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Empires and Fiefdoms

Try as you might to avoid it or get rid of it, office politics exists. It is probably in my Top 5 list of things I can’t stand in the workplace, ranking (of course) below things like harassment, lying and unethical behaviour. Specifically, what gets me wound are those individuals in the workplace who feel the need to try and carve out their own little empire within the context of the larger organization.

CastleYou know who I am talking about – those managers that are 100% focused on improving their own internal power base instead of delivering for the good of the organization. They typically build their power base by trying to make other managers, departments and employees look bad while elevating their own (departmental) status. Sometimes the behaviours are overt – grandstanding at meetings, refusing to cooperate or share resources, etc. and sometimes they display more subversive or passive-aggressive behaviours. These types are the ones that smile at you while trying to pit different departments against each other or work against you while telling you that they are “on your side.” I have also seen managers try and build their empire by hoarding information or withholding support to other departments that are depending on them for information, or by procrastinating on supplying deliverables and thus causing another department to fail – all for the purpose of trying to build their power base and/or erode another groups perceived organizational standing.

Sometimes, managers simply have blinders on and are solely focused on their own departmental needs because they are under such pressure to deliver. For them, in order to protect their own interests and job, work has become a zero sum game and they feel the need to “win” at all costs. They didn’t set out intending to build their own little fiefdom but because they are in survival mode, they have put the walls up and launched an offensive!

Here is the problem with all of these scenarios: no one is working in the best interests of the organization. So what happens is that while it may appear to some that a particular department is “winning,” in reality, the entire organization is losing. Anytime you have managers and departments insulating themselves from the rest of the organization, or trying to “win” at the expense of other groups, the entire organization is, in effect, losing. The most effective companies I have been a part of, or have intimate knowledge of, all promote and reward a “we win together” culture. Not surprisingly this all begins with strong leadership at the top of the organization. You need a strong voice that champions the vision and organizational values so that departmental directors and managers know that they are rewarded for contributing to organizational success – not just their own departmental success.

Here’s the thing, along with strong leadership you also need an organizational culture that has a focus on communication. While no one is perfect at this, and there is always work to be done, companies that focus on keeping communication channels open and that encourage, reward (and hold accountable) their leaders and managers for communicating with each other, tend to have their teams working in the organization’s best interests. Everyone needs to know what the big picture is and why it is important (departmentally) to be working towards this vision and for the organization’s greater benefit.

Ultimately, this is (as with most things) a leadership issue. So, as HR Professionals, leaders and managers, let’s smash down the walls of those empires and fiefdoms! When we recognize the act of empire building, let’s make sure to lead by example so that we stop the behaviour from occurring or coach on not having the behaviour continue. Let’s not accept departmental wins over organizational losses. Let’s hold our people accountable for contributing to the organizational good and recognize and reward our managers and employees when they do this. Most importantly, let’s model the way for how we want our employees to act. Ultimately strong leadership results in strong organizational culture. Empires and fiefdoms can’t take root in companies that have strong leadership that model organizational values and that focus on organizational wins. As always, I welcome your comments and feedback.

Photo courtesy of xedos4/FreeDigitalPhotos.net


2 Responses

  1. I couldn’t agree more with your take on office politics. Office politics is like a cancer that, if left untreated, can destroy a company’s success. Leaders need to be held accountable for setting the culture of the organization, which is something often overlooked by numbers and profit margins.

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