By Mauricio Goldstein
Since the beginning of the year, Ricardo has been the new country manager for the Brazilian Consumer Corporation, a consumer goods company. When Ricardo was hired, his boss told him he had an important mission: make the company less bureaucratic. Unfortunately, Jorge, the CFO for the company in Brazil, doesn’t share the same opinion. He thinks the company is not bureaucratic and has just performed some insignificant abridgement to the processes he’s in charge of, playing a “token involvement”. Well, obviously, Jorge doesn’t share openly his opinions with Ricardo and always comes with a convenient excuse for the processes which still remain bureaucratic!
To make things even more complicated, Consumer changed its global organization in 2009 to enhance its country managers’ focus on the local market, as well as guarantee that supporting functions had both autonomy and exemption to operate. That meant that Jorge, Brazil’s CFO, is now reporting directly to Gonzalez, the Latin America’s CFO and a former friend of Jorge’s, not to Ricardo anymore. This compels Ricardo to negotiate with Gonzalez any consequence in relation to Jorge’s attitude. Therefore Ricardo has started playing the game, and copying Gonzalez in every email he sends to Jorge in order to undermine Jorge’s credibility…. Moreover, whenever Ricardo attends a presentation performed by Jorge, he uses the “Gotcha” strategy, aiming at finding any possible mistake.
In another setting, at Automotors company, Ingrid, director for a business unit of popular cars in Germany, has four bosses: the president of Automotors in Germany, the European VP for the popular cars’ business unit, the global VP for economic cars (a subcategory of popular cars) and the global VP for new businesses, since Germany is the testing market for a new market approach. As Ingrid knows a number of people shall give their opinions on her budget, she has created some “Slush Funds” in order to avoid budget reductions which would prevent some investments she considers essential for the product line. Due to the fact she has a closer relationship with the global VP for economic cars, Ingrid has also made some “pre-deals” with her, who, , defends Ingrid’s point of view in the most important internal negotiations.
The above are just some examples of the existing complexity in matrix organizations nowadays, which increases tension, and consequently creates favorable environments for games at work .
Is there anything that can be done to minimize such office politics and turn organizations into a better work place, where we could have open and meaningful relationships, creating value for everyone? It is known that business globalization entails structural complexity, once many different interests are at stake. The point is: how to balance all those interests? Or better, what criteria should be taken into account when making a decision, considering all those different interests?
Many of the conflicts I see in local organizations reflect the upper management’s lack of alignment and / or clear priorities. For instance, in our first example, if Ricardo and Gonzalez had had an open dialogue on the priorities for the financial role in Brazil, it would have counteracted a lot of games already going on.
Ultimately every organization’s employee reports to the CEO, who is the leading sponsor of any major change. Thus, if the CEO is able to make priorities and decision-making criteria crystal clear, while fostering a culture of dialogue combined with discipline of execution, for sure this shall prevent many gray areas and unnecessary tensions on the intermediate levels of the organization.
At the other end is the customer, the market, or as I’ve just been told by the managing director of a pharmaceutical company, “the true outside world”. Also customers are not interested in office politics existing inside the companies, but only in the value it can add through products and services. Therefore, a good decision-making criterion shall be to remind each and every employee to whom we are working for: for the boss or for the market.
What if I am caught amidst the organization? How shall I deal with this challenge? From my own experience, the best thing is to fall back on both sides: in case you receive conflicting messages, try elucidating them, looking for spaces of dialogue where you along with your superiors can agree on the priorities; at the same time, remind everyone that “our mission is to serve the customer” and always ask which attitude or decision shall have a greater impact on the value we are able to add. Last but not least, try not to get involved with office politics yourself. Make another choice! I know this new option can generate apprehension and fear, and as a consequence calls for bravery. And such bravery comes to sight whenever we’re connected with an ideal: and this can be making corporate world a better place for us and for our kids!