3.2. Corporate Politics: A Primer
We all know corporate politics have a huge impact on which projects do and do not get funded and even on the success of those projects, but few people ever want to talk about it. Corporate politics are a fact of life and every company has a different personality and different political dynamics. Most IT pros would be happiest if there were no politicsafter all, it's all about the technology, isn't it? Still, we all have to work together toward a common goal and understanding the impact of politics on the IT department can help you achieve your objectives. Though power and politics are often seen as "dirty words" in the corporate world, they are a natural aspect of lifein and out of the corporate worldand the more you know about how things work, the better off you'll fare. Most of us form a negative impression of politics and power when they are used simply for self-promotion or ego enhancement. When they're used for the good of the company and everyone involved, they actually are positive traits. A thorough discussion of corporate politics could fill volumes, so we're only going to look at a few elements that might impact your IT department and make a few suggestions for navigating the muddy waters of corporate politics.
First, let's define three words: power, influence and politics. Power is, quite simply, the ability to produce change or to get results. Influence is the exercise of that ability to produce change. Politics has been defined as the study of who gets what, when and how. Politics is power and influence in action. Now, before you turn away in disgust, let's look at the positive uses of power, influence, and politics.
You'd be hard-pressed to think that anyone misused power and influence to accomplish these results. In fact, it's typically only the negative experiences we have that call attention to the darker side of power and influence. When things go well, we tend to attribute that to other factors and ignore the fact that power and influence can work toward positive, desirable outcomes. Throughout this chapter, words and phrases such as "politics" or "highly political atmosphere" are used to indicate the negative aspects of these types of activities. Unfortunately, we don't have words that describe the great things that happen when power and influence come together for the common good. Though we talk about success, teamwork, or innovation, we rarely (if ever) attribute these to a positive political environment. As you read through this chapter, keep this in mind because power, influence, and politics don't have to be negative. In fact, if you talk to 100 people, 98 of them would probably say they prefer to work for a powerful, influential boss. Why? Because powerful, influential people get things done and people like to be around success.
The problems most people run into, though, are often the results of the misuse of power and influence. The best defense is a good offense in this case, so we're going to look at the elements of power and influence and later in the chapter we'll look at specific methods you can use to analyze the political environment and tools you can use to achieve your objectives.