Saturday, January 31, 2009

Corporate Culture and Office Politics

I received a request to write about office politics.  Before we dive into that topic, let’s talk about corporate culture first.

Corporate culture is a set of behaviors, values, and codes that guide interaction between employees of a given company. Some examples of corporate culture are:  what people wear to work, the hours people work, type and size of cubicles and how information is shared. Corporate culture is often incorporated into company goals and mission statements and is the center point of how the company is operated and evolves.

Often times, corporate culture is undermined by “office politics”. Office politics is defined as counterproductive human factors present between coworkers, in an office environment. Some examples of office politics are: the boss’s friends get the available promotions, the office inner circle gets the first pick of the work schedule and office gossip controls people’s actions and views.

Office politics is a fact of life in every workplace. It is not a dirty word until you build political capital while compromising integrity or taking advantage of others, is when it becomes unethical. However, without the required political power and influence, it will be a challenge to reach your goals such as delivering on successful projects, interest in upward mobility or professional growth and advancement.

So, what is the reality in large corporations? I worked for a company that believes that their strength is their people.  With a diverse workforce and customer base, the approach is all-encompassing and that it’s free from discrimination, employees are valued, there’s equality, and all that happy stuff.

If I were to describe my experience of the culture that I was exposed to back then, there was less opportunities for females and minorities. Company policies don’t always apply to all employees and they are bent from time to time. “It’s highly political.”  [Oooooh....  I heard this before...]  :)

In addition, great value is placed on “perception”, a representation of what is perceived or conceptualized but not necessarily the truth or reality. Between politics and perception, work is lost and metrics skewed, if non-existent.

Rewards and upward mobility highly depends on who you know, how tight your relationship is with that person and not what you know. Successful business qualities such as intelligence, drive, high productivity or performance and quality standards don’t guarantee success nor promotion. Top producers are punished with more work without incentives or rewards. There’s no point in working hard and giving that 110% because when the yearly review season comes, the amount of percent raise available is shared among department staff. So, what’s the point? In order to succeed, you have to be a seasoned veteran to play the political game.

One other indicator that can gauge corporate culture is observing the Senior Management team and what they either pay attention to or what qualities they reward.  There are people in management that do notreward employees for coming up with new ideas and challenging old ways of doing things. Non-conformists are pushed out and status quo protected. Best practice is not applied and they don’t pay attention to employees’ well-being but rather focus on perception. In addition, employees do not participate in the direction of the company as some people in power make most decisions pulled out of a hat.

Corporate culture starts and shaped from the top. Top-level behaviors including their vision, goals and how they handle situations set the tone of corporate culture. For optimum performance, corporate leaders define, develop and change cultures. These set of values are expressed in various ways such as: mission statement, dress code, policies, mode of communication, corporate events, salary, bonuses, fringe benefits, work environment, employee interaction and core values. These factors have a significant role in employer-employee fit.

To optimize performance, leaders must define and create the necessary cultures, communicate and define culture through actions as culture is more caught than it is taught.

In my opinion, corporate culture is very important as it’s a driving force for an organization’s overall performance.  Equally important is for managers to set foundational values that will serve as guiding principles that will guide employee decisions, behaviors, and day to day operations.

How’s your culture?

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