Office Politics You Always Knew And Endured

(But What Big Boss Overlooked Until Too Late)

You’ve been in a job for some time, and you don’t know why things aren’t yet in your favor. You have a boss who’s good and all, but things aren’t they way you dreamt. Something is amiss, and you’re not “growing”. And you know the organization is the ultimate loser. Worse, that sinking feeling is creeping in: You’re only a spectator to your own losing.

It’s no surprise: Ideal organizations just don’t exist. No organization or department is free from internal politics—it is only in keeping with human nature. Social influence fuels the need for one-upmanship as we grow—and humankind is beleaguered with basic feelings of insecurity, fear and envy anyway. And for some losers, the only way up is by employing the cheapest politics possible. Consequently, many a “team player” you know could have scaled much greater heights had he known he was cut out for politics. Talk about career anchors. Notwithstanding that, office politics and politicians must be understood to be beaten.
Of POOs and COPs

I’ve matured from what they call “grassroots” to a managerial position in human resources—and, by golly, have had the good fortune of being with a surfeit of “Politicians of Office” (POOs). And some were outright HR pros too. If anything, they teach you how not to be. The inspiration is to be a “Counter Office Politician” (COP)—meaning, you don’t do politics but learn defenses when done politics to. Believe me, it worked for me, and it will surely work for you too. So when you’re thumbed down, the COP within must be summoned for help.
Why do POOs exist (And what top management should do at once…)?

POOs exist because of two reasons; One, there is no “control on control”. An employee may have been with the organization for a long time, and gained blind trust from the boss. Someone said, power corrupts, and absolute power corrupts absolutely. Nothing is closer to the truth. By “control on control”, what I mean is that top management should periodically check sources of information, suggestions and, most importantly, opinions as they come to them. Are all the right resumes reaching Big Boss? Is there an undesirable filter? Is an opinion about a team member, whom Big Boss doesn’t meet at all, to be taken at face value? Should an assignment or project be given / taken away from someone because X feels that way?

The other reason is unhealthy competition. Is everyone given a fair chance to prove his worth? Is there cheap favoritism working? What if Big Boss has a team leader who wants only “his men” around, either from this company or from where he’s worked earlier?

The question top management must ask is WHY. Why is this being informed? Why is X responsible for this and Y for that? Does top management have an ideal (impartial, transparent) team working for it?

Yet another reason is a new Big Boss in the organization. POOs normally take advantage of this scenario. Skilled manipulators can manage a new boss, and can turn things in their favor before new Big Boss realizes he’s been hoodwinked.  It will be some time, of course, before Big Boss settles down and gets to scratch the surface and change things but it is during this honeymoon period that POOs take maximum advantage.
Dealing with POOs (…or what you should do meanwhile)

One thing I know for sure: POOs come in great variety, and are at all levels in the organization. Most of them are at in-between levels; meaning, they are the unnecessary middlemen between you and Big Boss. But a POO can also be a peer, a subordinate, a boss, somebody else’s boss’s peer—just about anyone.

The following classification attempts to type (years of experience!) some of the frequently encountered POOs you are bequeathed with but don’t know how to deal with. One must learn to identify the type of POO that’s been putting your career in jeopardy. I made conscious efforts to understand and type them. Study them, analyze them, and strategize to beat the hell out of them.
POO Types

The Molder. The Molder, usually an old timer, gets to mould Big Boss, his team, projects, assignments, etc. and will take advantage of his being the earliest bird around. This type is dangerous because Molder can change the very future of a department. This he does by ensuring that things get formed as per his own convenience. Molder can be a new boss, or a subordinate who can mould a new boss who unknowingly moulds Big Boss.

Now here’s how you will deal with this type. If you are not an old timer, you won’t belong to the club, therefore, get acceptance first. Later, as you get older—and smarter—ensure that you keep changing things they way it should be, and before long you will be an opinion leader. Remember, the older the Molder, the more difficult the task.

The Moonlight Powerful. I coined this term specifically for those POOs who have no opinion of their own, but have the power to act on someone else’s influence. They can further carry influence. Much like the moon, which shines only with borrowed light, Moonlight Powerful operates with moonlight power. That is to say, he is powerful to the extent he’s attached to someone. He uses all this power with granted generosity, and is a pain in the neck for all who don’t have access to the power center. In fact, Moonlight Power wants all the moonlight for himself and will make every attempt at dissuading access to the big boss.

Now here’s how you will deal with this type. At the remotest possibility, start interacting directly with big boss. Moonlight Power must gradually know he doesn’t have all the boss for himself.
The Malevolent Munificent. This type is all goody-goody. Never an unkind word to anyone but to the influential. He’s the kind who takes a fancy to you from the first day. You are knowledgeable, enthusiastic, creative. Did I say creative? He knows you are too. He wants to use you as much as possible because you’re good at what you’re doing. Because he’s not. Because he’s an ass. The last proposal you painfully mulled over on Word was for Big Boss only ‘keyed in’ by you (“I got it typed”), the thought process and ideas were all his own. To you, he is all praises. You have good knowledge on this, man. You been reading a lot? But when he trots up with the stuff to Big Boss, the version changes. He sat late doing this stuff. I really hurried him up. But he’s good at Word and I only had to tell him the ideas. He also understood what I said. Of course, he needs some improvement in the subject, but he’ll pick up…

Now here’s how you will deal with this type. Let him carry all your ideas to the top. You’re not a nut anymore. Do two things. One, unless the presentation is confidential, show it all your colleagues and tell them how well “it has come out”. That way, the next time he boasts, your colleagues will grin. Two, and better, while the proposal is being discussed, walk in nonchalantly, and say in a loud clear voice, “Sir, I think there’s been an error. I had originally thought that the idea for group induction should be every fifteen days, but forgot to change it”. Or, walk in with a copy of the tenth page and say, “I think I missed this one—it’s important for you to completely tell what I thought of. I hope you at least read these ideas”. Give a bright smile to Big Boss. Be a shameless opportunist. If there’s discussion going on, plunge in and pepper your talk with, “I thought of it because…” and pull and chair and actually sit down. If Big Boss is smart, he’ll realize what’s going on. Remember to be absolutely shameless with the cheap charlatan.

The Self-styled Complete Communicator. You won’t miss this type. They are indeed the communications network. You’ll find this kind always on their cells misrepresenting things like, “I have told him this way…”. Most of the time is spent on active communication (verifying, clarifying, and rationalizing) with the only intention to keep everyone posted on the same statements so that Self-styled Complete Communicator’s white ones don’t get exposed. I know of a DGM level POO who argued about something with me and by the time I walked down to the VP, he was already on cell explaining away what he had told me. He got exposed even as the VP was screaming at him and I walked in. The VP, not to be undone and to save the POO’s face, tried to rationalize but I grinned. It worked. We had a good laugh.

Now here’s how you will deal with this type. Always forget something and walk back to his office. He’d already be on his cell. Tell him you’ve decided to prepare minutes of whatever you discussed. Don’t tell him you’re marking a copy to Big Boss. Start direct interaction at every opportunity with Big Boss. It’ll minimize misrepresentations.

The Detestable Suppressor. This type is an ache. Unlike the Malevolent Munificent, who at least steals your ideas and implements them, Detestable Suppressor just doesn’t want your ideas to be seen or heard. In fact, he wouldn’t want you around, if you have any ideas at all. This is the type who stands up to the qualification of the dog in the manger. You want to do good things, all right, but where’s the hurry? Never will a good idea be encouraged. He’ll want you snubbed and let things as they are. All because he doesn’t want the equilibrium he’s in disturbed.

Now here’s how you will deal with this type. You want to kick him in the teeth but it won’t help. Find another mentor, preferably someone in high places who is your friend but who Detestable Suppressor is shit scared of. Tell him all your ideas. This one must be a power center or at least attached to one. Then, tell Detestable Suppressor you’ve been sharing this with the mentor informally over lunch and he liked it and wants us to share it with the management. He’ll want to use his own E-mail id to send out the idea but at least we know who did it.

The Brawl Broker. Usually influential, this one has just one aspiration. Create an atmosphere of avoidable hostility. Brawl Brokers are usually important for their bosses, and because brawl-brokering is an obsessive hobby, and the influence helps. I never could figure out why Brawl Brokers exist or what they get out of creating bad blood, but exist they do. Perhaps after a while, the bosses take a liking to the information they are being fed, and this is what Brawl Brokers capitalize on. Who knows. The sad thing is that for a long time, most people, including the boss, believe Brawl Broker; the world is full of gullible people. They are the kinds who write graffiti, rumor about love affairs, draw imaginary battle lines, and generally create an atmosphere of enmity.

Now here’s how you will deal with this type. You need to be cautious in dealing with Brawl Broker. Wait for the right opportunity. Get him to talk ill about you to a friend disguised as a foe. The matter must be official, with enough damaging potential. Then both of you write a nice long complaint and mark cc:’s to everyone who matter including Brawl Broker (we’re transparent). Remember to use your E-mail as a diplomatic weapon –you’re only clearing misunderstandings. Because our kinds generally know that Brawl Broker is Brawl Broker, there is little credence to his part of any story he weaves thereafter. And one day he’ll get the boot. If Big Boss is Brawl Broker, get out of the job.

The Dividing Wall. This one is very much like Brawl Broker but doesn’t get pleasure from other things than putting one good friend against another. He’s no power center; usually at peer level.  An undisputed loser, he’ll make sure you don’t get along with your best friend. Dividing Wall has one little problem. He can’t stand camaraderie. He goes around subtly telling X how Y rates him and vice versa. Generally not much of a problem if both X and Y recognize him. Humor him, and that’ll be that.

The Overall Sadist. Usually a powerful, autocratic, miserable you-know-what. There’re only two problem associated with Overall Sadist: (a) everything he says and (b) everything he does. This one hates everything and everyone from the bottom of his sock. Because the bottom of his heart isn’t so deep. Overall Sadist will ensure that everyone under him is hurt all the time. He can’t stand a happy subordinate or colleague or even family. He’s God’s mistake. Overall Sadist has an inhuman drive for perfection, but that’s only a means of ensuring discomfort to everyone. Extremely emotional and sensitive, Overall Sadist will look for problems—to make mountains out of molehills. If he sees a smile on your face, you’re enemy for the day.

Now here’s how you will deal with this type. If Overall Sadist is your boss, find another job. If he’s just a sucker who is hell bent on interfering, try to avoid him altogether. Get into the good books of everyone else so he can’t harm. Alas, you can’t do more than that.
Is That All?

The foregoing isn’t an exhaustive list, but you’ll find one or more of the types in most organizations. Sometimes you’ll find an overlap. (Brawl Broker may also be Overall Sadist: If this variety exists, form a militant union.).
That’s Not About All, But Finally…

No matter how many POOs you’re surrounded with, ultimately, your good work will speak for itself. The only difference between some guys who clamber up fast and grow on others and guys with “real substance” and grow with others is that they’re not clever enough to detect POOs on time. Use your COP within, keep your eyes and ears open—and that’s about the only remedy. Another reason for a slow climb is poor visibility—again, possible by one’s own efforts. As much as possible, it is worthwhile telling how good you are: both to yourself and to others. And finally, remember this: You got a trumpet, hell, blow it. Hard.

Shant Mankodi
Manager, Human Resources