Why Organizational Politics Can Defeat You

Tony Hughes

Why Organizational Politics Can Defeat You

Human beings are political by nature and politics pervade every organization in the form of an invisible power structure not apparent in an organizational chart. It is impossible to avoid politics when dealing with a group of people with competing agendas or differing opinions. Political tensions are the result of individual needs and agendas being misaligned with organizational structures and business drivers.

Although political factors are an unavoidable reality, they should be embraced in a positive and thoughtful manner by aligning with the right people and winning agendas. When seeking to influence the decision process within an organization you must first understand the political power structure as it overlays on the formal organization chart. The first group of people to consider may be described as 'the buying center'. This is the group of people that make recommendations for a purchasing decision. Everyone in the buying center needs to be covered during the sales process but a recommendation can be stymied or vetoed by the economic decision maker or the power-base.

The power-base drives the informal decision process and transcends the boundaries of the organizational chart and is not fully visible to outsiders. There is almost always a senior person within the power-base operating in the background as the 'puppet master'. Jim Holden refers to this person as 'the fox' in reference to the fact that you almost never see a fox, only the evidence of their work in the chicken coop. This person can be difficult to identify within an organization and usually resists engaging directly with sales people. The power-base players often, but not always, have a predetermined outcome in mind when engineering a buying process.

Government entities are particularly risk-averse and influenced by politics as individuals seek to manage perceptions of success and performance while delivering outcomes in complex consensus-driven environments. Whether dealing with corporate or government entities, the very best sales people do their research and take the necessary time and effort to understand human agendas and political power in planning sales strategies.

Politics need not be negative and dealing with the tension created by competing agendas can be done with integrity. Manipulation and subterfuge have no place in modern professional selling. The best way to avoid relationship errors or political misalignment during a sales campaign is to start at the very top and then be sponsored and coached by the leader as you work down in the organization - the leader's agenda is always the right horse to back.


Tony Hughes is ranked as the #1 influencer on professional selling in Asia-Pacific and is a keynote speaker and best selling author. This article was originally published in LinkedIn where you can also follow Tony's award winning blog. Also visit Tony's keynote speaker website at www.TonyHughes.com.au or his sales methodology website at http://www.rsvpselling.com/.

Main image photo by Flickr: lee roberts


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