Organizational politics refers to “the use of influence tactics to improve personal or organizational interests.” Despite the term having a negative connotation, it isn’t always detrimental to an organization. In fact, politics and power in an organization are just another form of influence and can be used to positively affect the company as well.
Political behavior is especially rife during change since there’s a possibility of the balance of power being upset and individuals’ positions changing. Whether resistance to change is to preserve the current balance of power or to improve positions, it’s up to change managers to keep up to date with political dynamics and hinder their efforts to disrupt change initiatives.
The Importance of Dealing With Organizational Politics
Because organizational politics can work both towards and against change initiatives, it’s essential that change leaders are familiar with the political landscape of an organization. It’s only then that they can take advantage of it and use it to implement successful change initiatives. By doing so, change leaders can ensure using change management and organizational politics in optimal ways that are best suited to their organization and help companies meet their goals.
While many like to believe that political behavior in organizations is veiled, this isn’t always the case. Often, this behavior is evident, and not dealing with it allows it to continue to fester. Since organizational politics have the ability to damage an organization, change leaders must learn to deal with them. In addition to being a detriment to the organization itself, organizational politics can negatively affect an organization’s change initiative and transformation.
Depending on the behavior displayed and the organizational culture, politics and power struggles can slow progress down or even bring transformation to a halt by sabotaging initiatives. Thus, change leaders in any organization must not only manage their own power but that of others within the organization. In fact, studies have demonstrated that leaders with skills of change management and organizational politics fare better in not only gaining power but also outperform those who aren’t politically inclined when it comes to managing job demands and stress.
Additionally, it should be noted that since organizations are large and complex, there isn’t always a traditional hierarchy in place. Often, change managers must collaborate with others, including those they do not directly supervise.
How Change Leaders Can Address Change Management and Organizational Politics
In addition to taking advantage of strategies to influence others, change leaders must deal with negative political behavior swiftly. They can do this by carefully surveying their organization and those within it to understand existing dynamics and patterns. This is not always easy because of the complex nature of power within organizations. Those without legitimate authority may still have a stranglehold over others and may exercise a lot of power. Conversely, those who have legitimate authority may not have as much influence as they seem to. Because of this, change managers must consider all parties and be careful not to overlook important individuals or groups that wield power and can affect change initiatives.
How Change Leaders Can Gain Power and Influence
Change leaders can gain power and influence through any means, including building relationships with individuals, negotiating with them, reducing their dependence on them, increasing others’ dependence on them, and more. The following are some of the ways change leaders can gain and exercise power over other individuals or groups within their organization.
Improve and Promote Their Reputation
Employees and other change recipients are more open to change and to taking directions when they view change leaders as competent. Thus, it’s essential for change leaders to not only be competent and take steps to improve their skills but to demonstrate this to change recipients by promoting their reputation.
Increase Others’ Dependence on Them
Change leaders can also increase others’ dependence on them and thereby exert more influence over them. In addition to discovering what others seek (such as information or resources), change managers must gauge how important their needs are and whether or not they can get what they need from others. It’s also essential to make it known to those who are dependent on the leader that they are, in fact, reliant on them. This can be achieved via heavy-handed ways such as threatening to take away resources, but this isn’t always recommended since they may then turn to other sources and grow less dependent on the change leader. Alternatively, they may use their resourcefulness in finding other
options as a bargaining chip, putting the change leader in a worse situation. Rather than opting for these harsh measures, it may be a better option to make others’ dependence on the change leader known by enveloping it in cooperation and mutual aid.
It should also be noted that while change leaders can allude to the fact that others are dependent on them because they control resources or fulfill another need if this is not true and is discovered, it could backfire and result in others losing trust in them, and their influence is limited in the future.
Reducing Dependence on Others
In addition to increasing others’ dependence on them, change leaders must reduce their dependence on those they are trying to influence. They can do so by looking for resources elsewhere and questioning and challenging existing relationships and agreements that are being used against them.
Collaborating and Building Beneficial Relationships
Relationship building and collaboration are an essential part of gaining influence since these relationships and collaborations can help change leaders further their initiatives and boost the envisioned transformation. By collaborating with other parties, change leaders can benefit from learning new information that could help them better negotiate. They may also improve communication with other parties that may not have known of them or their needs earlier and gain better resources. Lastly, building relationships with others is essential because widening networks allow change initiatives and ideas to be spread further and gain more support.
When change leaders are politically inclined, they can secure better agreements through smart negotiation and reciprocation. While some managers think of positive outcomes for them and the other party as impossible, this is not mutually exclusive. Offering concessions and negotiating with other parties can lead to improved outcomes and successful transformations.
Thus, it’s essential for change leaders to understand an organization’s political landscape and power dynamics. By doing so, they can understand the drivers and motivations behind the organization and the people within it, allowing them to better do their jobs and transforming the organization from the inside. A deeper understanding of change management and organizational politics leads to successful change and sustainable change.