Making the most of Organizational Politics

Office or organizational politics,  which involves actions by individuals which are directed toward the goal of furthering their own self-interests without regard for the well-being of others or their organization (Barling 2005) , seems to be an integral and inevitable part of the workplace  (Cornerstone Business Solutions 2004) – about 40% of workers rated their office as being political in nature (Robert Half Finance and Accounting n.d.).

It is clear a stigma regarding office politics exists. Through class discussions (the case of Todd Williams: Finance in the middle) and our prescribed course material (Robbins and Judge, 2013), we were told that organizational politics were undesirable have various highly negative effects, which include:

1) Decreased job satisfaction

2) Increased anxiety and stress (Scott 2012)

3) Increased turnover (Byrne 2005)

4) Reduced performance (Bajpai 2004)

It is no surprise, then, that most managements take a dim view of organizational politics (Christiansen, Villanova and Mikulay 1997). Nonetheless, is this view really justified? An increasing number of papers have shown that having organizational politics is not necessarily detrimental to a company.



(click image to enlarge) Source: Rosen, Chang & Levy

Christiansen et al. (1997) developed the Political Influence Compatibility (PIC) model. PIC refers to the fit between a person’s orientation towards influence tactics and the political climate in an organization. Generally, higher PIC values have corresponded with increased satisfaction with co-workers, trust in management, self-perception and procedural fairness. PIC values were also negatively correlated with the amount of conflict within the organization.

Furthermore, in the same study, it was determined that the type of political climate mattered greatly as well. Generally, use of reason and ingratiation led to more favorable work attitudes while coalition formation and upward appeals have had the opposite effect.  (Christiansen, Villanova and Mikulay 1997)



(click image to enlarge) Source: Rosen, Chang & Levy

Rosen, Chang and Levy also highlight that the effect organizational politics have on organizational citizenship behaviors (defined as organizational-benefiting discretionary behaviors that are not part of the job description but are done as a personal choice on the part of the employee) are moderated by personality characteristics. High self-monitors generally recognize what behaviors are required in the workplace, and adapt to fit the situation. An example would be engaging in more OCBs as part of an impression management tactic. On the other hand, low self-monitors might not perform as well in highly politicized environments because they are socially less effective, and their lack of understanding of political behavior in an organization could cause them to view it as threatening (Rosen, Chang and Levy n.d.).

Self-monitoring, however, is not significant enough on its own. Besides being able to identify what behaviors are required, the ability to actually engage in these behaviors depends on personality dispositions. Agreeable people generally find it easier because they can carry out OCBs and other impression management tactics genuinely and without much emotional labor.

Such research implies that organizational politics does not have to be the negative force it is so often made out to be. Rather, the negative effects on employees (stress and anxiety & decreased job satisfaction) and organizations (high turnovers & lack of OCBs) can be minimized, while benefits such as OCBs and favorable work attitudes can be inculcated. Since organizational politics are likely to be present in every organization, let us examine what we can do to ensure this happens.

Based on the above discussion, here are some of my recommendations for organizations:

1) When screening, look for good fits: As determined by Christansen’s PIC framework, it is important to ensure that there is a compatibility between a company’s political climate and the individual’s orientation towards political influence. As such, the screening process has to account for the preferences of the individual with regards to the working environment This can be done by inquiring about the political styles and perceptions of potential employees, as well as adequately informing them of the current political climate of the company.

2) Look at personality traits when assessing potential employees: Taking the previous recommendation a step further, it is important to note that personality traits – particularly agreeableness and self-monitoring – are important as well. Should the company in question possess a highly political climate, it is essential that employees have high degrees of both aforementioned traits.

3) Create an environment that has a positive political climate: Adopt measures to create a favorable political culture centered around data and reason. It has been proven that data-driven politicking results in less dissatisfaction among employees due to a perception of higher organizational justice (Larsen n.d.).

From an employee’s perspective, there are some measures which could be adapted as well:

1) Self-improvement measures: While many aspects of personality cannot be changed, some measures to make one more adept to working in political climates can be undertaken. These include impression management or self-monitoring courses designed to make participants more politically aware and socially competent.

2) Finally, the onus is on the individual to look for a company which has an environment that they are comfortable with. While companies do have responsibilities with regards to screening the right individuals, these potential employees have to be honest, self-aware, and diligent in researching on the company to ensure the environment would best suit their needs.



Bajpai, Naval. “Sectorial comparison of factors influencing job satisfaction in Indian banking sector.” Singapore Management Review, 2004.

Barling, Julian. Handbook of Work Stress. Thousand Oaks, CA: SAGE , 2005.

Byrne, Zinta. “Fairness Reduces the Negative Effects of Organizational Politics on Turnover Intentions, Citizenship Behavior and Job Performance.” Journal of Business and Psychology, 2005: 175-200.

Christiansen, Neil, Peter Villanova, and Shawn Mikulay. “Political Influcence Compatibility: fitting the person to the climate.” Journal of Organizational Behavior, 1997: 709-730.

Cornerstone Business Solutions. Office politics: You’ll just have to deal with them. 2004. (accessed April 25, 2014).

Larsen, James. “Organizational Politics.” Business Politics.

Robert Half Finance and Accounting. Office Politics. (accessed April 20, 2014).

Rosen, Chang, and Levy. “Personality and politics perceptions: A new conceptualization and illustration using OCBs.” Handbook of organizational politics.

Scott, Elizabeth. How can i deal with a difficult co-worker? March 19, 2012. (accessed April 25, 2014).


The Lack of Female Leadership: A Question of Ability?

Women currently hold less than 5% of CEO positions in companies which appear on the Fortune 1000 lists (Catalyst, 2014). Women chair just 12% of all UK higher-education governing bodies and lead 17% of UK institutions as vice-chancellors, says a study (Jarboe, 2013). Of the 100 FTSE companies, only two are led by women (Cooper, 2012).  In a more local context, women in Singapore make up just 3.5% of chair positions, with the construction industry having the highest level of female representation at 10% (Zolkifi, 2012). The dearth of females in leadership position is as real as it is puzzling.

This leads to the question of whether women are less likely to be effective leaders  than men. Could leadership theories explain this disparity? Here, I examine Trait leadership models, which seem to imply that leadership effectiveness is inherently decided (and thus explain if women or men are ‘naturally’ better leaders), as well as Contingency and Behavioural Theories, which support the idea that it is the leadership style and the circumstances which matter (and therefore imply that for some reason, men are better trained/adapted to be leaders).

This disparity between female and male representation in leadership positions could perhaps be explained by leadership trait theories. Some of the Big Five personality traits do have links with how likely potential leaders emerge and are recognized (Judge, Bono, Ilies, & Gerhardt, 2002). More specifically, extraversion helps because leaders generally like being around people and are assertive; conscientiousness allows them to be disciplined and keep to commitments; openness implies that they are creative and flexible. Somewhat surprisingly, there is no clear relationship between gender and extraversion (Rubinstein, 2004), or between gender and openness (Feingold, 1994). Similarly, Men and women appear to differ little on either specific aspects of Conscientiousness (encompassing such qualities as diligence, self-discipline, orderliness, and goal-orientation) or the sub-dimensions it comprises (Costa, Terracciano, & McCrae, 2001). On the other hand, higher levels of emotional intelligence have also been linked with better leaders because it implies that emotionally intelligent leaders can better sense others’ needs and listen to what followers say (or don’t say) (Robbins & Judge, 2012). It is in this aspect that women generally score higher than men (Fernández-Berrocal, Cabello, Castillo, & Extremera, 2012), which makes it all the more confusing because trait theories indicate that women could possibly make better leaders.

Behavioural theories suggest that the effectiveness of leaders depends on their behaviour, implying that good leaders can be trained. Prominent behavioral theories include those espoused by the Ohio State University (Initiating structure vs Consideration) and the University of Michigan (employee/relationship-oriented vs production/task-oriented).  The question is thus: Do men and women exhibit different leadership behaviour?  It would seem as if women are more likely to be democratic and participative than their male counterparts, while male leaders tend to be more top-down and authoritative (Eagly & Johnson, 1990). Women are thus more likely to be employee or relationship-oriented, displaying more consideration towards employees.

Whether these differing leadership styles actually make a impact on the effectiveness of leaders would depend on the situation, as espoused by Contingency theories. Contingency theories such as the Situational Leadership Theory, the Path-Goal theory, and the Leader-Participation Model have received little empirical support (Robbins & Judge, 2012) ,  while the logic behind Fiedler’s Least Preferred Co-worker model is not well-understood. In any case, evidence does not point to men or women being generally better leaders based on their leadership styles (democratic vs top-down) (Foels, Driskell, Mullen, & Salas, 2009), and depending on the circumstances, a middle-ground approach between these two are likely to be the most effective (Ames & Flynn, 2007).

In light of the above discussion, it would seem as if there is little evidence that men are better leaders than women – if anything, the opposite seems to be true. Some evidence has pointed to the idea that women are better transformational leaders (Eagly & Johnson, 1990), and this is an important and interesting topic I could not look into given the length constraint of this blog post. The answer to why there are more male leaders than women in various industries, then, has to lie in other factors besides a question of ability. In this video, Sheryl Sandberg, then COO of Facebook, gives her own take on this issue.


Works cited:

Ames, D., & Flynn, F. (2007). What Breaks a Leader: The Curvilinear Relation Between Assertiveness and Leadership. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology , 307-324.

Catalyst. (2014, January 15). Women CEOs of the Fortune 1000. Retrieved March 27, 2014, from

Cooper, R. (2012, October 26). The two women left running FTSE 100 companies. Retrieved March 30, 2014, from The Telegraph:

Costa, P., Terracciano, A., & McCrae, R. (2001). Gender Differences in Personality Traits Across Cultures: Robust and Surprising Findings. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology , 322-331.

Eagly, A., & Johnson, B. (1990). Gender and Leadership Style: A Meta-Analysis. Center for Health, Intervention, and Prevention.

Feingold, A. (1994). Gender Differences in Personality: A Meta-Analysis. American Psychological Association.

Fernández-Berrocal, P., Cabello, R., Castillo, R., & Extremera, N. (2012). Gender differences in emotional intelligence: The mediating effect of age. Malaga: University of Malaga.

Foels, R., Driskell, J., Mullen, B., & Salas, E. (2009). The Effects of Democratic Leadership on Group Member Satisfaction: An Integration. New York: SAGE Publications.

Jarboe, N. (2013). Lack of female leaders. Nature , 473.

Judge, T., Bono, J., Ilies, R., & Gerhardt, M. (2002). Personality and Leadership: A Qualitative and Quantitative Review. American Psychological Association, Inc.

Robbins, S., & Judge, T. (2012). Organizational Behavior (15th Edition). Prentice Hall.

Rubinstein, G. (2004). The big five among male and female students of different faculties. Tel-Aviv: School of Behavioral Sciences, Netanya Academic College.

Zolkifi, S. (2012). Singapore’s Women Pick Up The Pace. Human Resources Online.

Putting a Price on Praise – An inquiry into motivational factors

Pink and Ariely, while both giving engaging and enlightening presentations which differed so much in style – Pink’s confident, punctuating exclamations contrasting with Ariely’s deadpan humor – had the same core conclusion: Traditional methods of monetary rewards were not the key drivers of motivation. While this was in itself intriguing, a more practical question arose:

Does this imply that money has become less important as a tool for motivation? If so, could organizations benefit from the same amount of motivation and productivity by paying their employees less in monetary terms?

All that glitters is not gold

First, an examination of the idea that money has actually diminished in importance as a tool for motivation is required.

Pink claims that financial incentives only work when the task at hand encompasses a clear direction and goal, while requiring little or no cognitive process. In jobs involving uncertainty and independence to even a small degree, the three main factors which drove motivation were autonomy, mastery and purpose. These intrinsic factors were what caused high performance. Carrot-and-stick approaches, on the other hand, actually stifle creativity and may result in negative effects on performance.

Similarly, Ariely demonstrated through his two experiments that motivation depended primarily on constant progress and improvement in addition to finding a sense of purpose and meaning in the work. A sense of ownership or receiving recognition for the work would also cause one to value it more, and be more motivated to do put in additional effort.

How do the claims that these two presenters make compare with existing theories on motivation?

The Self-Determination Theory essentially covers the points that both have made. The proposition that people prefer to feel they have control over their actions coincides with Pink’s belief that autonomy is a crucial factor in motivating people. With an increase in extrinsic rewards, employees may tend to feel that they are doing well because of the organizations want, and not because of their own intrinsic desire to excel.

Similarly, Ariely’s Lego experiments demonstrated the idea of self-concordance. The alignment of intrinsic interests with the task at hand tends to produce better results simply because employees enjoy the process of striving towards their goals.

These theories seem to support the idea that financial rewards can be substituted to some extent by giving praise and recognition, autonomy, and the opportunity for constant improvement. In some cases, increasing monetary incentives may even be counterproductive.

Is cash still king?

On the other hand, money still has a fundamental role to play. Pink makes the concession that at the most basic level, financial incentives are still necessary for every job, and are likely to still play a significant part in motivating employees to work. Similarly, the oft-cited Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs lists physiological comforts as the most crucial , and money is a necessity for the attainment of these most basic of needs.

But what about at higher income levels? It appears that money increases in importance  together with its quantity according to Devoe, Pfeffer and Lee. Through their paper ‘When does money make money more important?’ , they concluded that, depending on the source of money, individuals could place a higher value on monetary rewards because they see it as a reward for a demonstration of competency and effort on their part.

This seems to run contrary to the idea that money is not an important motivational tool.

Furthermore, people are still most likely to utilize tangible financial rewards as a benchmark for comparison in both the Equity Theory and the Expectancy Theory. The Equity Theory cautions us about the loss of motivation amongst employees should there be a perceived lack of organizational justice, while the Expectancy Theory highlights the need for a reward that clearly links to the effort or performance on the part of the employee. The provision of autonomy, mastery, meaning and other intangibles are unlikely to be able to rectify discrepancies causing loss of motivation due to the aforementioned scenarios.

‘Praise is Free. Or is it?’ – Concluding thoughts

In light of the above discussion, I feel that our course materials in OB thus far have highlighted that monetary rewards  are likely to always be integral means of motivating employees. Because of its reflection of the value of an individual, it is not merely a transactional tool. It could be closely tied with social needs, esteem issues, and could even be important for self-actualization. The true value of money lies in its intangible, intrinsic worth.

To answer my own question, it is clear that to an extent at least, financial rewards can be substituted. I would be willing to take a pay cut if a job could offer me more autonomy, meaning, and resonate with my intrinsic values, and I am sure that many others would feel the same way. In addition, I would probably be more productive and bring more monetary value to an organization which meets these needs.

What would be truly intriguing (and probably impossible) would be to conduct a study to put a price these intangibles. Does autonomy boost the bottom line of the company? Are commendations a good substitute for monthly bonuses? Is praise truly free?