I have been thinking about this topic for a while now. Enterprise 2.0 book from Andrew McAfee chapter 8 (Looking ahead), a nice twitter conversation with @oscarberg, and a New York Times article about Microsoft Creative Destruction : all combined to convince me there was some room for a blog post.
Snip from the NYT article :
Internal competition is common at great companies. It can be wisely encouraged to force ideas to compete. The problem comes when the competition becomes uncontrolled and destructive. At Microsoft, it has created a dysfunctional corporate culture in which the big established groups are allowed to prey upon emerging teams, belittle their efforts, compete unfairly against them for resources, and over time hector them out of existence. It’s not an accident that almost all the executives in charge of Microsoft’s music, e-books, phone, online, search and tablet efforts over the past decade have left.
As Wikipedia defines it :
“Office politics is the use of one’s individual or assigned power within an employing organization for the purpose of obtaining advantages beyond one’s legitimate authority. Those advantages may include access to tangible assets, or intangible benefits such as status or pseudo-authority that influences the behavior of others. Both individuals and groups may engage in Office Politics.”
One has to be extremely pedagogic to explain me how on earth this may help the company in being more profitable, increasing customers satisfaction and being a better place for employees, the three goals of any company according to Eliyahu Goldratt.
The Transparency test
Throwing such concepts as Trust and Transparency into the discussion is a good method to identify the politics freaks out there. Transparency is their worst enemy : manipulating and controlling information is their favorite way to achieve their goals : intriguing to keep and strengthen their positions and power (as Oscar puts it).
They’ll soon show the standard behavior pattern of politics : denial and/or cynisism and standard resignation. “It’s not that simple, it just can’t work like that, You just can’t change that, that’s the way it has been and that’s the way it always will be etc …”.
I am very defiant towards these people. More often than not, this is somehow to excuse their own questionable behaviour. My take on politics jerks : The No Asshole rule.
Office politics specialists of the world unite ! Because you will soon die and no-one will shed a tear on you. Enterprise 2.0 is near the corner : trust and transparency will eventually rule the work place and the exact nature of your contribution will clearly appear : poisonous, irrelevant and damaging. We shall then follow Robert Sutton advice : get rid of you.
Chapter 8 (Looking Ahead) of Enterprise 2.0 book is, according to me, the most engaging and impressive. In that section, McAfee describes how the egalitarian and transparency values of the social platforms born on the internet may not be very welcomed in some companies.
To illustrates this, he mentions The Liar’s Club, this weekly executive meeting in a company where some people lie to each other regarding their budget, progress etc … to make sure they are not the ones the blame is put upon.
He then goes on and mentions Chris Argyris people behaviour models in organisations. Argyris describes two types of model. Model 1 is defined with the following principles :
1 – Define goals and try to achieve them.
2- Maximize winnings, minimize losings
3- Suppress negative feelings :
4- Behave rationally
In order to acquire a sense of control we need to prove to ourselves that we can control our environment. We thus set ourselves goals and do our best to achieve these goals. In order to maintain our sense of control, we tend to do this unilaterally — to include others is to risk losing control
We all like to win, because this proves to ourselves that we are achieving our goals and are in control. On the other hand, if we lose, we not only do not achieve our goals, but we are seen by others as inferior and are likely to receive less support in the future (thus we lose social control–i.e. power). Winning (or losing) becomes a spiral as the more people ally with us, the more others will feel socially isolated and be motivated to join us.
There are many ways we can experience dissonance in the actions from the above approaches (how well we achieve our goals, what we lose …). We will tend towards avoidance, denial and suppression. This suppression can be a collaborative action — I won’t talk about your limitations if you don’t talk about mine. This is a hugely poisonous spiral that leads entire organizations into sub-optimal and dysfunctional ways of working that can eventually bring down the entire company.
We all need to predict the world around us, including what other people will say and do. A defensive way of being rational is to judge the rationality of others, thus setting ourselves up as authorities and hence automatic winners. Blaming people and situations is to attribute cause, which is itself a rational action.
Even if these 4 principles may sound legitimate at first, soon the the trade-offs become obvious : it focus on individuals hence foster ego centric decisions and actions. Defensive communication, problems and mistake denials, stealing other people’s ideas and results (in France we are world champions), blaming, bitching and gossiping about people, brown-nosing, manipulating information … In one word : politics.
As an alternative, Argyris proposes another behavior model based on (from Wikipedia which tends to prove that Tables are not Wiki specialty):
1- Valid information : Design situations or environments where participants can be origins and can experience high personal causation (psychological success, confirmation, essentiality). Actor experienced as minimally defensive (facilitator, collaborator, choice creator). Quality of life will be more positive than negative (high authenticity and high freedom of choice)
2- Free and informed choice : tasks are controlled jointly, Minimally defensive interpersonal relations and group dynamics, effectiveness of problem solving and decision making will be great, especially for difficult problems, Increase long-run effectiveness
3- Internal commitment to the choice : Protection of self is a joint enterprise and oriented toward growth (speck in directly observable categories, seek to reduce blindness about own inconsistency and incongruity), Learning-oriented norms (trust, individuality), Public testing of theories
4- Constant monitoring of the implementation : open confrontation on difficult issues, Bilateral protection of others
The second model is based on valid information, choices, commitment and monitoring, all within a team activity. This is transparency. And transparency is a bedrock for trust.
As this is less individual centric, this second model is more open to the possibility of admiting mistakes (a great enabler of office balanced relationships) : it makes assertive communication natural and the only way to go.
From Model 1 to Model 2
This will resonate with a strong echo for any of us that have witnessed these top managers meetings where one hardly talks not to make a mistake and undergo a scathering attack by other managers. This is just dreadful.
McAfee concludes that :
ESSP can help organizations move from a Model 1 to a Model 2 theory-in-use. These tools can change the nature of collaboration and discussion within the enterprise giving people the ability both to contribute their perspective to a dialogue and to inform themselves by incorporating multiple perspectives. In short, they can help organizations move from defensive to productive reasoning(…) Enterprise 2.0 is about abandonning the assumption that unilateral control is the best way to achieve desired outcomes.
This is my favorite part of the book as this sounds to me the most enlightening.
While implementing Enterprise 2.0 and moving from Model 1 to Model 2, would we eventualy defuse office politics and focus, at last, on the main goals of private organisations : profits, customers satisfaction and employees well being ?