We know people are messy and awkward. We recognize that decisions aren’t as rational as they should be. We know things are not always as they seem. It begs the question: just how are we supposed to make it through all of this, get things done, and stay sane in the process? The good news is that there are things to which out for, and processes to follow, all of which add up to somewhat of a recipe for navigating the complex world of organizational politics.
We like to think of deciding as an act of deliberate intent. In actual fact, decisions often simply happen. They emerge and evolve, or arrive at a point where they are simply accepted. All appearances to the contrary, it can be difficult to point to when a decision was actually made, how it was arrived at and by whom. This doesn’t have to be the case. There are ways to improve not just the quality of decisions, but also clarity in the decision making process.
I have been a consultant working inside organizations for three decades and more. In that time, I have been involved in the creation of numerous methodologies and practices, and the implementation of many organizational change efforts. I have described myself as an organizational consultant of some variety or other. So you might reasonably assume that I consider my clients to be the organizations that I serve. You couldn’t be further from the truth.
It depends. It always depends. Figuring out how to approach situations, address challenges or secure decisions is some of the most difficult work that we do. We might know the outcome we want, but the challenge is successfully navigating the culture of the organization to secure the support that we need. Culture matters. Success in navigating culture means understanding how it works and figuring out how to respond. That’s easy to say, but harder to do.
We like rules. Rules make life easier. Knowing that there is a right and wrong answer means that we can figure out how to be successful under all circumstances. The only problem is that life doesn’t actually work that way, particularly when engaging in politics and managing in the face of complexity and uncertainty. That’s not to say that there aren’t strategies that can help, but those strategies inherently require adaptation, a willingness to be flexible, and acceptance that the only right answer in any given situation is, “It depends.”
I had an interesting conversation with a colleague recently about how to represent project success, and to do so simply. He’s an accountant, and a municipal one, so he’s interested in money and politics are an inherent part of the equation. They are two ingredients that make the interpretation of success messy. It doesn’t have to be.