Most of us have accepted office politics. We may not like it, but have found it's something we have to deal with to some degree at every company. Some people try to use them to their advantage and may even enjoy trying to work the system rather than succeed by doing good ol' fashioned work (and by that, I mean innovative and focused hard work).
Most people hate office politics. Hence, 39 percent of employees try to avoid it altogether, while another 40 percent only get involved when they have to because it affects them. Instead of trying to win the office-politics game (or watching coworkers wasting time trying to navigate it), we can lead our companies in a way that discourages--and possibly even eliminates--the game altogether, and instead allow employees to focus on meaningful work.
Here are some things you can try to keep office politics out of your office:
- Just don’t play the game. This is where you lead by example. If you keep the focus where it should be--on innovation, productivity and meaningful work--others will follow. However, if politics come up, redirect that energy back to your company’s overall goals or how employees are impacting the company. Every time office politics appear, continue to stay vigilant and guide positive behaviors. Make sure managers and team leads are aligned as well, and it will show employees and coworkers there's nothing to gain from spending their time dabbling in office politics.
- Bring the conversation back to company values. You need a strong company culture that's grounded in open communication and supported by values your people really connect with. It's strong values that keep employees anchored. For example, do your people feel you're communicating with them enough? Do they trust you'll keep them in the loop? Sharing information often keeps people from speculating about what may be going on or gossiping around the office. At BambooHR, we have several values that help us all to stay focused on what really matters. "Be open" and "assume the best" have helped us avoid office politics countless times as we've grown.
- Hire for culture fit. As companies grow, all sorts of new people are coming on board. One of the most important things you can do is hire people who really buy into your company's vision and values. While still basing decisions on skill and experience, also be sure to hire people who identify with your values and are passionate about the work they'll be doing. Still, new hires may be used to having to play the office-politics game from a previous job. That's where you come back to values: Continue to rely on them to help new employees understand how things work at your company.
- Maintain a (mostly) flat organization. Yes, keeping your company flat is hard to do. Just ask Zappos. They've seen their share of criticism as they attempt to throw out titles and traditional company structure to have a flat organization, aiming to enable employees to guide their own work, rather than relying on a manager to tell them what to do. You don't have to be a completely flat organization, but you can still try to keep that startup, flat-organization mentality. Don't let titles and seniority trump great performance or an innovative idea. Let every employee have a chance to shine and give them opportunities to grow, then the focus is placed on the work--not taking down coworkers or elbowing their way to the top of the corporate ladder.
- Focus on resolving issues, not people. Every company has its share of difficult situations without office drama creating even more. That's why encouraging your people to stay positive and focus on work is so important (and it's your job to provide meaningful work to inspire those feelings). When people are engaged, they don't have time to waste on office politics. Of course conflict will arise between employees at times. We're all human, and we all make mistakes. That's when you focus on fixing the conflict, not winning. We're all in this together. We all have the same goal in mind. By doing this, you show employees over time that you have their best interests at heart so they can focus on what matters--and not waste time worrying and gossiping.
- Reward and promote great work. Leaders often enable or discourage office politics by who they reward and promote. If you're promoting those who suck up or throw their coworkers under the bus, then you're part of the problem. Be sure to really be involved and know who and what you're rewarding. Did employee A really deserve that promotion or was it office-politics savvy that put her in that position? Also, recognize and applaud the peacemakers who either don't get involved or discourage bad behaviors. Then take it one step further: Promote team credit over individual credit. When people see that their leaders care as much about team wins as individual wins, they'll contribute to their teams in an effective way that really provides more value to their teams and, ultimately, their company.
People are watching. Every single day. What you value often determines what they value. Remember that leaders may or may not be executives or managers in a company. At BambooHR, we believe that each and every one of our people can be leaders--whether they've been with our company seven years (we just had our seventh birthday!) or seven days. Leadership is a state of mind and a way of working, not a title. That's why most employees can have an effect on keeping their office free of politics. Everyone can make a difference. Stay focused on keeping employees doing innovative work, performing at a high level and being truly passionate. That will go a long way in encouraging your people to stay focused on what really matters.