Business Psychology - Latest Findings

Article No. 209
Supervision Findings, by James Larsen, Ph.D.

Organizational Politics

Research reveals that molding values corrects the damage of politics.

Organizational politics can be a nasty business where people promote their own self-interests at the expense of company goals. It can also be secretive, and it can cause us to doubt the intentions of other people.

Self-serving political actions can negatively influence our social groupings, cooperation, information sharing, and many other organizational functions, but because of its secretive nature, politics is also experienced subjectively.

And that's important.

Different people perceive the same events differently. One person may find a series of events to be very political, with some people benefiting at the expense of others. While another person may not recognize these events as political at all.

L.A. Witt, from the University of New Orleans, wondered if this subjective nature of organizational politics had been adequately considered in past research on the subject. This previous research concluded that not only was organizational politics harmful, but it was also quite resistant to managers' efforts to correct.

Witt quessed that if politics was only harmful for the people who were aware of it, then he might be able to discover new ways managers could control it. Witt conducted a study to find out how people become aware of political behavior and how this awareness varies among employees.

Witt surveyed a total of 979 employees in five large companies. He wondered if there was a connection between an awareness of organizational politics and performance, so he asked if employees who tended to be unaware of the political environment in their companies performed better than employees who were aware of it. He found that they did.

Next, Witt searched for a reason to explain the difference between these higher performing employees who were unaware of politics and lower performing employees who were aware of it. He explored the idea that value congruence with one's supervisor was the key, that is, that these higher performing employees held values similar to their supervisors concerning the work.

Witt asked employees and supervisors to rank the importance of common work values. For example, in one industrial company they ranked customer satisfaction, production speed, correct procedures, safety, and developing new work procedures. The higher performing, politically unaware employees were much more likely to report a pattern of values that matched their supervisors.

Put another way, lower performing employees tended to report different ranking patterns from their supervisors, and they also were more aware of the politics in their companies. Interestingly, it didn't matter which values came in first place or last place. It only mattered that the patterns of rankings matched the supervisors' patterns.

Witt thought these findings were pretty amazing.

Witt explains it this way: He thinks this agreement in values leads to an improved employee-supervisor relationship with all the good things that such a relationship involves. Value agreement enhances communication and cooperation. Employees would experience these supervisors as invigorating, and the work they did together as important to their supervisors.

There's a lesson here, Witt feels. He believes his findings reveal a new way to protect employees from the negative effects of organizational politics and to help employees improve their performance. It all depends upon supervisors molding employee values to match their own.

Witt suggests supervisors begin by ranking their own values and goals for the work. Next, he feels supervisors should talk about these values with their employees, emphasizing the values they feel are most important.

Talking. That's all he says it takes. Employees will quickly mold their own values to match their supervisors. They only need to know what they are.

Reference: Witt, L.A. (1998) Enhancing Organizational Goal Congruence: A Solution to Organizational Politics. Journal of Applied Psychology, 83(4), 666-674.

© Management Resources

See Also:

Mood-Altering Supervision

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