Power

5 Questions to Ask About Your Organization’s Politics

Politics in an organization is about influencing others by using official and unofficial power. Official power comes from management titles while unofficial power comes from peers, juniors and even outsiders. Everyday in organizations official and unofficial power is used to: (1) frame problems, (2) influence changes and (3) make/guide decisions. This power can affect organizational structures, business processes, technologies and even innovation. Thus, it becomes imperative that organizations understand this power and how this power can affect organizational cultures. However, despite the strong relationship between politics and culture, most organizations are unaware, unwilling and/or unprepared to address it. The three main reasons politics is not directly addressed is because of:

  1. The inaccurate thinking that politics is always negative
  2. The fallacy that politics only happens at an individual’s personal level
  3. The inability to understand how politics can destroy/enhance capabilities

An organization’s politics is the total complex of relationships between people inside and outside of organizational boundaries. What this means is that people play politics even if they are unaware of it. While these people might have the best of intentions but their experiences/biases may or may not be best for the entire organization. By not keeping this in mind, organizations might not be able to self-assess if the IT vs. Business tension is a myth or reality, if the most optimized and continuously improving processes are present, if the correct technology is being selected for collective efficiency, if the right people are asking the right questions and if questioning the status quo is just a checkmark. In order to understand politics, the following questions need to be asked:

Strategic Perspectives on Politics:

 

Currently

In the Future

1. Who is incentivized at the executive level to understand politics? Who should be incentivized at the executive level to understand politics?
2. What governance structures are in place to address holistic vs. specific unit/function/team strategic needs? What governance structures should be in place to address holistic vs. specific unit/function/team strategic needs?
3. Where is technology being affected by politics? Where should technology affect politics?
4. When and how often political motivations are revealed? When and how often political motivations are revealed?
5. Why political understanding is critical to achieving strategic objectives? Why should political understanding be critical to achieving strategic objectives?

Tactical Perspectives on Politics:

 

Currently

In the Future

1. Who is incentivized at the middle management level to understand politics? Who should be incentivized at the middle management level to understand politics?
2. What business units, functional areas and teams are included to bring forth political implications? What business units, functional areas and teams should be made aware of political implications?
3. Where technology hinders understanding politics? Where technology might hinder in understanding politics?
4. When is the start and end of political motivations? When should be the start and end of political motivations?
5. Why political understanding is critical to achieving tactical objectives? Why political understanding should be critical to achieving tactical objectives?

Operational Perspectives on Politics:

 

Currently

In the Future

1. Who sees politics as an obstacle? Who might see political understanding as an obstacle?
2. What business processes provide views on the organization’s power plays? What business processes should provide views on the organization’s political boundaries?
3. Where is technology part of your understanding the organization’s politics? Where should technology be a part of understanding the organization’s politics?
4. When were you informed about the political objectives? When should you have been informed about political objectives?
5. Why political understanding is critical to achieving your daily tasks? Why political understanding should be critical to achieving your daily tasks?

Politics and culture are two sides of the same coin and each lurking in the shadows or showing in broad daylight to change the direction of the organization everyday. To address this, (1) be transparent, (2) create an atmosphere of trust, (3) be genuinely helpful across business units, functional areas and teams.

Politics-Culture

Future Considerations for Kodak

Recently, I was asked to perform an organizational analysis of Eastman Kodak based on an article published in The Economist titled, “The last Kodak moment?”.  Here are my views if I was a new CEO sending a memo to the Board of Directors:

Eastman Kodak has been around for more than 132 years. In these years Kodak has seen the best of time and the worst of times. In the best of times, we were the envy of our competitors and as recently as 1996, we had revenues reaching $16 billion but now we have reported a net loss of $222 million. Some of the issues that I decipher by going over the company history are the failures to adapt to new markets and not listening to our customers. While there are certain things beyond our control but there are other things that we can control. Why is that the builder of the digital camera in 1975, we are now at the bottom.

In my current analysis, I have observed that we are structured by our product line. This has worked in the past but we cannot sustain this organizational structure if we have to move forward. It is apparent that the power within the organization resides with the product owners and not the customers. Since we held majority of the market in the past and were able to keep our competitors at bay, over time we have developed a culture of thinking that the customer will come to us and we do not have to change. Additionally, although we may have the best technology in the past and a highly lucrative intellectual property (IP) portfolio, this is not enough to make Kodak go into the black. In light of all of this I am recommending the following:

Firstly, I recommend changing the structural design of our organization by turning it into a Front/Back organization. The reason for this would be so that our marketing and sales team can directly interface with the clients, work with them to figure out what issues they would like to solve and then develop solutions around them. Customer is king and we have to respect that. Additionally I would like to open offices in new markets so that we do not surround ourselves with “yes” men only here in Rochester, NY. The new offices would be in India and China where not only that we will have marketing and sales offices but also research and development (R&D) offices.

Secondly, as I read Larry Matteson’s report from 1979, I am surprised that we did not pay attention to the people who could help us divert the current mess that we are in. This will have to change, the feedback and reports that are being generated by our executives who are closer to the action should be held at a greater value. I am recommending an office within Kodak whose purpose solely would be to assess internal and external threats to our corporation and make recommendations. This office will report directly to me so we can erase any management or bureaucratic barriers.

Thirdly, as the strategic design changes, we will be changing the culture of the organization as well by institutionalizing Customer Satisfaction Assessment Reports (CSAR) in which we will solicit feedback from internal and external customer and ask them how they see we can improve the services that we provide. As you are well aware that most of the innovation comes from the people who are at the front lines as well as the customers. Doing this will not only give us a way to improve our current services and products but also open potential markets which we may not be aware of. The flow of this captured information is very important and thus the new office that I mentioned above would also house these suggestions and make actionable recommendations which I will review personally. In this way I am creating an open door for anyone who has an idea to talk to this team and thus making all levels of the organization realize that we are in this together.

Lastly, I would recommend that the current IP that we have should not be merely sold off so that we can stay afloat. I ask you for how long can we stay afloat by merely selling our IP and how long can we survive. In this regard, I would recommend the beginning of a strong R&D arm which will not only continue to develop new IPs but also help us in developing new product features. This R&D arm will have several offices in several countries so that we are not limited by what we only know here in the USA but we can leverage globalization in a new way and all together for the future of the company.

We are not Fujifilm. We are better!

I look forward to working with you and thank you for your time.