Organizations – Factor contributing to political behavior


Not all groups or organizations are equally political. In some organizations, for instance politicking is overt and rampant, while in others, politics plays only a small role in influencing outcomes. Why is there this variation? Recent research and observation have identified a number of factors that appear to encourage political behavior. Some are individual characteristics, derived from the unique qualities of the people the organization employs; others are a result of the organization’s culture or internal environment.

Organizational Factors

Political activity is probably more a function of the organization’s characteristics than of individual difference variables. Because many organizations have a large number of employees with the individual characteristics yet the extent of political behavior varies widely.

When organizations downsize to improve efficiency, reductions resources have to be made. Threatened with the loss of resources, people may engage in political actions to safeguard what they have. But any changes, especially those that imply significant reallocation of resources within the organization, are likely to stimulate conflict and increase politicking

Promotion decisions have consistently been found to be one of the most political actions in organizations. The opportunity for promotions or advancement encourages people to compete for a limited resource and to try to positively influence the decision outcome.

The less trust there is within the organization, the higher the level of political behavior and the more likely that the political behavior will be of the illegitimate kind. So high trust should suppress the level of political behavior in general and inhibit illegitimate actions in particular.

The practice of performance evaluation is far from a perfect science. The more that organizations use subjective criteria in the appraisal, emphasize a single outcome measure, or allow significant time to pass between the time of an action and its appraisal, the greater the likelihood that an employee can get away with politicking. Subjective performance criteria create ambiguity. The use of a single outcome measure encourages individuals to do whatever is necessary to “look good� on that measure, but often at the expense of performing well on other important parts of the job that are not being appraisal. The amount of time that elapses between an action and its appraisal is also a relevant factor. The longer the time, the more unlikely the employee will be held accountable for his or her political behaviors.

The more an organization’s culture emphasizes the zero-sum or win-lose approach to reward allocations, the more employees will be motivated to engage in politicking. The zero-sum approach treats the rewards “pie� as fixed, so that any gain one person or group achieves has to come at the expense of another person or group. If I win, you must lose! If Rs 75,000 in annual raises is to be distributed among five employees, then any employee who gets more than Rs 15,000 takes money away from one or more of the others. Such a practice encourages making others look bad and increasing the visibility of what you do.

The more pressure employees feel to perform well, the more likely they are to engage in politicking. When people are held strictly accountable for outcomes, this puts great pressure on them to “look good�. If a person perceives that his or her entire career is riding on next quarter’s sales figures or next month’s plant productivity report, there is motivation to do whatever is necessary to make sure the numbers come out favorably.

Finally, when 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. Politicking by top management, in a sense, gives permission to those lower in the organization to play politics by implying that such behavior is acceptable.

Comments are closed.