Archive for August, 2014

Office Politics and Organizational Learning

Posted on: August 4th, 2014 by admin 1 Comment

By Shawn P. Quigley

Office Politics is defined as:

(business) (functioning as singular or plural) the ways that power is shared in an organization or workplace, and the ways that it is affected by the personal relationships between the people who work there” (Collins English Dictionary, 2014)

Let us first state that Office politics is not personal interaction in the aspect of how we talk or act toward others not related to the struggle for power or position. This can be ascertained from the definition above. Many people think that office politics are a required part of every business. Are they really? Why do office politics exist? Can the fact that your company has office politics be an indicator of your organizational health? To answer if these are a part of every business we must first examine why these exist. To do that let us look at Organizational Politics Perceptions (OPP). OPP is a way of looking at the aspects and/or perceptions of people that cause them to see their office or business as a political one. Surprisingly enough with all the studies over the last 20+ years done on this topic very few have found any relationship between OPP and demographics such as age, race, sex, or tenure. The major drivers to perceiving an environment as political can be divided into three groups:

  1. Personal Control and Certainty
  2. Relationships and Opportunity
  3. Conflict

Politics – Personal Control and Certainty

We will discuss Personal Control and Certainty first because it actually plays a role in all the drivers we will discuss. An individual who feels that they have some control in the (their) work situation is less likely to view the office as political, because they do not perceive a struggle for power in their work. This also provides a feeling of certainty in their position and further reduces the perception of office politics. There is however an additional need to fully satisfy the certainty requirement and that is communication. Without good communication between parties about personal control, a perception of mistrust could foster the further perception of office politics. If we refer back to our discussions on the Leadership Equation pertaining to experiences, we can see how providing positive experiences will foster both a sense of personal control and certainty and thus reduce the sense of office politics. Also if we refer to Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, we can see how these two feelings would aid people to satisfy the higher order needs and thus be more satisfied in their position. We can also see how this sense of personal control could drive an individual to strive for personal mastery because they are in control of their own destiny. Personal Mastery is one of the five disciplines of a learning organization and key to individual motivation. (Senge, Kleiner, Roberts, Ross, & Smith, 1994)

Politics – Relationships and Opportunity

Now let us discuss Relationships and Opportunity as they pertain to OPP. In the introductory paragraph I stated, “Personal interaction in the aspect of how we talk or act toward others not related to the struggle for power or position.” So you might be asking, “What is meant by the term Relationships if it does not mean personal interaction?” In this context the term relationships means perceived positional relationships. If an individual perceives their relationship to the structure of an organization or group (team) as non-contributive or inferior then they will be more likely to perceive their environment as political due to a lack of control and/or contribution. And as we discussed in the previous paragraph personal control is an important aspect in the perception of whether on environment is political or not. So, you might be asking now how opportunity and relationships are grouped together. That is a good question. Opportunity can be seen as the ability for growth and development both on a personal and professional level. If someone sees that they have the opportunity for growth and development within a team or organization, they perceive that they have some control; if even in a small way, of the situation and better yet their own personal growth. Again we see how personal control comes into play with the perception of office politics.Conflict

Politics and Conflict

Conflict is the third aspect that contributes to the perception of a political environment. Conflict is defined by Webster as:

“A difference that prevents agreement: “disagreement between ideas, feelings, etc..” (Merriam-Webster “Conflict”, 2014)

There will always be some level of conflict within any team or organization. Conflict appropriately employed can produce new creative solutions and ideas. This does not always mean that the environment is seen as political. It is the nature in which these conflict are resolved that creates the perception of a political environment. If we approach conflicts using the five disciplines of a learning organization, we can minimize the potential for creating a political situation or environment. It is when the conflict turns away from a team solution; you’re wrong and I’m right, that power comes into play. As every leader can attest there are times when this answer is required. However, when time permits a discussion as to why it was done this way should follow to show all parties involved that their contributions are important, but the situation was such that this discussion could not be done. During this discussion input as to how to best handle the situation next time could be discussed to minimize or even prevent repeating it. The irony of this is that unless the situation is some form of causality; not something that arises from a typical business project, there is more often than not time for a discussion and this discussion would lead to a more through answer to the situation.

 Summary

During our discussion of these three drivers, we have touched on some of the basic principles of a learning organization. Therefore we can use this information we discussed to discover that having a perceived political environment could diminish the productivity of our people and thus our organization. Something we should note about our discussion is that we consistently use the term “perceived”. The reason for this is that every individual will perceive a situation differently, at least initially. It requires constant effort (Communication) and attention (Involvement) to maintain and/or develop a team perspective. We all know there will always be some form of politics within every organization, but to foster an effective learning organization we should strive to minimize this situation.

 

Collins English Dictionary. (2014, July 31). Retrieved from Office Politics: http://www.collinsdictionary.com/dictionary/english/office-politics

Merriam-Webster “Conflict”. (2014, August 1). Retrieved from Merriam-Webster: http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/conflict

Senge, P. M., Kleiner, A., Roberts, C., Ross, R. B., & Smith, B. j. (1994). The Fifth Discipline Fieldbook. In P. M. Senge, The Fifth Discipline Fieldbook.New York: Doubleday.

Project Management and Organization Learning

Posted on: August 2nd, 2014 by admin 1 Comment

By Shawn P. Quigley

Value Transformation LLC has recently posted several articles on Organizational Learning and Leadership. The reason why we here at Value Transformation have posted these articles are that we want to show how the training and assistance we provide is more than just how to manage a project. Value Transformation LLC believes that every project is an opportunity for growth of the company and the individuals involved.

Behind the Scenes of a Project

Most companies have team members that know the basic parts of a project. They know by repetition the sequences of events required and where some of the basic Quality points need to be. However, do they understand the how’s and why’s of the project team? Do they understand the benefits and drawbacks to group think or why and when to best employ the different styles of leadership? Do they understand “Expectation Communication”? Most projects do not fail or falter because the steps that are required are unknown, rather they fail because a lack of understanding of what is behind each step. Why are we doing this activity and who needs it? What is the actual objective? A good internal question to ask to determine your level of understanding is, “How many customers are in your company’s most basic project?” If you answered only one, there are two possibilities:

  1. you only have one worker / department
  2. your understanding of a project and how it can aid your company’s development could make use of the principles of Organizational Learning.

How and Why of project analysis.

How many projects have your teams been involved with that produced growth in the individuals involved? When a project was undertaken by your team and was successful, did you compare that to the previous project to ascertain why there was a difference? When the project goes in a less than desirable direction did the team stop and discern why? The goal of any project is to produce some expected outcome in a given time. The time and outcome is constantly changing, however the underlying structure of personnel and process development should always be the same. Companies spend billions of dollars a year on outside firms to help develop their personnel when what they actually need is to be shown how to make their projects a learning experience for their people and subsequently the organization. Once this mentality has been established, the development becomes internal and the constant use of external help is not required. This is effective training/learning, and is what Value Transformation provides: the full training package.

Leadership Equation- Perspectives and Experiences

Posted on: August 1st, 2014 by admin 2 Comments

By: Shawn P. Quigley

Previously on the Learning Organization

In our last discussion we surmised that the experiences we provide to our workers plays a major role in how they react, what they do and how well they perform. In this discussion we will look into how one’s position; perspective, changes the effect of an experience. When I think about perspective, it reminds me of the example of the three blind men looking at an elephant for the first time. The first man touched the elephant’s trunk and thought it was the branch of a great tree moving in the wind. The second man touched the elephant’s leg and thought it was a column of a beautiful building. The last man was at the tail, could only smell the odor and said, “Both of you are full of it and I smell it from here.” This is a crude example, but shows that where you start change what you think.

Perspectives

For a good portion of leaders and managers, we have worked our way up through the ranks to our current position. This we would assume provides us insight into how our employees see things, but as with most assumptions, they can lead to faulty conclusions. A good leader does not base actions or reactions on assumptions. These help, but actions are or should be based upon facts. Facts and not subjective, they are not affected by perspective because they are facts. Referring to the analogy above, the elephant is an elephant that is a fact. What the men concluded was their assumption based solely upon their perspective. Having said that we need to delve into what can change an individual’s perspective and how this will influence the direction of where we go.

Perspectives (and Direction)

We will first look at direction based upon perspective. If we assume; not a good thing, we know the current status of our system and base our corrective and/or improvement actions on that, our plans will probably end up with results that are not what we are striving. We must first determine our actual starting point. How can this be done if we all have different perspectives on our present status? This reminds me of the saying: they are three truths, yours, mine, and ours only one of which is right. We all believe that our perspective is right and usually will push that point to exhaustion. This brings us back to the learning organization model. An open mental model will allow for a discussion of the perspectives held by others.  This exploration coupled with supporting data will enable us to determine a more accurate starting point, where a ridged mental model will stifle this discussion and push forward on faulty data. The ridged model may be alright for small or short term items, but longer and more complex situations all but demands an open mental model. Think of it this way, if you are off by two degrees and travel one mile you may only miss your destination by a foot or two. However, if you are off by the same amount and your journey is for 100 miles you will be in the wrong place when you are done. This error will cause a self-filling prophecy of continual modification based on a faulty conclusion. By that one might conclude that the actions taken were ineffective and require change, but it was not the wrong action but the wrong starting point that caused the wrong results.

Typical Improvement Approach

The typical approach is to change is to start with where they want to be, which is a bit like putting the cart before the horse. You cannot tell how to get were you need to go until you know where you truly are. Therefore, the greater portion of change analysis should be to determine the actual starting point, not the perceived starting point. How do you do this? This task can be very subjective and time consuming. This is something that companies and most people try to avoid due to the “perceived” time and cost. Having said that, what is more time and cost consuming; constantly changing direction or spending a little up front time to know from where thus allowing for better direction? Note that this is not to say that modifications to the direction will not be required during the change process, but they are better understood using this model because their basis is better understood and conclusions will not be based on faulty data.

In Summary

Let us get back to the main topic of how an employee’s perspective changes their experience and thus their behavior and performance. When we were looking at how perception changed our actions for change or improvement, we were also actually discussing how it affected our workforce’s experience. Our employees could perceive what we might see as a minor change as a major change. What we see as an improvement could be seen as an unnecessary burden.

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