Mike Slinn

The Politics of Change - Homework

Time to read: 4 minutes.

© Mike Slinn November 25, 2001

There are travelers, and there are adventurers. Adventurers are rather like travelers, except they don't have the benefit of travel agents and packaged tours. Both adventurers and travelers are motivated by the same things: to experience other cultures, buy and sell rare and unusual goods, to escape their normal environment, to seek opportunity. If you would have added 'fun' to this list, note that I did not – fun happens if the traveler / adventurer enjoys the pursuit of the activities that I listed.

Large Organizations

Let's pretend that large organizations are like countries, and small organizations resemble families. Remember that organizations have three constituent memberships: the board, the executives and the staff. Within each membership, different rules, customs and mores exist. Someone who is a member of both the board and the executive staff has two roles to play, and must exhibit the appropriate behavior for each role when called upon. If you are going to travel to these countries and visit families there, you need to learn about the culture!

If you become a member of one or more of the three memberships of a company, and would like to find your place and thereby prosper, you need to understand the culture and the power structure. Should you decide you are not interested in obtaining this knowledge you will either be marginalized, ostracized, terminated and/or humiliated.

Your search for this knowledge should begin before your first interview. The interview process is an ideal time to ask probing questions, and a rare opportunity to learn from all parties involved. Once hired, you are now part of the fabric of the society, and are thereby unable to ask some of the questions of the parties you might have posed during the interview process.

Mapping the Political Landscape

Since the boardroom and the executive suite are ordinarily the source of lasting change, this document will address the investigative process for mapping the political landscape for those memberships. Each membership consists of individuals who have a complex set of relationships. The extent that you understand the issues facing the group, the individuals, and the relationships between the individuals will determine your effectiveness in introducing change to the organization. This introductory document does not address external factors, such as shareholders, the press, customers (think of them as the people that your organization serves) and competitors (similar organizations who serve the same customers, or who would like to serve the same set of customers.) Your understanding of the political landscape is not complete without a fundamental grasp of the external forces for your organization, however.

Each member of the executive suite or board can assist you or block you. In order for your purposes to succeed, you must first understand this membership. Start by researching the individuals – begin by getting a copy of each of their resumes. Make a spreadsheet. For each person, you want to know their:

  • Education (including which schools they went to, degrees, GPAs, awards)
  • Companies they worked at, the departments they worked in and positions they held
  • Ethnic background
  • Religious views – which church do they attend?
  • Marital status / happiness
  • Children's ages; if in school, what grade; if not in school where did they go; where they work now
  • Hobbies
  • Criminal record (25% of all Internet-related executives have a record, 10% of all other executives do as well)
  • Habits / vices (do they enjoy Las Vegas gambling, horses; drinking problems; cocaine; other drugs)
  • Reputation according to: competitors, friends, subordinates, ex-coworkers
  • Do a Google search for their names and any companies they were involved with
  • Publications
  • Publicly stated positions
  • How they were recruited into the membership

Your understanding of each person requires that you also know what:

  • Problems they face at work
  • Problems they face at home
  • Identify their personality (Myers-Briggs might be helpful)
  • Special skills they have acquired

From this information, you should be able to group members with similar interests. Start by listing the external forces facing the company, and include the mandates of the membership. For each issue take a fresh piece of paper and draw circles for every possible position / outcome you can imagine for that issue, and place the members inside one or more circles. If you are accurate, this represents each person's natural tendency according to the intelligence profile you gathered on each of them.

You also need to chart the web of relationships between each person. Which of them have:

  • Worked together
  • Gone to the same schools
  • Go to the same church
  • Sit on the same boards
  • Have their children in the same schools or organizations
  • Are related, even distantly or by marriage
  • Share the same hobbies
  • Share the same vices
  • Enjoy the same recreational pastimes
  • Share the same world view
  • Face the same issues / problems

Now try to use the information you have about the relationships between the members to attempt to understand how they might influence each other. Reexamine the issue maps you made up, and using a different color pen, make new groups according to the relationship information that you have. For example, pretend that everyone who previously worked together continues to act in unison. What would the group memberships look like? This is the group dynamic tendency.

In yet another color, what would the group structures look like if everyone who faces similar pressures acted together? This is the stress tendency.

From these three tendencies, you should be able to determine who your allies might be regarding various issues under specific circumstances.

Useful Reading

The Prince, by Niccolo Machiavelli

Cliff Notes for The Prince

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