Office Politics And Being Political Savvy

‘Face reality as it is, not as it was or as you wish it to be.’

– Jack Welch

Office politics is much discussed topic in organisation, people hate it ( atleast no one openly supports it) , but no organisation is free from it. It is something no one can avoid. Employees should learn how to deal with it.


Korn Ferry has come up with an interesting competency called Political Savvy. Political Savvy measures a person on …

  • How he navigates smoothly through political waters and deals with it patiently, anticipates where land mines are and plans accordingly.
  • How he deals with “not –invented-here” and territory protection.
  • How good he is in persuading upper management to his point of view.
  • How he communicates- is he too direct and does not consider it impact on others? or is he sensitive to how  people and organization functions.
  • How he projects consequences of his actions.
  • How he deals with politics- does he try to remain apolitical and keep himself away from politics? or accepts that politics is part of organisational life.

Office Politics Superstore.

A person who rates high on this competency not only survives in organisation but also climbs career ladder faster.


Vision Statement and Management of Change

If you don’t like something, change it. If you can’t change it, change your attitude

– Maya Angelou

In “Vision, Mission and Values” workshop, the leadership team comes up with a very ambitious vision statement ex. “To be $ 10 billion organisation by 20XX”. To execute the strategy a balanced score card is designed which result in Big, Hairy Audacious Goals for individuals.

Goals many not just be financial, there are cultural and social dimensions to it. To achieve these goals, leaders have to manage change, which in turn is linked to their appetite for change management.

Christopher Musselwhite and Robyn Ingram have come up with a model which studies orientation of an individual towards change.

They divide people into three categories.

  1. Conservers- Conservers are comfortable with existing system and not keen to change it. They prefer change to happen in gradual and incremental manner, drastic change is not for them.
  2. Originators – Originators are opposite of Conservers, they want to challenge the status quo and want change to happen in rapid pace.
  3. Pragmatists- Pragmatists too want change, but only in areas where it is absolutely necessary. They will study the situation and identify areas where change is required and will initiate steps in those areas.


All three categories are found in every organisation and each plays  a role in managing change. An originator will challenge status quo and come up with innovative ideas which other two categories cannot think of, but when it comes to implementation of such innovative ideas conserver can play a key role.


Prejudice and Bogardus Social Distance Scale

“I wish to go to another country because they will help me with my future and my son’s future. I will go to any place. I want to go somewhere where I will not have to rely on handouts at all.”

-Nadia, a 47-year-old Syrian woman

“I think we should help, but I think we should be very careful because frankly, we have very big problems. We cannot help everybody through the world.”

-Donald Trump

Gordon Allport was an American psychologist who is known for his contribution to personality psychology. Prejudice was one of the areas of interest to him. He defined prejudice as “a feeling, favourable or unfavourable, toward a person or thing, prior to, or not based on, actual experience”.

What is important in definition is the last part “not based on actual experience”. In case of prejudice a person makes his opinion without actual experience.

Most Europeans have never visited Syria and hence have no actual experience of what kind of people Syrians are. But they form opinion based on what gets reported in media or based on propaganda of interest groups. People who hate Syrians are not more knowledgeable than people who welcome them.


To understand psychology of people, sociologist Emory S. Bogardus designed a scale to measure people’s willingness to participate in social contacts of varying degrees of closeness with members of diverse social groups.

On one end of scale a person may not maintain social distance ( score 1) i.e. he may be willing to have member from diverse group as close relative ex. spouse and at the other end of scale a person may refuse to let member from diverse group enter into his country ( score 7).

Example of scale is given below.


This scale helps in explaining why some people are friendly towards migrants while others are hostile.




Chris Guillebeau, Conformity and Average Life

Chris Guillebeau is an American author who writes books on        entrepreneurship like The $ 100 Startup, The Art of Non Conformity etc. In his book on Art of Non Conformity he talks about 11 things that an person do to remain average in his life.

1. Accept what people tell you at face value.

2. Don’t question authority.

3. Go to college because you’re supposed to, not because you want to learn something.

4. Go overseas once or twice in your life, to somewhere safe.

5. Don’t try to learn another language; everyone else will eventually learn English.

6. Think about starting your own business, but never do it.

7. Think about writing a book, but never do it.

8. Get the largest mortgage you qualify for and spend 30 years paying for it.

9. Sit at a desk 40 hours a week for an average of 10 hours of productive work.

10. Don’t stand out or draw attention to yourself.

11. Jump through hoops. Check off boxes.

Psychometric tests used in organisations-II

Personality is the combination of characteristics or qualities that form an individual’s distinctive character. Now question is how many factors describe personality completely? Psychologists differ on number of factors.

Hans Jürgen Eysenck believed that three factors extroversion, neuroticism and psychoticism were sufficient to map a personality. He designed Eysenck’s Personality Inventory to study personality. Raymond Cattell on the other hand came up with sixteen personality factors to describe a personality completely, he designed 16 personality factor questionnaire or 16 PF inventory.

Psychologists Paul Costa and Robert McCrae came up with five factors which they believe are sufficient to map a personality. These five factors are extraversion, openness to experience, agreeableness, conscientiousness and neuroticism. They designed NEO personality inventory for this.

Psychologist Robert Hogan came with his own version of five factor test called Hogan Personality Inventory. He made two changes in five factor model. He split openness to experience into two factors- inquisitiveness and learning approach, he also split extraversion into two factors- ambition and sociability.

All above psychologists belong to traits school of personality. Personality according to them is collection of traits. Traits are durable characteristics of a person ex. if you are introvert, then you are likely to remain so for long period of time, switching from introversion to extraversion is not easy.

Types are collections of traits that are said to occur together in some individuals. Some personality tests use types instead of traits to study personality. Most popular inventory studying types is MBTI or Myers–Briggs Type Indicator. Katherine Briggs and her daughter Isabel Myers designed MBTI based on research done by psychologist Carl Jung and which was published in his book Psychological Types. Jung was of opinion that people have preferred ways of perceiving and deciding. These were put in from of four dichotomies by Briggs and Myers, combination of these resulted into sixteen personality types.

Purpose of personality tests is to help person understand himself and use information to make improvements.

In case you are planning to use it for organisational purpose, it is better to go through manuals before finalising the test ex. MBTI is not supposed to be used for recruitment.


Psychometric tests used in organisations-I

Many organisations use psychometrics tests during various phases of employee’s life cycle. It starts with hiring, it is used to judge existing competencies and potential, to understand training needs and finally during outplacement.

Some popular ones are MBTI, FIRO-B, Belbin, Five factor tests, DISC, Hogan etc.

Purpose of FIRO-B is to understand interpersonal needs, these needs being inclusion, control and affection (openness). There is further subdivision of needs in terms of each them being expressed or wanted.

FIRO B was designed by William Schutz for American Navy during Korean War; purpose was to find out who will get along with whom. It was designed to predict interaction between two people. FIRO B is not a personality test, unlike MBTI, Five factors or Hogan.

Belbin team role was designed by Meredith Belbin to predict what role a person can play in team, for team to progress. It defines nine such roles. Belbin team role is again not a personality test, it just predicts what role one can play to make team a success. Roles can be social (resource coordinator, coordinator and team worker), thinking (plant, monitor evaluator and specialist) or task oriented (shaper, implementer, finisher)

“A tendency to behave, contribute and interrelate with others in a particular way.”

-Team role as defined by Meredith Belbin

DISC was designed by William Marston. It was based on how an individual perceives environment. He will perceive environment to be favourable or non-favourable to him. In addition to this he may feel that he is powerful enough to change environment or not powerful enough to change environment. If we design 2×2 matrix based on these four parameters then we get four styles ex. a person may perceive environment non favourable, but powerful enough to change it, this style is called dominance. The other three styles are influence, steady and conscientious. Taking first letter of each style you get acronym DISC. William Marston never patented his work, so today we have various versions of this test like Thomas Profiling, Extended DISC, DiSC etc. DISC again is not a personality test.

DISC, Belbin and FIRO-B are widely used in organisation and some practitioners label them as personality test, which is wrong. Each test has a specific purpose- FIRO-B to understand interpersonal skills, DISC to understand your style in dealing with environment and Belbin to understand what role one can play in a team to make it a success.

We will talk about personality tests in my next article.




Svetlana Alexievich, Boris Pasternak and Noble Prize

“We excommunicated Tolstoy, we disowned Dostoevsky, and now we disown Pasternak. Everything that brings us glory we try to banish to the West…”

-Speaker at Boris Pasternak’s funeral



Boris Pasternak was Russian poet and novelist. Pasternak disliked restriction on freedom of expression in Russia. During his time no one could speak against the communist party and its leaders, anyone doing so was declared traitor and was sent to jail (usually ended up getting executed). Osip Mandelstam, friend of Pasternak was critical of communist regime and did not hesitate to criticise Stalin. Soon he was arrested and died in prison camp. After this episode Pasternak became cautious.

dr zhivago

Pasternak wrote novel called Doctor Zhivago, which describes period between 1905 and Russian revolution. Soviet government and writers association felt that novel criticised communist party and its leaders, so then did not allow novel to be published in Russia. Later an Italian publisher Giangiacomo Feltrinelli who met Pasternak liked the novel and got it published in Italian language in 1957. Soon it became popular all over world and in 1958 Pasternak was awarded Nobel Prize for literature. Writers loyal to communist party did not like it and declared that accepting Nobel Prize would mean Pasternak was traitor. They started criticizing Pasternak even without reading his novel.

“I haven’t read Pasternak, but I condemn him”

-A Russian saying

Pasternak was forced to decline Noble Prize.


Yesterday another Russian (now Belarusian) got Nobel Prize for literature. Situation is not very different from what Pasternak faced. Svetlana Alexievich is critical of President of Belarus, Alexander Lukashenko. Lukashenko forced her to leave Belarus in 2000 (she later came back to Belarus in 2011). State owned publishing houses of Belarus have refused to publish her books.

“If you look back at the whole of our history, both Soviet and post-Soviet, it is a huge common grave and a blood bath. An eternal dialog of the executioners and the victims. The accursed Russian questions: what is to be done and who is to blame. The revolution, the gulags, the Second World War, the Soviet-Afghan war hidden from the people, the downfall of the great empire, the downfall of the giant socialist land, the land-utopia, and now a challenge of cosmic dimensions – Chernobyl. This is a challenge for all the living things on earth. Such is our history. And this is the theme of my books, this is my path, my circles of hell, from man to man.”

-Svetlana Alexievich, Nobel Prize winner in Literature 2015

Popular books of Svetlana are War’s unwomanly face, Voices from Chernobyl and Zinky Boys.


War’s unwomanly face is about Russian women who took part in Second World War. For this book she interviewed nearly 200 women who took part in war and fought with Germans.

“At the age of nineteen I had a medal “For courage”. At the age of nineteen, my hair turned grey. At the age of nineteen in my last battle I was shot through both lungs, the bullet went in between two vertebrae. My legs were paralysed… They thought I was dead… At the age of nineteen… My granddaughter is this age now. I look at her in disbelief. Such a child!”

-War’s unwomanly face

Russian government did not like brutal honestly of Svetlana, they censored some parts of novel when they published it Russian. For example, the passage given below was not published in Russian edition.

“We walked forty kilometers… The women’s auto-battalion. A heat. Thirty degrees. Many girls has… That… Female… Flows down on legs… We got nothing, no hygienic… We reached the water, saw a river… And all the girls went there. And Germans began to shoot from another side. They adjusted fire very well… We should be washed, because it was a shame… We didn’t get out from the water, and one girl was lost…”

-War’s unwomanly face


Voices from Chernobyl is about people who suffered during accident in Chernobyl nuclear plant which resulted thousands getting exposed to radiation resulting in death or suffering from radiation related diseases. Accident and its effect on people were kept hidden from world with infamous Russian “iron curtain”.

“And Grandma — she couldn’t get used to the new place. She missed our old home. Just before she died she said, ‘I want some sorrel!’ We weren’t allowed to eat that for several years, it was the thing that absorbed the most radiation.”

-Voices from Chernobyl

Zinky Boys is about Russian soldiers who fought Afghan war. Bodies of Russian soldiers who were killed by Afghans were brought to Russia in zinc coffins, hence the name Zinky Boys.

zinky boys

Svetlana spoke to soldiers who came back from war and wrote down their experiences.

“…yet back home, what do I find? A friend can’t lend me a fiver because his wife wouldn’t like it. What kind of friend is that? I soon realised we were surplus to requirements … Life here is just one big swamp where all people care about is their dachas, their cars and where to find a bit of smoked sausage …”

-Zinky Boys

World of today is very different from world in which Pasternak lived. I am sure Svetlana will accept Nobel Prize.

Lukashenko has not congratulated Svetlana.