Political discord in a company is the business equivalent of having termites in your home. This type of toxic work environment can kill innovation, drive talent out of the business, and destroy trust. Eventually, employees' resentments will eat away at the once solid foundation of the company, causing it to crumble from the inside out.
But to effectively eliminate or reduce office politics, it's important to first understand where it's coming from. This can vary from company to company, but political discord usually stems from misconceptions regarding salary, job security, hiring practices, treatment, and opportunities for advancement.
So, how can a company clear up these misconceptions and ensure employees are more focused on business goals than who got a promotion and why? The key is to drive data into the fabric of the culture--essentially embedding analytics in the company's DNA--and using it to create well-defined and agreed upon goals and objectives for employees.
Overall, focusing on the numbers allows a company to:
1. Remove bias
Let's say the CEO of a digitally mature company wants to review basic datasets and KPIs on department productivity. They access the company's analytics dashboard and get real-time insight into each department's performance. The CEO can then use this information to have objective discussions with each department regarding performance--even drilling the information down to a granular level if necessary. Even if one department executive happens to have a personal relationship with a colleague, the bias is removed from the equation when the numbers are there for everyone to see in real time.
2. Foster a culture of transparency
Stemming from the example above, companies can also use data to increase the level of transparency throughout the organization. Buffer, Inc., a software application company, has been widely noted for leveraging transparency both internally and externally. Transparency is a key part of their value statement, but they also put this statement into action. For example, Buffer posts employee salaries online along with their company formula on how a salary is earned. By being transparent with data in this manner, they remove any misconceptions or resentment regarding co-workers' earnings, while providing clear benchmarks on how they can earn more.
The founder of Unbounce--another startup that values transparency--sums this concept up nicely with a 2015 statement he made, saying, "Most important for me in regards to transparency is that it sends a strong message of trust to all our employees, and the company benefits from trust in return and an honest dialog takes place between all."
3. Hold employees accountable for performance
Of course, accountability also plays a factor here. When a company uses data to drive decision-making, career success is no longer about making the right friends at work or using gossip to eliminate the competition for a promotion. Instead, each employee can be held accountable for performance.
While accountability is great at driving productivity, make sure you're not using data without context. You don't want to fire an entire team because they missed a sales goal by a $1,000 in Q2. The raw data may show other factors impacted your team's ability to achieve their sales goal. These numbers should be a baseline--the start of the discussion. It's important to use analytics to steer the company away from subjective gut feelings about performance and shed light on objective, agreed-upon KPIs.
Further, you can use data to show employees how revenue is up or profits are down, but they need to know how this data relates to their performance. This is why consistent check-ins are important. Leadership needs to continually communicate with reports on how these numbers relate to their job, what they can do to make the numbers go up, or what to avoid that will make the numbers go down.
How to increase objectivity, transparency, and accountability
Once the systems are in place to create well-defined and agreed upon goals and objectives for employees based on data, leadership then needs to foster a culture of accountability. This can be done by incorporating actual data-backed performance into weekly meetings and occasional performance reviews.
Plus, the more digitally mature your company is, the more data you'll be able to access--which can also increase objectivity, transparency, and accountability within your organization. If your business is still keeping analog files or making phone calls via landline, you're losing out on data sets and insight that you can use to measure performance and eradicate misconceptions.
When the numbers drive the business decisions, it clears away potential misconceptions that lead to resentment and toxic office politics. The result is an improved work environment, where employees feel like they are all on the same team and working together towards a better future.