It’s quite common for us to find that corporate politics are a key issue for clients.  This can be a particularly troublesome problem to address because the very politics that are so troubling to employees may have helped some senior managers achieve their current positions.

It’s important to understand not just that corporate politics are damaging to employee engagement, but why they are so damaging.

  1. It is demotivating for employees who are not adept at playing corporate politics. Why should they put forth their best effort if other less-competent individuals get ahead by taking advantage of their connections within the organization?
  2. Those who are getting ahead through leveraging their political connections are not necessarily contributing to the success of the organization. Their primary motivation is keeping their career moving forward, regardless of whether their work contributes to the success of the organization or how many people they step on to advance their careers. This can result in important ideas espoused by other employees being ignored.

The first step to solving the problem is for senior management to embrace the need for change. This needs to begin at the highest level of the organization – the CEO.

Demand that all employees treat everyone with respect. Bullying, yelling, and other such behaviors should not be tolerated. Politics are about control, and highly-political individuals may resort to many things to control their employees.

Have an open-door policy and insist that your subordinates with direct reports do the same. Grant complete confidentiality to all who enter your office to give you feedback and make this happen throughout the organization.   Be especially tuned in when shy employees approach, for it isn’t easy for some of them to reach upward in the organization. Be aware that some people might attempt to use this access for political purposes.

Get to know employees on a personal level. This can be difficult for large companies, but with a few hundred employees it still is possible for a CEO to spend a few minutes of time with each person each year, or for his/her subordinates to do the same. The goal is to uncover heretofore unrecognized abilities of employees who are not politically connected and whose positive efforts may be unnoticed because others have been taking credit for them.

If you hear many people complaining about the politics of executives, ask for specific examples of the alleged political behaviors. The executive(s) in question may or may not be guilty of practicing politics; you have to make a determination based on facts.

Listen to people who have ideas other than the ones that you are known to hold. Managers who surround themselves with “yes” men/women not only are fostering politics, they are leaving potentially-good ideas on the table.

Don’t’ tolerate the spreading of rumors.

Encourage direct communication between individuals when there are disagreements.

If you notice one of your subordinates making negative comments about others who work for you in an attempt to make themselves look better, “nip it in the bud,” as Barney Fife would say. Encourage your own subordinates to do the same.

Encourage teamwork. Clearly communicate how important it is that they work well together for the good of the organization. Have periodic team building exercises. Make sure that at least part of your incentive program rewards cooperation between departments and cooperation between individuals.

Recognize employee accomplishments – everyone’s accomplishments. Look and listen carefully, for the accomplishments of people who are not adept at “blowing their own horns” often can fly under the radar screen.

Politics probably cannot be completely eliminated, but with sufficient effort their negative ramifications can be minimized. You can measure your success through your employee survey scores on this issue.