Executive coach Carol S. Morrison waxes etymological when asked about workplace politics. The definition of politics in the dictionary is something of a pejorative term, she says. If you look at the etymology it really has do with governance through policy, influencing without authority, and the art of compromise. And if you think about it these are exactly the strengths that today’s sophisticated information workers have to have.
The 53-year-old Smith College graduate (Class of ’66) was a vice president of Drake, Beam & Morin for 10 years before she started her own firm, Princeton Executive Coaching, which provides private advisory services mostly to senior level management. She reveals her methods for dealing with politics in the workplace to the Central Jersey Women’s Network on Monday, September 22, at 6:30 p.m. at the Palmer Inn. The cost: $30. Call 908-281-3119.
Morrison’s neutral definition of politics is the ability to reach effective compromise to move the business forward, she says. The politics that demoralizes people is typically where individuals or groups are distorting this process. You have a lot of companies where there is political infighting among leaders of groups and among groups. They expend more energy taking potshots at each other than they do the competition. It’s very deleterious to the company.
Before a business can set out to remedy infighting, a healthy political system must first be established. A healthy political setting assumes that there are mutual relationships, that is sine qua non in a healthy political setting, she says.
She also advises managers to be careful not to fall into the trap of not placing the business’s interest ahead of one’s own. Morrison suggests doing this self-audit:
Do you get and give accurate, relevant information on a timely basis? Don’t seek power through control of information by withholding information.
Are you and those with whom you work including customers providing regular constructive assessments of performance in relation to expectations? Morrison likens it Ed Koch’s ubiquitous how am I doing? If feedback isn’t flowing in all directions, it’s like having neuropathways to the brain blocked off, she says.
Can you reach the people and obtain the resources you need to get the work done and can others reach you?
Is everyone at every level held responsible in meeting agreed upon goals? The accountability issue is often distorted into scapegoating at higher levels, she says.
Is the company’s strategy focused correctly? The art of making decisions, setting priorities, assigning projects, and assigning people to projects, should clearly support the goals of the company, says Morrison. Problems develop when the question of what’s good for me prefaces the strategy.
Morrison stresses the importance of giving others the benefit of the doubt. It’s important to assume that everyone is doing the best that they can, says Morrison. Their behavior reveals the nature and limits of their own perceptions and values. The other general principle is you need to model in your own personal behavior the healthy behavior you seek to see in others. Excellence is a powerful magnet.
Not sure what course will be the healthiest? Try this method:
1. Go through the audit in the situation you’re feeling frustrated about.
2. Determine which of the components are not healthy. Usually it’s more than one. Identify the specific inadequacies.
3. Demonstrate what business need is served by adopting that improvement. Get back to the strategy: How does it serve the ultimate goals of the business?
4. Think about who are the stakeholders in this problem Å the victims and the beneficiaries.
5. Identify those with the most power in the organization who will not benefit from the problem. They will most likely be unconcerned about change but powerful enough to effect a change. Then ally yourself with them.
6. Introduce your solution as a pilot program. Remember that excellence is a powerful magnet, she says.
7. Track your results. If there is an observable improvement in meeting business needs, share the documentation of this pilot project with the people who are most willing to listen, Morrison says. Get as many people as you can in support of this to present the success to the most receptive power centers in the organization.
8. Promote a win-win dialogue. Do this consistently and continue to point out the business benefits of this new method. Give acknowledgement to everyone who was involved, and where contention arises, back away from being accusatory. This will empower your adversaries, says Morrison.
At times Morrison’s coaching style sounds like it derives from ancient wisdom. Morrison insists that it doesn’t. I made it up myself, she says. I’ve been an advisor and a problem solver for a long time. However, she adds, she does have a dormant interest in political science. I’ve always wanted to reread Machiavelli, she says.