; he gave my buddy  $20 and told him to go down to St Lawrence Boulevard on Saturday night “to become a man”.

This archaic mode of sex education is akin to the way managers are  introduced to organizational politics nowadays . By organizational politics, I am referring to legitimate and dirty influence peddling.  Managers either get no political training, or they are taught about all about how organizations should behave!

Political skills have always been important to success, and political astuteness and flexibility are even more important since 2008, with fewer jobs are available to fewer people. Political skills in some organizations are far more important than professional knowledge/skills. The higher the rung on the ladder, the more important having these political  skills becomes. Often one looks at the top and we ask, “how did s/he get there?” Political skills are often the answer. And you may never see the top without political savvy.

By political savvy I am not merely relating to Kipnis and Pois (and others) influencing strategies. These influencing strategies are but one very small part of a whole gamut of skills which constitute political astuteness and flexibility.

Political skills include influencing strategy, communication, self promotion, coalition building, badmouthing, discrediting, word- smithing, over/under promising, social media know-how, reputation management, networking etc..

Organizational politics is not “going down to St Lawrence Blvd to get laid!” Too many bright and talented managers are pushed aside due to the lack of learn-able political skills.

I enjoy the work I do coaching managers on organizational politics and there is immediate transfer of training.

You can follow me @AllonShevat

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Today’s colonization is much more gentle. But it is colonization.

Many organization hq’ed in Europe and the West promote “open” organizational communication, the legitimacy of conflict at work, and  the importance of solving conflict expediently and moving on. These same hq’s play down the importance of not discussing issues, discretion and solving problems by ignoring them.

In many parts of Asia and the Middle East, organizational and conflicts are resolved discretely and under the radar, to prevent loss of dignity, loss of face, and/or to prevent undermining authority. Very often disputed points are ignored and never discussed, or resolved “back room” by innuendo, silence or a carrier pigeon.

Corporate values, change consultants, OD consultants and coaches promulgate a western approach to conflict resolution. This often has disastrous results. Here are a few things folks have told me.

Som from Bangkok: “I have been taught my whole life to keep my opinions to myself and control my emotions to create harmony. I used to love this company, but in the new training program, i was forced to betray myself by “resolving a conflict”  and I feel abused. I am getting out.”

Emi from Japan: “The entire staff got along very well until the recent team development exercise to develop transparency. Now that all this damage has been done, our office is very tense. They (HR and facilitators) do not understand that when we showed our anger to one another, we may never communicate well again.

Inam from Amman: As per company policy I shared some of my thoughts with my boss. I really did not want to, but HR was really riding us to be compliant with company “values” in the way we operate. I now need to look for a new job because my boss is upset.. Everything has been ruined.

Colonization often meant severed limbs, decimated local cultures and massive executions of the vanquished. Today’s colonization is much more gentle. But it is colonization. And OD is often used as the tool of beating the locals into submission.

You can follow me @AllonShevat

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Why some cultures do not value conflict resolution

Many change agents, OD consultants and coaches roam the corporate world peddling wares to solve conflicts expediently, as in : we all need to see the “value” both in conflict and its ready resolution.

Yet many folks come from cultures which do not place as high a value on expedient conflict resolution.

Following is a list of attitudes which characterizes cultures which do not seek to “move ahead, move on, compromise, and put the conflict all behind us”.

1) These cultures tend to have more principles and less preferences. These principles are non negotiable, for the very reason that they are principles.

2) These cultures are not in a hurry. They believe that time is on their side, and if the conflict can wait for a year, a decade or a thousand years, they will get a better deal.

3) Compromise equals a loss of dignity. Better to die standing up than remain alive crawling like insect, goes the argument.

4) Meeting somewhere is the middle is a perceived disgrace to both sides. In a compromise/solution mode, “both sides look bad”.

5) There is an expectation from leadership/management that they be strong, not “solve” issues with other parties.” That makes followers “look good”.

6) Leadership perceives that solving a crisis will weaken them and set up an alternative power structure. There is no perception of “ we all get a bigger piece of a larger pie”.

Change agents who work with such populations need to

a-understand the basic assumptions of the protagonists

b-set realistic expectations about what can/cannot be achieved

c-use “temporary” resolution instead of final status resolution

d-avoid having protagonists meet, preferring an imposed solution.

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Ignoring input and “overweighting” input are 2 critical diagnostic skills



When assessing an organization, two skills which seem to be ignored are ignoring input from interviewees and overweighting input from interviewees.

1) Ignoring Input

One example will suffice.

I worked with a collective community in the north of Israel as it migrated from a 100% purist form of collectivism to a model whereby “members” of the community could accrue personal wealth.

In my initial analysis, I spoke with 50 interviewees. 48 of the 50 interviewees told me that the economic situation of the community is “better than good” and registered  severe resentment to the planned change. Only two interviewees stressed the dire straights of the community, and the need for change. One was the treasurer, who dealt with the banks daily; the other was the CEO of the industrial plan which belonged to the community, who could no longer get funding or pay his suppliers. The other interviewees were living in ” lala” land.

As the project moved forward and the community evolved in what was considered a huge success, an important counter-intuitive skill that I learnt was the ability to filter frequent yet useless input which would have preserved the status quo and destroyed the community.

Overweighting Input

Sometimes in the course of working with an organization, you encounter people who just “get it” and can provide very important information in very limited time, information which must be over weighted when putting together the organizational assessment.

Example one: I worked with a development center in England for 5 years. The organizational climate was appalling. People were overworked, the technology was out-dated and pay was mediocre. Yet turnover was almost 0 in a hot job market. My mission was to make it a better place to work but management was telling me “what’s wrong Shevat, turnover is 0.  One day, I interviewed a Thai engineer with poor English. She told me that “this is the only place we immigrants have encountered where you leave your accent and language skills  at the door and you  are judged by other criteria. The organization is a horrendous place to work but overcompensates  by being totally not bigoted.” I remember how shocked I was after we have talked….I had been there 2 years and has not picked it up. Once I got that,  I managed to leverage that insight to push for change.

Example two: I do a lot of work in highly  technical organizations, and I have learnt that some people are indeed so talented that you need to give them the stage over others and listen to what they say however unbalanced they may be. They have it right. I remember working with an engineer who was always yelling and screaming at others….and he told me that what folks were doing in two years can be done in a week by a different method-and he was spot on.


Overweighting and underweighting input may be difference between preparing an opinion poll or writing a professional organizational  diagnosis.

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When the pursuit of teamwork may be useless

This is a brief illustration about the limitations of teamwork in a global organizing. My claim is that at a certain level of global complexity, teamwork is impossible to achieve because the value of teamwork runs too counterculture to much of the world.

The team I will describe is the “Global Presales Team”  headed by Paul Sinclair.

The mission of this Presales team is to prepare material for potential clients world wide, coordinate with marketing on “one message to the install base”, set the stage for Sales and client to be aligned around a product road map, and support the sales teams on technical matters.

The 4 presales members of the Global Presales Team function in a matrix: Paul is the corporate boss in HQ, and each presales person reports to a different area boss: Manfred is the boss in Europe and FSU; Gilad in the Middle East and Africa, Jimmy in Asia/Australia and Fred in North America.

The 4 team members of the Presale team are violently pushed and pulled in different directions by their area bosses who want  more customer visits  and Paul Sinclair, who wants the team to create presales material of global value.  (The corporate culture states “one team/one company” as a major value).

Paul Sinclair believes that the Presales is failing  because there is simply too little teamwork and synergy to meet shared global priorities. Well,  Paul may be right about the failure, but he is wrong about the diagnosis. Paul, Gilad, Manfred, Fred and Jimmy disagree on how to integrate conflicting priorities.

Jimmy, the Head of Sales in Asia has told his presales representative that he expects 100% loyalty. Jimmy  has told his presales manager that if there are clashes of interest between what Jimmy wants and what Paul  wants, Jimmy will solve these issues.

Fred, the Head of Sales in North America, has told his presales representative to “solve priority conflicts on your own, using your best judgement””.

Manfred, the Head of Sales in Europe+FSU is pushing for a “system” to coordinate conflicting priorities between Sales and Presales, because “we cannot push the priority management down, only up, to align with the master plan.”

Gilad, the Head of Sales for Mid East and Africa, has created his own presales team “under the radar” to serve his needs, allowing “Paul’s lackey to do what he wants”.


The basic assumptions about how to regulate conflicting priorities is meeting with too many conflicting basic cultural assumptions. Gilad is a cowboy and “works around a broken system like matrix management”. Manfred wants a system to regulate  a perfect reality, Fred wants empowered individuals to work out complexity and Jimmy wants a serf, because Jimmy does not care about anyone’s goals except his own.

So Paul ‘s pursuit of teamwork seems a bit futile.

Paul has asked VP HR for help, and she has recommended that the presales team do some outdoor training to “work out their issues to support our value of “one team/one company.”

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The treachery of HR business partnership

In an attempt to remain relevant in an economic environment which puts less weight on the value of the human resource, HR migrated to a mode of so called “business partnership”, and the idea itself and its implementation has turned into a fatal mistake.

The meaning of this business partnership has been to subjugate “representation” of the human resource in decision making in exchange for a “higher and more elevated” role of ensuring that the management of the human resource is “aligned” with the needs of the business.

The HR “business partnership” absolved HR from “protecting”  and lobbying for the human resource, because the HR business partnership co-opted the HR function and defanged it. This so called partnership has robbed HR of the necessary credibility to do its role.

This HR business partnership reminds me of  a Chief Financial Officer who misleads the Board and Investors because he is the CEO’s business partner. Clearly, there are some CFO’s  who have gone down this road, having made a mockery of their profession. However this deception is not the espoused religion of the CFO. In the case of HR, business partnership has led to abandoning the people for the numbers. In parallel, many very skilled HR people were replaced by a generation of mindless technocrats whose expertise was sycophancy

As the  so-called HR business partnership became more real, the deception became more evident, as is witnessed by the growth of wow-wow-ism which focuses on making sure that things are fun. HR  communication became sloganeering, reminiscent of the old communist newspaper which praised the socialist reality and ignored the breadlines.

HR became a profession deeply mistrusted and hated by the workforce.

What has happened in this country in the past few years is no surprise. Massive unionization has come to haunt the HR business partners. These powerful unions have sprung up overnight in finance, mobile communications, high tech, insurance and even in large taxi companies.

The new unions have pounced on the emptiness and perceived treachery  of the “HR business partnership”, and have provided an alternative, seen by workforce as far more reliable.

This change has pushed HR into a far worse position than they have ever been, ie-HR becomes the isolated so-called business partner of the CEO and the Union becomes the voice of the employees.

CEO’s need people next to them who talk numbers, talk sales, talk marketing and talk people. Not HR business partnership. And if HR does not get it, the unions do.

I always tell my clients that it is better to deal with an empowered HR manager who represents the people lobby, than a union steward. Few have listened; many are learning the hard way.

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Consulting tool kits and pre-packaged OD procedures

In my long career, I have dealt organizational due diligence pre- merger & post-merger integration; I help organizations bridge enormous cultural diversity (not just colour/race). I have done an enormous amount of work on new product introduction, together with research, development, engineering and operation departments. For years I consulted chefs in 3  international hotel chains, and with captains in the merchant marines. I have done OD in the military, police organizations and government. I have vast experience consulting to financial services and legal firms. Yeanu, (which means in Arabic, in other words), I have been around the block.

OD has hundreds of tool kits and products. Some of them I know well, some of them I master and there is probably not a tool around I have not read about.

In all my consulting work, in all professional domains and situations, I never found one of these tools useful. I always felt they hindered me. When I was younger, I used to throw lots of tools in to the back seat of my car, or travel half way around the world, lugging them with me. I rarely used anything. When I used them, I felt unnatural and cumbersome.

For me, OD is not about tools or pre packaged procedures. OD is an art of applying a breadth of experience, eclecticism, working bottom up to tailor make a solution in every single situation. Like a snow flake, every organization and every managerial situation is very different. OD when well practiced, is not scalable.

I believe that all these tools kits and pre defined procedures  (which are, in essence, so called knowledge management of OD) have been extremely negatively disruptive to our art. These tools have created what used to be called door-to-door brush salesmen, totally incognizant of what the profession is all about.

At any given time, I supervise about 6 consultants world wide. I never teach tools. In all my supervision, I rarely refer my students to tools. I encourage my students to read, to acquire content domain savvy, and to practice being eclectic.

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