Concepts and Theories of Organizational Politics
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Published: Wed, 13 Sep 2017
Organizational politics is often defined as “Intentional enhancement of self-interest.” What it actually means research provides that “It is use of power to affect decision making in an organization or self-serving and organizationally unsanctioned behaviors.” This definition adds to knowledge of organizational behavior that the people in the organization reflect political behaviors and ability to reflect such behaviors were termed as political skills. These behaviors can be both legal and illegal with respect to their intensity. However, in reality politics take place due to scarcity of organizational resources as everyone will attempt to perform better and want to be rewarded to fulfill personal interest, but as resources are limited it does not happen. Moving forward, it is also said that political behavior can be perceived as politics and at the same time as effective management so, it depends on the perception of a person. Now talking about reasons of political behavior adopted by people in the organization there are some individual factors as individuals in organizations may be high self-monitors, high mach personality, possess locus of control or may have job alternatives such individuals found to be indulge in politics. As for as organizational factors are concerned there may be role ambiguity, limited resources, high performance pressure or self-serving serving senior managers which stimulate the process of politicking within the organization. However, there is a reaction to an action so, people used to behave defensively in order to avoid action, blame or change. So, organizations should limit the effects of political behavior otherwise they should have to manage the politics effectively by being clear, straight forward, by being honest in their proceeds in order to match the communicated thoughts with their employees, and using defensive behaviors against dirty political players. Moreover, people in organizations want to be attractive and want to make positive image of themselves in the mind of others. This attempt of people of introduced the term impression management in the organization by means of which people manage their impression in minds of others. It helps people to take benefits in different aspects and satisfy their interests, which is likely to be referred as politics.
Pfeffer (1992) defined politics as the processes, the actions, the behaviors through which potential power is utilized and realized. Another author (Dubrin, 2001) defined organizational politics as informal approaches to gaining power through means of other than merit or luck. It could be argued that politics are used primarily to achieve power, either directly or indirectly, e.g., by being promoted, receiving a larger budget or other resources, or gaining desirable assignments.
Many people regard organizational politics as something negative (e.g., pursuing self-interests at the expense of others) and something to be minimized. Consequently, although most people know that organizational politics are common, they avoid saying so when it concerns one’s own behavior. It is more common to talk about politics when complaining about a loss to a friend than it is in the context of one’s own political interference. When we win on an issue, we call it leadership, when we lose, we call it politics. In many organizations, politics is a taboo subject, which makes it difficult for individuals to deal with this crucially important aspect of organizational reality. Organizational politics are neither good nor bad, although it is important for us to distinguish between ethical and unethical political behavior.
When people get together in groups, power will be exerted. People want to carve out niche from which to exert influence, earn rewards, and advance their careers. When employees in organizations convert their power in to action it is describe as to them as being engaged in politics. Those with good political skills have the ability to use their bases of power efectively.1
Defining Organizational politics
Organizational politics refers to “Intentional enhancement of self-interest” by kinicki in 1990, it means that a person with his intention try to influence the others in the organization in order to enhance his personal interests. Furthermore, with reference to the study subjected to “Political Alignments in Organizations” and “Power and Influence in Organizations” done by S.B. Bacharach and E.J. Lawler, R.M. Kramer and M.A. Neale respectively in 1998 defines organizational politics as “It is focused on use of power to affect decision making in an organizations or self-serving and organizationally unsanctioned behaviors”. In explanation a person use his power or authority to influence the decisions made by organization or use his power to serve himself with organizational resources and also to its extreme perform or reflect such a behavior that is prohibited in the organization.
It can be defined as “The ability to influence others in such a way as to enhance one’s objective”2, according to this definition a person if have such an impact on others that they act in accordance with him to achieve his goal or objective. So, if a person used to create required behavior coming from others which at the end help to accomplish that particular person’s objectives, the person is said to be have political skills.
It refers to the “Activities that are not required as part of a person’s formal role in the organization but that influence, or attempt to influence, the distribution of advantages and disadvantages within the organization.”3 In simple words such a behavior within the organization that is not required by job or organization but rather exercised in attempt to take advantages in certain conditions. Moreover, this definition is broad enough to include varied political behaviors such as withholding key information from decision makers, joining a coalition, whistle blowing, spreading rumors, leaking confidential information to the media, exchanging favors with others in the organization for mutual benefits, and lobbying on behalf of or against a specific individual or decision alternative.
Types of political behavior
There are two types of organizational politics that are as follows
- Legitimate political behavior
- Illegitimate political behavior
Legitimate political behavior
Interviews with experienced managers revealed that the political behavior is a major part of organizational life.4 Many manager reports that the use political behavior is both ethical and necessary, as long as it does not directly harms anyone else. So, this type of political behavior is subjected to normal routine politics that take place every single day within the organization.
Illegitimate political behavior
As described above political behavior is part of organizational life, some managers repot it to be good but to which extent? The intensity of politics done refers to another type of political behavior. So we can say that extreme politics that violates the implied rules of the game in organization reflect to be illegitimate or illegal type of political behavior, such a behavior would likely to be sentenced to punishment.
The reality of Politics
Organizations are made up of individuals or groups with different values, goals and interests.5 This set up the potential of conflict over the allocation of limited resources, such as departmental budgets, space, project responsibilities and salary adjustments.6 If resources were abundant constituencies within the organization could satisfy their goals. As the resources are limited everyone’s interests cannot be satisfied. Furthermore, gains by one individual or group are often perceived as coming at the expense of others within the organization whether they are not. These forces create real competition among members for the organization’s limited resources.
Politics in the eye of beholder
A behavior one person labels as “organization politics” is very likely to seem like “effective management” to another. The fact is that the effective management is necessarily political, although in some cases it might be. Rather, a person’s point determines what he or she classifies as organizational politics. For example, one experimental study showed that power-oriented behavior performed by a permanent employee is seen as more legitimate and less harsh than the same behavior performed by a temporary employee.7 take a look at the following labels used to describe the same phenomenon. These suggest that politics, like beauty, is in the eye of the beholder.8
In simple words these labels describe that at the same time one may state a political label to be an effective management label. For example, blaming others for a deed is politics on the other hand it may be referred as fixing a person to its responsibility that is an effective management. Let take another example creating conflict in the work setting might be politics but looking from other side it might be am initiative to change or innovation in the organization, and same applies to others.
Causes of political behavior
There are following factors contributing to political behavior in the organization.9, 10, 11, 12
- Individual factors
- High self-monitors
- Internal locus of control
- High Mach personality
- Organizational investment
- Perceived job alternatives
- Organizational factors
- Declining of resources
- Promotion opportunities
- Role ambiguity
- Unclear performance evaluation system
- Zero-sum reward practices
- Democratic decision making
- High performance pressures
- Self-serving senior managers
These individuals are more sensitive to social cues, they exhibit higher levels of social conformity, and they are more likely to be skilled in political behavior.
Internal locus of control
The organizations consist of such individuals who are more prone to take a proactive stance and attempt to manipulate situations in their favor, which in sense is politics as an individual try to influence the environment.
High mach personality
The individual who wills to manipulate, and have desire for power is comfortable at using politics as a mean to fulfill his or her self-interest.
Some individuals used to have persona investment in the organization in terms of expectations of increased future benefits, the more that person has to lose if forced out and the less likely he or she is to use illegitimate means.
Perceived job alternatives
An individual who have more alternative job opportunities due to a favorable job market or the possession of scarce skills or knowledge, a prominent reputation, or influential contacts outside the organization the more likely there is risk that he can take illegitimate political actions.
Unclear performance evaluation system
Organizations should opt proper performance evaluation system and there should be no subjective performance criteria, no single outcome measure, and there should be no delay in awarding appraisal for a job done.
Zero-Sum Reward practices
It is also called Win/Lose Approach treats the reward “pie” as fixed so that any gain one person or group achieves has to come at the expense of another person or group. This particular approach opted by organization enhances the politics in the organization.
Democratic decision making
In this regard organizations direct managers to behave more democratically, they are told that they should allow employees to advise them on decisions and that they should rely to a greater extent on group input into the decision process, which cause undue influence on organizational practices.
High performance pressure
In an organization the more pressure that employees feel to perform well, the more likely they are to engage in politicking.
Self-serving senior managers
When inside the organization the employees see the people on top engaging in political behavior, especially when they do so successfully and are rewarded for it, a climate is created that supports politicking.
In an organization people may engage in political actions to safeguard what they have. So, they may stimulate conflicting actions and increase politicking.
As appraisal is part of organizational practices so, it encourages people to compete for a limited resource and try to positively influence the decision outcome.
If the organizational practices fail to clearly define the role of particular job within the working environment, it initiates the politicking as the formal role and behaviors required by the organization are ambiguous.
Consequences of organizational politics
There are different kinds of employees within an organization so; in respond to organizational politics employees reflect different effects, like some employees show “decreased job satisfaction”13 and “reduction in job performacne”14. Similarly, some employees feel an “increase in anxiety and stress”15 while performing their job in political environment. Furthermore, some employees add to “turnover ratio”16 of organization as they might resign from their job due to political practices in organization.
It is also seen that when employees see politics as a threat, they often respond with “Defensive behaviors”.
It can be defined as “Reactive and protective behaviors to avoid action, blame or change.”17 there are some examples of such behaviors in “Avoiding action”
- Over conforming
Strictly interpreting your responsibility by saying things like “This is the way we have always done it.”
- Buck passing
Transferring the responsibility for the execution of a task or decision to someone else.
- Playing dumb
Avoiding an unwanted task by falsely pleading ignorance and inability.
Delaying a task so that one person seems to b stucked in a particular task.
Appearing to be more or less supportive publically while doing little or nothing privately.
There are some examples of such behaviors in “Avoiding blame”
A person tries to cover his back by projecting an image of competence and thoroughness.
- Playing safe
It refers to taking responsibility of such projects which have high chances of success, have risky decisions approved by superiors, and in which one can take neutral position in conflicts.
Developing explanation or apologizing for a task which has negative outcomes.
One attempts to place blame on external factors for a negative outcome.
It involves manipulation of information by distortion, deception or selective presentation.
There are some examples of such behaviors in “Avoiding change”
A person tries to prevent a threatening change from occurring.
A person acts in such ways that he can protect his self-interest during change by guarding information or other resources.
Limiting effects of political behavior
The worldwide organizations confront the political behavior from the side of employees which sometimes act in good faith of organization but to the same extent it can damage the organizational goals and objectives, in case if the personal interests of a person or group of persons become a hurdle in the way of organizational performance. In response to such violation organizations should take possible measure such as
- There should be open flow of communication.
- The employees should be provided sufficient resources to fulfill their interests.
- The rules and regulations should be defined clearly.
- The information dissemination should be done such a manner that there should be no addition while passing from one level to another.
- The political norms should be removed.
- Hire those employees who reflect lower levels of political skills.
Managing organizational politics effectively
As politics are major part of an organization, as the organization consists of individuals and group of people. However, politics can be managed effectively if one follows these steps:
- One should learn the culture and the rules of the game for success in the organization.
- One should establish credibility and an overall positive impression in the eyes of others present in the organization.
- One should build a base of support by forming alliances, groups with key players.
- One should create and implement formal clear policies, procedures so there is no ambiguity.
- One should be open and vivid while dealing with employees regarding the decisions which influence them.
- One should be consistent with what he says and what he acts.
- One should use defensive behaviors to protect themselves against the dirty political players in the organization.
Impression management (IM)
As people have ongoing interest in how others perceived and evaluate them. For example, people in North America spend billions of dollars on diet, health, club membership, cosmetics and plastic surgery, all this is done to make them attractive to others.18 Being perceived positively by others should have benefits for people in organization. I may result into favorable evaluation, superior salary increase, and more rapid promotion. In political context, it might help to take distribution advantages in their favor. So, Impression management can be defined as “The process by which individuals attempt to control the impression others form of them”.19
Impression management techniques
There are various techniques of impression management which can be opted by people to control their impression others have about them.20 These techniques are as under:
It involves agreeing with someone else’s opinion to gain his or her approval is a form of ingratiation. For example, a manager tells his boss, “You are absolutely right on your plan to reorganize the office.”
Excuse refers to an explanation regarding an unpleasant event caused by a person in order to minimize the intensity of anger. It is a defensive IM technique. For example, a sales manager says to his boss, “We were not able to put ad in the paper on time, but no one responds to those ads anyway.
In apology one admits responsibility for an undesirable event and seeks to get pardon for the action, it is a defensive IM technique. For example, an employee says to his boss, “I am sorry I made a mistake in report. Please forgive me.
It is a self-focused technique in which one person highlights his own work, best qualities, downplay others deficit and call attention to his own achievement. For example, an employee tells his boss, “I accomplish a task in one week which someone else could not do in months. I am the best performer here.”
Flattery is referred as buttering, because while reflecting flattery a person give compliments about others proceeds in an effort to appear perceptive and likeable to him. For example, a new comer says to experienced, “you handled that client’s complaint so tactfully, I could never do that just you did.”
It includes doing something nice for someone to gain his or her approval is a form of ingratiation. For example, a sales person says to client, “I have got two tickets to theater tonight, take them. Consider it a thank you for taking your time.”
In association one person do more than required to show how dedicated and hard working he is in organization. For example, a person had performed overtime duty he conveyed that message to his supervisor so; he could know he was working hard.
A self-focused technique in which a person claims that his work done is more valuable than any of other members of organization. For example, a journalist tells his editor, “My news on celebrity divorce story was a major boost in sales.” Even though the story only made it to page 3 in the entertainment section.
- Mintzberg, Power In and Around Organizations, p. 26. See also K. M. Kacmar and R. A. Baron, “Organizational Politics: The State of the Field, Links to Related Processes, and an Agenda for Future Research,” in G. R. Ferris (ed.), Research in Personnel and Human Resources Management, vol. 17 (Greenwich, CT: JAI Press, 1999), pp. 1-39.
- G. R. Ferris, D. C. Treadway, P. L. Perrewé, R. L. Brouer, C. Douglas, and S. Lux, “Political Skill in Organizations,”Journal of Management (June 2007),pp. 290-320; K. J.Harris, K. M. Kacmar, S. Zivnuska, and J. D. Shaw, “The Impact of Political Skill on Impression Management Effectiveness,” Journal of Applied Psychology 92, no. 1 (2007).
- A. Drory and T. Romm, “The Definition of Organizational Politics: A Review,” Human Relations (November 1990), pp. 1133-1154; and R. S. Cropanzano, K. M. Kacmar, and D. P. Bozeman, “Organizational Politics, Justice, and Support: Their Differences and Similarities,” in R. S. Cropanzano and K. M. Kacmar (eds.), Organizational Politics, Justice and Support: Managing Social Climate at Work (Westport, CT: Quorum Books, 1995), pp. 1-18; and G. R. Ferris and W. A. Hochwarter, “Organizational Politics,” in S. Zedeck (ed.), APA Handbook of Industrial and Organizational Psychology, vol. 3 (Washington, DC: American Psychological Association, 2011), pp. 435-459.
- D. A. Buchanan, “You Stab My Back, I’ll Stab Yours: Management Experience and Perceptions of Organization Political Behavior,” British Journal of Management 19, no. 1 (2008), pp. 49-64.
- J. Pfeffer, Power: Why Some People Have It-And Others Don’t (New York: Harper Collins, 2010).
- Drory and Romm, “The Definition of Politics.”
- C. R. Willness, P. Steel, and K. Lee, “A Meta-Analysis of the Antecedents and Consequences of Workplace Sexual Harassment,” Personnel Psychology 60 (2007), pp. 127-162.
- Source: Based on T. C. Krell, M. E. Mendenhall, and J. Sendry, “Doing Research in the Conceptual Morass of Organizational Politics,” paper presented at the Western Academy of Management Conference, Hollywood, CA, April 1987.
- G. R. Ferris, G. S. Russ, and P. M. Fandt, “Politics in Organizations,” in R. A. Giacalone and P. Rosenfeld (eds.), Impression Management in the Organization (Hillsdale, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum, 1989), pp. 155-156; and W. E. O’Connor and T. G. Morrison, “A Comparison of Situational and Dispositional Predictors of Perceptions of Organizational Politics,” Journal of Psychology (May 2001), pp. 301-312.
- Farrell and Petersen, “Patterns of Political Behavior in Organizations,” Academy of Management Review 7, no. 3 (1982), pp. 403-412.
- G. R. Ferris and K. M. Kacmar, “Perceptions of Organizational Politics,” Journal of Management (March 1992), pp. 93-116.
- Ferris, Russ, and Fandt, “Politics in Organizations,” p. 147; and J. M. L. Poon, “Situational Antecedents and Outcomes of Organizational Politics Perceptions,” Journal of Managerial Psychology 18, no. 2 (2003), pp. 138-155.
- W. A. Hochwarter, C. Kiewitz, S. L. Castro, P. L. Perrewe, and G. R. Ferris, “Positive Affectivity and Collective Efficacy as Moderators of the Relationship Between Perceived Politics and Job Satisfaction,” Journal of Applied Social Psychology (May 2003).
- G. R. Ferris, D. D. Frink, M. C. Galang, J. Zhou, K. M. Kacmar, and J. L. Howard, “Perceptions of Organizational Politics: Prediction, Stress-Related Implications, and Outcomes,” Human Relations (February 1996), pp. 233-266; and E. Vigoda, “Stress-Related Aftermaths to Workplace Politics: The Relationships Among Politics, Job Distress, and Aggressive Behavior in Organizations,” Journal of Organizational Behavior (August 2002), pp. 571-591.
- S. Aryee, Z. Chen, and P. S. Budhwar, “Exchange Fairness and Employee Performance: An Examination of the Relationship Between Organizational Politics and Procedural Justice,” Organizational Behavior & Human Decision Processes (May 2004), pp. 1-14.
- C. Kiewitz, W. A. Hochwarter, G. R. Ferris, and S. L. Castro,”The Role of Psychological Climate in Neutralizing the Effects of Organizational Politics on Work Outcomes,” Journal of Applied Social Psychology (June 2002), pp. 1189-1207.
- B. E. Ashforth and R. T. Lee, “Defensive Behavior in Organizations: A Preliminary Model,” Human Relations (July 1990), pp. 621-648.
- M. R. Leary and R. M. Kowalski, “Impression Management: A Literature Review and Two-Component Model,” Psychological Bulletin (January 1990), pp. 34-47.
- W. L. Gardner and M. J. Martinko, “Impression Management in Organizations,” Journal of Management (June 1988), pp. 321-338; M. C. Bolino and W. H. Turnley, “More Than One Way to Make an Impression: Exploring Profiles of Impression Management,” Journal of Management 29, no. 2 (2003), pp. 141-160; S. Zivnuska, K. M. Kacmar, L. A. Witt, D. S. Carlson, and V. K. Bratton, “Interactive Effects of Impression Management and Organizational Politics on Job Performance,” Journal of Organizational Behavior (August 2004), pp. 627-640; and M. C. Bolino, K. M. Kacmar, W. H. Turnley, and J. B. Gilstrap, “A Multi-Level Review of Impression Management Motives and Behaviors,” Journal of Management 34, no. 6 (2008), pp. 1080-1109.
- B. R. Schlenker, Impression Management s(Monterey, CA: Brooks/Cole, 1980); M. C. Bolino, K. M. Kacmar, W. H. Turnley, and J. B. Gilstrap, “A Multi-Level Review of Impression Management Motives and Behaviors,” Journal of Management 34, no. 6 (2008), pp. 1080-1109; and R. B. Cialdini, “Indirect Tactics of Image Management Beyond Basking,” in R. A. Giacalone and P. Rosenfeld (eds.), Impression Management in the Organization (Hillsdale, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum, 1989), pp. 45-71.
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