Office politics is just as likely to rear its head in a small business setting as any other that involves groups of people working together.
Jockeying for power, influence, recognition and advancement is an inevitable part of life. Small business owners need to be conscious that their words and actions determine the working environment and organisational culture, and that they are not above office politics.
From a small business owner’s perspective, the negative aspects of office politics can manifest as concerns that a business partner or family member is trying to depose the small business owner and assume the reins of leadership; fears that the small business owner is not liked or respected by some employees (resulting in these employees withholding information, displaying insolent or insubordinate behaviour, and being fickle in their loyalties); and an unfocused and unmanageable workforce that is more focused on personal issues and squabbles than professionalism and serving customers.
The positive aspects of office politics are that it encourages competitive behaviour amongst employees, challenging them to be productive and creative; and it hones the small business owner’s emotional intelligence and people management skills by being required to gauge people’s real meanings and motivations. Managing office politics as a small business owner is therefore about engaging with people meaningfully to ensure positive outcomes. The small business owner has a big responsibility as he or she determines sets the tone and style of office politics.
Some guidelines small business owners can observe are:
• Make sure you have a good grasp of what is going on in the business so that you are not vulnerable to manipulation by others or your own paranoia – Know your employees’ aspirations and challenges in the workplace, whether performance targets (for individuals and the business as a whole) are being met, how your business is perceived by external stakeholders, and other relevant information. This requires small business owners not to have an ivory tower mentality and to fearlessly engage with their key stakeholders (and take what they have to say on board). • Put the best interests of the business first – It is not about you and your ego.
• Be professional in your conduct – do not take things personally or make things personal • Try to maintain your credibility by being fair and consistent – being trusted puts you in a strong position to actively manage office politics instead of being a by-stander or victim.
The challenge for small business owners is to take these general guidelines and break them down into more specific actions that apply to their own situations. And of course, some situations are more complex than others – for instance, managing office politics in a family owned or managed business.