I was just reading Don’t Dismiss Office Politics—Teach It and thinking about my own and others’ experiences with this subject. While the Wall Street Journal article focuses on executives, dismissing the role of office politics in non-executive jobs can be quite harmful to one’s career.
Now mind you, most office politics are completely ridiculous and counterproductive.
That’s right: counterproductive.
Most office politics issues create friction between people based on illusions and people’s inflated egos. The office society is very much like high school. Sometimes middle school. The popular do what they want, even if that is not doing their job, while the ones who want to get their job done are usually berated without cause and hated for actually wanting to work and doing their jobs!
Whoa! Now we’ve gone back to elementary school. People are shunned, cliques are formed, and productivity goes down.
Why are there so many managers stuck with this childish attitude?
One of the reasons I notice is that most managers are not qualified to be managers. Period. Yet they want the job because of the power, prestige, and money. Another reason that goes along with this, especially in the technology industry, is the self-illusion many engineers have that they can both manage and still be hands on and technical. This is an extremely rare combination and usually requires one working double the hours: two jobs at the same company for much less than twice the pay. This is something very few managers are willing to do. In addition, the rarity of this capability in people makes people defensive when they take a manager position, realize they can’t do both hands on work and managerial work, but don’t want to give it up.
So what to do?
I certainly don’t have all the answers. Part of the solution is for higher level executives to learn and train to recognize talent. To promote according to skill and ability, not simply according to seniority in years. Another is for people to honestly look at themselves and what they can do. If you’re putting in 60 hours a week now hands on and you want a manager’s title, are you willing to put in 120 hours a week to still be hands on and (assuming you have managerial skills–most people don’t) be a manger? If not, don’t apply.
The simplest solution and one that I see not being exercised over and over again is this: impose penalties on workers that do not do their job. I have seen everyone from junior members to CEOs and everyone in between not doing their job along with the negative effect this has had on their respective companies. Yet people are unwilling to take reprimanding, corrective action even when they admit there are problems, even when the problems are affecting the company, even when the problems are so huge, they have the potential to ruin the whole company and drive it out of business.
This is not surprising considering the indecisiveness and fear of most managers and their childish attitudes. It is unacceptable, however. If someone is not performing up to par constantly, it’s time to fire them!
Just don’t do it based on your feelings. Do it based on performance.
If you are fair and rational, you will realize you may have to quit or demote yourself if you are the problem you cannot fix. This is, unfortunately highly unlikely as most people are unwilling to even admit they are the problem and project it onto someone else, continuing the cycle of creating companies whose culture is about as professional as that of teenagers in middle school.