King, Queen or Pawn – the Joys of Office Politics

If you don’t understand office politics you can find it difficult to get things done, particularly if you are new to an organisation.It is far better to adopt some useful strategies to keep the effects of office politics on you and your work to a minimum.

Politics – activities aimed at improving someone’s status or increasing power within an organization Oxford Dictionaries

I don’t play chess.  I admire those who do but for me the game is too slow to enjoy.  But I do know the rules!

For me Office Politics is just like that.  You may decide not to ‘play’ but you need to know how it works.

This is particularly true if you manage a project or a change programme.  If you don’t manage your stakeholders, your project or programme may be shot down in ways you never expected.

Stakeholder management doesn’t work if you don’t make sure you understand the politics of the organisation.

Wherever you have a group of people you will have a degree of politics operating.  People will usually jockey for position, form alliances, decide who they do like and who they don’t!  People will come to the group with different personalities, sets of values and opinions. Over time a group develops a set of norms or standards and ways of working. They develop a pecking order – a hierarchy of status and influence.  This will not necessarily reflect the organisation chart.  For example, the person who controls the stationery cupboard can have quite a lot of power to disrupt their colleague’s day, if they choose to do so!

If you don’t understand the influence hierarchy you can find it difficult to get things done, particularly if you are new to an organisation.  And the hierarchy will change over time, as people strive successfully and unsuccessfully to achieve greater influence.  You need to understand the office politics even if you find the concept distasteful. You will be very lucky indeed if someone actually tells you the rules of the game!

It is far better to adopt some useful strategies to keep the effects of office politics on you and your work to a minimum.  At the same time it will be useful to be classed as inside the influence group, as opposed to being on the outside looking in. What you are probably best to aim for is to manage any effects of office politics that directly relate to you!  Then turn them in your favour, or at least minimise their effects on you and your work.

Office politics in its crudest form usually occurs when one, or more than one, person holds (or is seen as holding) a significant amount of power within the office.  This may be formal power – the CEO’s private office is usually a hotbed of office politics – or informal power.  Formal power is pretty easy to read.  Informal power is much more difficult.  Informal power can arise in a number of ways! Someone with depth of knowledge of the organisation, the key subject matter expert, PAs to top managers,  may all wield considerable power and they are fairly easy to discover.  Far more challenging are the ‘office bully’, those in a relationship with someone holding formal power and unscrupulous players of the office politics’ game.  You need to listen and observe the group you work with and its surrounding organisation to find out more about these!

What can you do? Try to get to know the politically powerful within your organisation.  Don’t be afraid of them – they are often much, more receptive to people who aren’t intimidated by them!  Make sure they understand what you are trying to achieve.  Deal with their reservations and make sure they understand that you are taking on board their views.   If someone does try to undermine you, don’t get drawn in. Simply be bold and assertive, but not aggressive.  Make your points clearly and offer good will.  If their negative behaviour persists, then ring fence them – make sure they have as little as possible to do with your work.

People often play office politics because they are unsure about their own abilities and achievements.  They try to conceal what they believe are their shortcomings behind a façade and to make others feel they are less worthy. Don’t let them undermine your self-esteem – be proud of your own accomplishments and make sure that your efforts are recognised by those who matter.  But don’t get into direct competition if you can avoid it – it’s a waste of your time! If people know you are doing a good job consistently there is far less opportunity for you to be undermined.  Forming alliances with senior managers and using them as sponsors and champions for your work can increase your own informal power.  If you have a formal sponsor, make sure they are well informed and really up to date with your project or programme and can talk about it fluently to their colleagues.   As with all stakeholder management – targeted communication of  good quality of information is key to you and your project or programme’s success.

If you want to know more or do want to play the office politics game then here are some books that might be useful!

‘Office Politics: How work really works’ by Guy Browning

‘100+ Tactics for Office Politics (Barron’s Business Success)’ by Casey Hawley

For the really evil!

’21 Dirty Tricks at Work: How to Win at Office Politics’ by Mike Phipps, Colin Gautrey

Facilities Managers – how confident do you feel about project management?

Are you in the FM industry – bet you are expected to manage projects and change as part of an operational job – how confident are you?

Are you in the FM industry? I bet you are expected to manage projects and change as part of an operational  job.  But how confident do you feel?  Have you received all the training you need?  Please take my poll on LinkedIn about project management -



A whitepaper at our sister blog Making Performance Matter provides you with a step by step guide to mapping processes and changing/re-engineering them!  The guide consists of a four step process which is easy to follow and can be used in simple or complex situations.  Use the technique to deliver measurable benefits to your own processes or to help your client. Remember the importance of engagement and consultation.

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There are a number of recognized approaches to structuring a change management programme.  Here are three!  Choose the one that fits best with your style and your organization!

The Kotter model

The model is based on research which showed that there are eight critical steps an organization or service needs to go through to ensure that change happens and sticks.

These steps are:

  1. Establish a sense of urgency
    – examine market and competitive realities
    – identify and discuss crises, potential crises or major opportunities.
  2. Form a powerful, guiding coalition
    – assemble a group with enough power to lead the change effort
    – encourage the group to work together as a team.
  3. Create a vision
    – create a vision to help direct the change effort
    – develop strategies for achieving that vision.
  4. Communicate the vision
    – use every vehicle possible to communicate the new vision and strategies
    – teach new behaviours by the example of the guiding coalition.
  5. Empower others to act on the vision
    – get rid of obstacles to change
    – change systems or structures that seriously undermine the vision
    – encourage risk taking and non-traditional ideas, activities and actions.
  6. Plan and create short term wins
    – plan for visible performance improvements
    – create those improvements
    – recognise and reward employees involved in the improvements.
  7. Consolidate improvements and produce still more change
    – use increased credibility to change systems, structures and policies that don’t fit the vision
    – hire, promote and develop employees who can implement the vision
    – reinvigorate the process with new projects themes and change agents.
  8. Institutionalise new approaches
    – articulate the connections between the new behaviours and corporate success
    – develop the means to ensure leadership development and succession.

These steps are summarised in the diagram below:

Reading and resources

J Kotter. 1996. Leading Change. Boston: Harvard Business School Press.
J Kotter. 1995. ‘Leading change – why transformation efforts fail’ in Harvard Business Review.
J Kotter and D Cohen. 2002. The Heart of Change. Boston: Harvard Business School Press.

The model for improvement

The model builds on and brings together for practitioners, change management theory and practice, especially that published in 1992 by Langley, Nolan et al. It provides a framework for developing, testing and implementing changes to the way that things are done that will lead to improvement.

It is in two parts of equal importance.

  1. The ‘thinking part’, consists of three fundamental questions that are essential for guiding improvement work. The aim is to gather ideas and evidence to support the changes.
  2. The ‘doing part’, is made up of Plan, Do, Study, Act (PDSA) cycles that will help you make rapid change.

This is summarised in the diagram below:

It is recommended that you try change on a small scale to begin with and to rely on using many consecutive cycles to build up information about how effective your change is.

This makes it easier to get started, gives results rapidly and reduces the risk of something going wrong and having a major impact. When you have built up enough information to feel confident about your change, you can then implement it as part of your system.

Reading and resources
G Langley, K Nolan et al. 1996. The Improvement Guide: A Practical Approach to Enhancing Organisational Performance. San-Francisco: Jossey Bass.

A Practical Method that Builds on a Number of Other Change Theories

This model proposes that for a change to be successful there must be

  • A clear vision for the future
  • A coherent plan for getting there

It sets out a five stage remodelling process, shown in the diagram below: