Mr. P.O.P.O. quite often gets on with the job and leaves politics to others in the mistaken belief that talent and ability will carry the day. He is Pissed on and Passed over (P.O.P.O.). His integrity and work ethic get him nowhere. He quite often finds himself overlooked for rewards and promotions (or postings) and invariably sidelined by craftier colleagues. Partly because he’s too straight and naive and partly because he just doesn’t know how to play the game, Mr. P.O.P.O. ends up as a spectacular underachiever. In the power game, all along dominated by the manipulators & strategists, Mr. P.O.P.O. does not make a win, for he does not know the rules and the knack to absorb him (self) into the cunning ploys, gambit, and strategies to put him up from the P.O.P.O. quagmire.
Office politics matters. One just cannot succeed at work without getting political. Politicking happens whether you like it or not. It requires a person to learn the right buttons to push to influence others more effectively. Working life sucks, let’s be honest here. Bad stuff can happen to good people. Bright, smart, hard-working souls who try to do a good job often end up getting walked over, trodden on and beaten down or sent packing to languish in obscurity or even the vigilance/crime/police nets. And arrogant, nasty, vindictive types often seem to have a fast-track ticket that allows them to rise straight to the top (ref; Murphy’s Law).
In our career we’re invariably confronted with a number of unpleasant office situations, politics, negativity, bullying bosses and annoying co-workers (a compassionate boss is very unlikely but is a real treasure). Bad people do get promoted because of their upward relationships. It’s an unfortunate and sometimes unfair fact of life. It doesn’t matter how great of a performer you are. If your boss (or even your peers/colleagues) perceives you as a threat, you could very well be eliminated. From the day one of your career to the day you retire, office politics affects you, your performance at work, and your relationship with your peers and even the future of the company. Innocent Bystander, the archetype, just wants to do the best job possible and leave himself out of the politics. He can never stay out of it, not really. The system always finds a way to suck him in. Even working from home as a freelance whatever, doesn’t make you immune.
Because business is about competition, some of it is subtle and unspoken, but nearly everyone is competing for budgets, opportunities to work on more exciting (say plum) projects, customers, or resources. And then there’s competition for promotions, time with important colleagues/superiors/biggies, prestige, recognition, bigger salaries, and, of course, power. But the very fact that people do plot and scheme at work illustrates one of the truths of politicking – that it delivers results. Despite some people trying to be noble and refusing to play the political game (they focus on their jobs and work hard in the hopes of being noticed and rewarded for their efforts) these sorts of people just end up being overlooked or ignored – either by colleagues or very important persons or both.
People (the purists) who focus on their work, dislike politics and try to work hard may be very good at their jobs and work honestly and diligently, if somewhat naively. They follow rules and regulations, trying to do what is “fair” or “right” and feel frustrated when decisions are not “fair” or “right”. Nice does not mean nice, it often ends up meaning loser. The nice guys often end up meaning losers to end up as organizational martyrs, moaning about the unfairness of life but never doing anything about it. The players, the very opposite of purists, do respect official rules and regulations, but they understand that the ‘unofficial rules’ of politics are often more important. They realize that decisions are rarely “fair” or “right” and that decision makers have both personal as well as professional buttons that need to be pressed. They may not always be the very best at their day-to-day jobs, but their connections and influence help them to vault up the career ladder over their purist colleagues. They use their understanding of politics to influence people and achieve goals that are good for the organization as well as themselves. They know even in the most friendly and supportive of organizations, people don’t always agree. Purists largely refuse to play the political game, believing it to require underhand tactics and a malicious intent.
Bosses, like any dominant animal, mark out their territory, assert their authority and display their power. As if it were a male peacock that flaunts its plumage to attract a mate, bosses flaunt themselves to denote gravitas and seriousness, in this case not to attract a partner but, to assert their top-dog position in the workplace. Groups were territorial in the past because it helped them survive. If you weren’t in a tight band, you didn’t get to pass on your genes. Such tribalism is not necessary in the same way now, yet we still have those characteristics because they have evolved over two million years. It’s a surprise just how hard-wired this behavior is. It’s predictable that a group will ostracize a whistle-blower, for instance. It’s not good, but it’s understandable in the tribal framework. It explains all sorts of undesirable behaviors, including bullying. Top guys do not spend as much of their time, as people thought, sitting reading quietly or attending to paperwork in front of a computer. Instead they are more often out and about maneuvering and positioning themselves at meetings, one-on-one encounters and coffee cliques.
Moral: We need to stop being simplistic and realize that changing behaviors and encouraging teamwork is much harder than we think. Getting different groups together and talking through some of the differences, and appreciating some of the unwritten rules which drive people, are crucial steps in improving trust. Let us not get taken advantage of & end up as organizational martyrs, moaning about the unfairness of life but never doing anything about it.