It's all Politics

Are you tired of politics at work?  I have some bad news for you, if you want to make a difference, it’s all about politics.  

First, let’s examine our definition of politics.  Politics is generally thought of as “spending time on how words will be perceived in order to influence others.”  I agree that this type of politics is a big waste of time. However, making a difference means that you need to be able to navigate through the wild world of human interaction.

Your big idea lives or dies based on its adoption.  So let’s take a look at where politics can thwart your ideas and what you can do about it.

Your idea threatens people’s safety.  When there’s an embedded system on how things are done, changing it can have a ripple effect that pulls the rug out from under people.  If they subscribe to your idea, will they be ridiculed? Will they be shamed? Will they be rejected by their peers? Will they lose credibility in other areas?

You are not going to be able to guarantee safety.  What you can do is change the risk - reward equation.  Help people understand that the status quo is more risky than the change, and that the reward structure is no longer sustainable.

Reptilian brains kick in.  When radical ideas come on the scene, many people respond with a fight or flight response.  Two great approaches for this are 1) shrink the change and 2) tenacity.

“Shrink the change” advocated by Chip and Dan Heath in Switch, is about focusing on a first step, rather than the overwhelming revolution at hand.  As a Business Agility Coach I do this all the time by asking organizations to simply prioritize their work, or asking teams to meet for 15 minutes daily.  This sparks realizations that open them up to more change.

“Tenacity” is simply the willingness to try thousands of times, thousands of different ways without giving up.  You don’t always know what will resonate, so keep trying. And notice I said “different ways”. When you say the same thing over and over that will just cause people to tune you out.

Seeds grow.  Sometimes a vocal opposer will change their point of view, and it’s often not while you’re interacting with them.  You plant some seeds, let them think about it, and eventually they grow. Don’t expect your ideas to be adopted Hollywood-style with a grand gesture.  

Why care?  The age old marketing adage of WIIFM “what’s in it for me?” applies here.  Pushing an idea that’s better, more efficient, etc. is of little interest if those benefits don’t affect me directly.  When people care about something, adoption is super-easy. When they don’t, it’s like pushing a rock uphill everyday. Ask yourself why they should care.

For more info here are two great classic books on politics:

Managing with Power by Jeffrey Pfeffer

Political Savvy by Joel DeLuca

How have you handled politics at work?  Let us know!