3.8. Effective Countermeasures
The methods discussed in the previous section are good at breaking up a political logjam once it has occurred. However, there are numerous countermeasures you can take that help reduce the political charge of an environment. More accurately, they turn the political activity from negative, self-serving power grabbing to positive, group-serving, power sharing. These suggestions don't work in all companies all the time and these are not the only techniques you can use. Most of these will work when applied in the right situation and as you read, you'll certainly be able to think of situations now or in the past that could have used a dose of one or more of these countermeasures.
3.8.1. The Politics of Service
Providing excellent service is often a great way to overcome political standoffs or political fights. While it's not a cure-all, it can be very effective in many situations. Many IT departments are good at keeping their company up-to-date with or even ahead of the technology curve, but just as many IT departments are viewed as out-of-touch with their customers. As any doctor knows, fixing the physical problem is only part of the curedealing with the non-physical factors can often effect a more powerful and lasting cure. Taking medication for high blood pressure without modifying your diet or exercise will result in mediocre results. The same holds true in IT. Fixing the physical problem is often only half the cure. Dealing with the customers, whether internal or external, is what results in both the reality and the perception of excellent service. We've all dealt with a variety of service people in our lives that were probably competent, but didn't say more than two words to us. Lack of information leads to concern, distrust, and even suspicion. This can lead to a situation where the problem was resolved, but the customer's perception of the situation is still negative. Improving service (assuming your IT department provides some sort of service to the organization) can help calm turbulent political waters.
3.8.2. Partnering with Business Unit Counterparts
This is one of the most powerful countermeasures to interdepartmental politics. When you actively seek out and partner with business unit counterparts, you are sharing organizational, information, and resource power with them. As you learned earlier in this chapter, when you share power, you tend to get more of it (power shared is power gained), but that's not the reason you'd use this method. Partnering with business unit counterparts (those in other departments at roughly the same organizational level you are) yields the opportunity for you to gain knowledge about what the company and other departments are up to, which helps you do a better job aligning your activities with the direction the company is headed. When you do this, you make your department, your staff and your IT projects more relevant to the company and this increases your power. As they say, the best defense is a good offense, and when you genuinely forge relationships with others in the company, you create a positive political environment.
Nowhere in our discussions do we imply, suggest, or outright state that these activities should be undertaken for purely political purposesjust the opposite. The goal is to reduce the negative political implications and the only way that can be done is by undertaking these activities in a positive, genuine manner. To partner with business unit counterparts for the sole purpose of gaining information to make yourself or your department more powerful would be to further the negative political environment and those types of maneuvers typically backfire anyway. These countermeasures are intended to help reduce political maneuvering through activities and behaviors that create win-win situations.
Partnering with your counterparts also creates another interesting dynamic. Once you actually know one another, you can find and forge alliances outside your normal sphere of influence. If you need a favor or support for a key project, you may find allies in these counterparts who can use their power and influence to help get things done. And, when push comes to shove, you may find support where you least expected to find it.
3.8.3. The Project Team
Selecting your project team can also help counter negative political activity in a company. However, in some companies, this can be tricky, since adding the wrong members to your team could cause even bigger problems. Certainly, you'll need to weigh the pros and cons of adding outside members to your project team, but often, adding key stakeholders and business unit counterparts to the team helps tremendously. For example, adding a person from another business unit that has often opposed your project could help or hurt. If the person is genuinely interested in finding an optimal solution, it could be a real bonus for your team to have that person's involvement. On the other hand, that person could simply undermine everything you do. Keeping an eye toward building relationships and adding key people to your project team might be a good move. It's especially wise if you, your department, or team is frequently criticized for not including the right people or getting enough input prior to implementing a project. In this case, adding the right people to the team can reduce that tension and provide a venue for meaningful and timely input and advice. Later in this book, we'll discuss how to determine the best outside people to add and why, and we'll discuss subject matter experts and how their input and support can catapult a project toward success.
3.8.4. Customer/User Involvement
Another related method for creating a more positive political environment is to involve key users or customers in the projects that will impact them. In this case, the word customers refers primarily to internal customers, though there may be instances when involving external paying customers makes sense. Internal customers and users can be the source of political unrest if their needs are not being met. Information is power and if users (we'll refer to internal customers as users here) feel they do not have access to needed information, they can often become political liabilities. By involving users in a meaningful way, you accomplish two key objectives. First, you share information, which in itself might resolve or reverse negative political trends. Second, you gain valuable information about your users that you can use to address concerns, build trust, and over time build stronger alliances. Again, because these methods can be used in negative, manipulative, power-grabbing ways, you might find resistance at first, even if your intentions are good. When you involve users and you have a genuine desire to improve business relationships, your department and projects will benefit. We'll specifically discuss when and how to involve users in the project planning, testing and implementation phases of the project.
3.8.5. Communications Plan
Another potentially useful tool for skirting the usual political skirmishes is to create a communications plan that addresses issues that are likely to arise. Many negative political maneuvers become less effective when information is shared openly because power plays often rely upon limited information. If you determine who might be impacted by the project and in what manner, you can begin to plan your communication strategy. We'll discuss this in more detail later in the book when we look at planning your IT project. For now, however, keep in mind that the more information you can share, the better off you're likely to be. Remember that information is power and that when you share power, you increase you own power. Clearly, there are times when you want to limit which information you share, such as when a project is confidential or when you're trying to fly "under the radar. "There are also times when you want to limit the scope of the information you share so you don't give political players additional fuel. However, if you can communicate proactively and as openly as possible, you'll thwart many political maneuvers. And let's face it, unfortunately, not all IT departments are known for their outstanding communication skills, so this is one are where there's usually room for improvement.