Mastering Organization Politics


October 2005

Mastering Organization Politics

CIDMIconNewsletter JoAnn Hackos, CIDM Director

“At the next place I work, I don’t want there to be any politics.”

Have you ever thought that you’d like to work in an organization that doesn’t have any politics? What if everyone acted in a completely rational manner, making decisions based upon pure facts and sound argument? Wouldn’t that make work life a lot simpler?

Well, in case you ever find a place like that, please let us know. Just put a few people together in an organization that is competing in the market place or attempting to work toward a goal, and you’ll have organization politics. Politics is a fact of life in our organizations because they are run by people rather than logic.

Political savvy is an essential skill of the successful manager. Joel DeLuca, former professor at the Wharton Business School at the University of Pennsylvania and now president of his own consulting group, describes what it takes to be a political savvy1 manager in your organization. On his web site <>, the rewards of becoming an active and ethical influencer are clear:

  • have the creativity and innovation of your ideas accepted by the business
  • be selected into prized high potential, succession planning, and specialized leadership programs
  • survive the organizational politics of constant restructurings

In his book, Political Savvy: Systematic Approaches to Leadership Behind-the-Scenes, DeLuca explains how to become politically savvy. He believes that the core of savvy behavior is taking an active approach to change in your organization but doing so within a core of ethical behavior.

First, DeLuca suggests, a savvy and dedicated manager puts the needs of the organization above personal needs. In most of my interactions with information-development managers, they seem a rather selfless group. CIDM managers seem focused on benefits to the organization, both their own departments and the larger organizations. That may mean they want to gain respect, responsibility, and authority for their staff and their role in the organization. They may want to influence the design of products so that they are more easily used and require less documentation. They may want to improve the delivery of information to customers or to learn more about our customers’ needs for information.

Savvy information-development managers genuinely care about these issues and try to foster best practices in their organizations. When I’ve encountered Machiavellian managers interested primarily in promoting themselves, they’ve been people from outside the field who are given information development to oversee but aren’t the least bit interested in its success. In at least one case, a manager offered his senior information-development staff on the cutting block of layoffs so that he could look good to his bosses, having reduced costs drastically but, in the process, decimating the department.

DeLuca believes that savvy managers are very interested in career advancement but see this advancement as an outcome of their actions and abilities rather than a goal to pursue with whatever means are available, ethical or otherwise. I recall a vice president insisting on the purchase of a highly inappropriate computer system for his department because it was a politically correct choice. He remarked that “by the time they figure out that this system doesn’t do the job, I’ll be long gone from this job.” Each step he took was calculated to take him to the next job in his career chain.

With regard to political action, savvy managers play “above board,” DeLuca insists. They are not willing to manipulate people for their own ends although they look for allegiances and commitments from others to ensure that their recommendations are heard. They understand that people and politics are inexorably linked. And, they learn how to “play politics” with their motivations and goals clearly understood. By their behavior, they make politics legitimate.

Finally, savvy managers go beyond the limits of their job descriptions. Information-development managers often recognize the impact on the success of their staff members and the departments of other parts of the organization. They want to see product development occur in a rational manner. They would like marketing to pay attention to information users rather than only buyers of the product. And they want to ensure that the customer experience is the best possible after they have purchased the product.

Now, I’m certainly not saying that information-development managers are a special breed. Many managers in all company areas have the organization’s health firmly in mind as they plan innovations and search for efficiencies. However, too often, we find information-development managers who are not very capable at organization politics. They tend to be heads-down and rational, arguing if they just do their jobs, they’ll be recognized and appreciated. Sorry to say that it usually doesn’t work that way.

Political savvy managers must first and foremost be active in promoting their causes and capable of recognizing the political intricacies of their organizations as a whole. We hope to promote political insights at the 2005 Best Practices conference. Please join us for an interactive session in which we learn how to analyze the politics of a situation and best apply ethical and savvy techniques. CIDMIconNewsletter