In the sixth grade, someone saying “hello” to me in the hallway literally caused me physical pain. At that awkward time in life, all I knew was that it looked dangerous to be noticed. Friends I had seen and known all my life seemed to change overnight – brokering friendships, cattiness and jealousies, hurting each other in ways that seemed way more personal than the relatively superficial neighborhood arguments of our simpler, elementary school years. I didn’t understand it, and because I didn’t understand it – it was scary to me, I withdrew, I participated minimally.
So what does that have to do with Corporate America? Well, I have never been able to wrap my brain around the thing called “corporate politics” either. Or – more precisely – as much as I can wrap my brain around it, I could never just accept it as part of the job as I advanced in my career. If it was just about the work, just about making cool stuff happen – I was all over it. My bouncy, genuinely enthusiastic self could skip all over the building working with teams to see and tackle the hard issues and find solutions, with an above average record of success, often exceeding expectations. Then my bouncy, genuinely enthusiastic self would bounce into a senior leadership team meeting and leave completely confounded and demoralized by a debate and a discussion thread that made absolutely no sense at all – even though I knew that I knew my stuff better than anyone else in the room. It felt like middle school – except this time I couldn’t help but be noticed because of my prior successes and because I was a bit naive. In the early stages of my career (when I wasn’t a threat to anyone), I believed that the only thing that mattered was results, and so I couldn’t give it up – I kept trying. (That results are the only thing that matter is, ultimately, true in all businesses – and that’s why I love it. You’ll find it to be most tangibly true, however, in start ups, thinner margin or high growth businesses.) In this particular case, I did not withdraw – but very likely, there are brilliant budding young (and old experienced) minds – with information that you need in order to make good leadership choices – and they are participating minimally. Even if you ask them directly for their input, they may still decline because of the uncertainty around how it may be received.
The reality is that all organizations comprised of human beings have politics, to some degree or another. Organizational politics have some good reasons for being. For one thing, politics organize the power and authority structure so that things can get done – because the CEO can’t (and should not) make all the decisions his or herself. And yet, that they exist at all, means your organizational politics are most assuredly skewing your view and blinding you to some potentially critical information.
If your employees don’t feel like it’s safe to tell you what you think, and that is highly likely in organizations of a certain size no matter how astute of a leader you are, some of your best talent may be withdrawing from you – giving you their minimum instead of their most. Bringing in an apolitical entity, with the capacity to truly understand and relate cross-company, cross-functional perspectives to a broader strategy, on a time-boxed assignment can help open up you vision and enhance your entire organizations confidence in their “oneness”.
Hey, that’s sound a lot like what we do at Upstream Insight! If you want to make sure you’re hearing and understanding the best of all parts of your organization, if you want to unlock and unleash the passion of every employee – give Upstream Insight a call. We’ll be fast, affordable, compassionate and honest – you’ll be more informed and your vision will be wider and decisions will be easier to make – your team will feel listened to and empowered….all good stuff.