Organizational Politics & Decisions
Organizational theorist, management consultant, and distinguished research professor at York University, Gareth Morgan, uses eight metaphors as organizations in his book “Images of Organization.” When addressing the metaphors used by Gareth Morgan, such as that organizations are political systems, the elements of the metaphor must be further broken down to be fully understood. The metaphor demonstrates the organization’s competing interests, conflict, and power patterns in this context. Decisions made by the organization and the effects of those decisions throughout the organization follow suit, as the impact of politics works both up and down the ladder.
Almost any decision within an organization has the potential to be directly impacted by political actions or agendas from those inside the organization (Kacmar, & Baron, 1999). When this is the case, the best and most coherent decisions are not always made regarding the betterment of the organization. Such decisions tend to be made for personal gain. This can be especially true in light of the fact that most current management theories focus on the value of outcomes rather than on the value of the means chosen. Because of this, the opportunity for personal gain in the interim is greater.
Organizational politics must be understood. Every organization is subject to organizational politics. Not only politics but also experiences conflict and competition regarding specific desires and interests of and within each department inside of the organization. This also extends to both teams and individuals within each department. Morgan seems to suggest that because of this fact, such groups or people need to be better “managed” or controlled. However, this may hold different contexts between different organizations. It may mean controlling or better-managing decisions, or in some cases and organizations, the ultimate micro-management of the workers. However, the intention is the same, and the results vary.
Organizational politics refers to the method, tactic, or process that each person or department must utilize to better navigate rival interests within the organization before actual reconciliation is realized. These methods or tactics are not always rational and are often subject to compromise or a complete yielding of organizational principles due to a more powerful or influential interest. Such yielding can hinder organizational goals, and such influences must be recognized and dealt with by the organization’s leadership in an effort to minimize the negative effects.
At the same time, however, each team and individual member are cooperating to achieve an overall organizational goal, so it is vital that the leadership does not impede the progress made by individuals or groups. This merely adds to the complexity of circumstances within the organization as each competing interest, conflict, and individual or collective power hinders yet helps the overall process regarding the decisions and dispensing of the results of those decisions. This is, again, compounded by the involvement of leadership.
Within some organizations, some workers think more about themselves than they do the organization’s goals. Sometimes, these workers will join into small groups and are sometimes inattentive, perhaps even destructive, to the needs of others or the organization itself (Cropanzano, Howes, Grandey, & Toth, 1997). These individuals and groups navigate towards personal or group goals and rewards instead of toward department or even organizational goals. This tends to make operations and decisions made within the organization more stressful, volatile, and less predictable.
Due in great part to the unpredictable and sometimes destructive nature of organizational politics, the organization must adopt a systematic decision-making model to leverage the irrational models utilized by those who engage in the political process. The organization must then mitigate the potential damage caused by the actions of those who act upon irrational decisions for personal gain. This is often much easier said than done.
Organizational Decision Making
Organizations that continue to utilize an outdated or broken model for decision-making hinder any real or substantial potential for productivity, strategic advancement, or even overall organizational performance in numerous ways (McDowell & Radin, 2011). The organization must adapt to rapid and often unpredictable change if they seek to survive (Wangemann, 2007). This requires adaptive and rapid decisions in the face of such change.
Suppose the organization cannot make strategic and productive decisions in the face of these types of changes. In that case, the organization may find itself without a competitive advantage moving forward. Examples of this include delays regarding a product or service launch or even with an exceptional worker who feels marginalized and quits. In response, such slow or poor decisions can have a massive and overall damaging effect on the organization itself. This is especially true when one factors in the idea of tribal knowledge inside the organization and the loss of such information upon departure of said worker or the unwillingness to share information due to political posturing. Perhaps this is where Knowledge Management (KM) comes in.
Effective, clearly defined decision models can drive efficiency and accountability while empowering individuals to make the right decisions at the right time (McDowell). To achieve this level of effectiveness, and in light of organizational politics, the decision model utilized should encompass, or at least consider, components such as cooperation, negotiation, and conflict resolution. This is aided, of course, by a well-established organizational learning model that empowers the worker.
An organization must have a way of identifying the problems they face. Having an effective collaboration model will aid greatly in this regard. This is also where cooperation plays a major role because each department and the people who comprise these departments must not feel as though they are being marginalized regarding their role and the issues being faced. Open discussion without fear of retaliation is key.
This is especially true if you want REAL feedback and when we consider the operational decision model. This model allows individuals or groups to have a stronger say in what is happening. Their input is more valuable if their organizational education is up to par. While often smaller in scope, these decisions can and often do present a strategic advantage for the organization because the decisions that are being made are operationally relevant. Examples of this include the selection of a particular mail carrier or delivery service that better fits the customer’s needs, which may very well translate into repeat business.
Such liberties should not go unchecked, however, because information may be unknown or unavailable during the initial decision process. In the example provided, it may be that the organization has achieved a lower rate or special privilege through a national carrier or account. Perhaps this information was not known when the decision was initially made. Making such adjustments would ultimately make better sense in the long term for the organization. Many long-term organizational policies may indeed be derived from these short-term decisions, but this is why evaluation and feedback on such decisions are crucial if the organization seeks to maximize the effectiveness of the decisions being made moving forward.
Allowing for such feedback and correction via leadership helps to reduce the opportunity for political gain if the decision itself is unwise for the organization. Of course, it helps to reward strategic decisions being made that are beneficial to the organization, even if they are being made for political reasons. In other words, it will classically condition workers who make decisions for political reasons to make such decisions that are only beneficial for the organization.
Decisions ultimately need to be evaluated by someone who is well-informed about the organization’s strategic goals. Those who were pivotal in the initial decision must also be involved. During this phase, elements such as cooperation, negotiation, and conflict resolution can be utilized to their fullest potential.
The metaphor that organizations are political systems used by Gareth Morgan is rather accurate. By breaking down the elements of the metaphor, it becomes easy to see the organization’s patterns of competing interests, conflict, and power. It is also easy to see how the decisions that are being made and the results of that decision tend to be subject to the very same factors.
The decisions being made within the organization must be based on a sound model that includes proper identification of the problem, cooperation, negotiation, evaluation, and feedback between those making the decisions and those who they impact. Such models will help mitigate the potential consequences of political ambition within the organization and help leverage their impact.
You might also like my article titled, “The Difficulty of Change and How to Overcome It.”
Cropanzano, R., Howes, J. C., Grandey, A. A. & Toth, P. (1997), The relationship of organizational politics and support to work behaviors, attitudes, and stress. J. Organiz. Behav., 18: 159–180. doi: 10.1002/(SICI)1099-1379(199703)18:2<159::AID-JOB795>3.0.CO;2-D
Kacmar, K. M., & Baron, R. A. (1999). ORGANIZATIONAL POLITICS: THE STATE OF THE FIELD, LINKS TO RELATED PROCESSES, AND AN AGENDA FOR FUTURE RESEARCH. Research in Personnel and Human Resources Management, 17, 1.
McDowell, T., & Radin, J. (2011). It’s Your Decision. Retrieved from http://www.deloitte.com/assets/Dcom-UnitedStates/Local%20Assets/Documents/us_consulting_OrganizationDecisionMaking_051111.pdf
Wangemann, M. A. P. (2007). Decision-making in an organizational learning context. (Order No. 3260165, The George Washington University). ProQuest Dissertations and Theses, , 156-n/a. Retrieved from http://ezproxy.sckans.edu/login?url=http://search.proquest.com/docview/304875099?accountid=13979. (304875099).