Factors 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 a small role 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 employees; others are a result of the organization’s culture or internal environment. Both individual and organizational factors can increase political behavior and provide favorable outcomes (increased rewards and averted punishments) for both individuals and groups in the organization.

Individual factor: At the individual level, researchers have identified certain personality traits, needs, and other factors that are likely to be related to political behavior. In terms of traits, we find that employees who are high self monitors possess an internal locus of control and have a high need for power are more likely to engage in political behavior. The high self monitor is more sensitive to social causes, exhibits higher levels of social conformity, and is more likely to be skilled in political behavior than the low self monitor. Individual with an internal locus of control, because they believe they can control their environment, are more prone to take a proactive stance and attempt to manipulate situations in their favor. Not surprisingly the Machiavellian personality which is characterized by the will to manipulate and the desire of power is comfortable using politics as a means to further his or her self interest.

In addition, an individual’s investment in the organization, perceived alternatives and expectations of success will influence the degree to which he or she will pursue illegitimate means of political action. The more a person had invested in the organization in terms of expectations of increased future benefits, the more that person has to lose if forced out and the less likely he or she is to use illegitimate means. The more alternative job opportunities an individual has due to a favorable market or the possession of scarce skills or knowledge a prominent reputation, or influential contacts outside the organization the more likely that individual is to risk illegitimate political actions. Finally if an individual has a low expectation of success in using illegitimate means, it is unlikely that he or she will attempt to do so. High expectations of success in the use of illegitimate means are most likely to be the province of both experienced and powerful individuals with polished political skills and inexperience and naïve employees who misjudge their chances.

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

The role that individual differences can play in fostering politicking, the evidence more strongly supports that certain situations and cultures promote politics. More specifically when an organization’s resource are declining when the existing pattern of resources is changing and when there is opportunity for promotions, politicking is more likely to surface. In addition, cultures characterized low trust, role ambiguity unclear performance evaluation systems, zero-sum reward allocation practices, democratic decision making, high pressures for performance and self serving senior managers will create breeding grounds for politicking.

When organizations downsize to improve efficiency, reductions in 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 limited resources and try to positively influence the decisions 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. —

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