The effective leader creates an “agenda for change” with two major elements: a vision balancing the long-term interests of key parties, and a strategy for achieving the vision while recognizing competing internal and external forces (Kotter, 1988). Aruna Roy always knew she wanted to do something for the poor, but she had to live and work with them over time to develop an agenda rooted in their needs and concerns. Her effectiveness increased dramatically when she seized on information transparency. The agenda must convey direction while addressing concerns of major stakeholders. Kanter (1983) and Pfeffer (1992) underscore the intimate tie between gathering information and developing a vision. Pfeffer’s list of key political attributes includes “sensitivity”—knowing how others think and what they care about so that your agenda responds to their concerns: “Many people think of politicians as arm-twisters, and that is, in part, true. But in order to be a successful arm- twister, one needs to know which arm to twist, and how” (p. 172).
Kanter adds: “While gathering information, entrepreneurs can also be ‘planting seeds’— leaving the kernel of an idea behind and letting it germinate and blossom so that it begins to “oat around the system from many sources other than the innovator” (1983, p. 218). Paul Maritz did just that. Ignoring Dave Cutler’s barbs and insults, he focused on getting information, building relationships, and formulating an agenda. He quickly concluded that the NT project was in disarray and that Cutler had to take on more responsibility. Maritz’s strategy was attuned to his quarry: “He protected Cutler from undue criticism and resisted the urge to reform him. [He] kept the peace by exacting from Cutler no ritual expressions of obedience” (Zachary, 1994, pp. 281–282).
A vision without a strategy remains an illusion. A strategy has to recognize major forces working for and against the agenda. Smith’s point about U.S. presidents captures the importance of focus for managers at every level:
The paramount task and power of the president is to articulate the national purpose: to !x the nation’s agenda. Of all the big games at the summit of American politics, the agenda game must be won !rst. The effectiveness of the presidency and the capacity of any president to lead depend on focusing the nation’s political attention and its energies on two or three top priorities. From
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the standpoint of history, the “ow of events seems to have immutable logic, but political reality is inherently chaotic: it contains no automatic agenda. Order must be imposed (1988, p. 333).
Agendas never come neatly packaged. The bigger the job, the harder it is to wade through the clutter and !nd order amid chaos. Contrary to Woody Allen’s dictum, success requires more than just showing up. High of!ce, even if the incumbent enjoys great personal popularity, is no guarantee. In his !rst year as president, Ronald Reagan was remarkably successful following a classic strategy for winning the agenda game: “First impressions are critical. In the agenda game, a swift beginning is crucial for a newpresident to establish himself as leader—to show the nation that hewillmake a difference in people’s lives. The !rst 100 days are the vital test; in those weeks, the political community and the public measure a new president—to see whether he is active, dominant, sure, purposeful” (Smith, 1988, p. 334).
Reagan began with a vision but without a strategy. He was not a gifted manager or strategist, despite extraordinary ability to portray complex issues in broad, symbolic brushstrokes. Reagan’s staff painstakingly studied the !rst 100 days of four predecessors. They concluded that it was essential to move with speed and focus. Pushing competing issues aside, they focused on two: cutting taxes and reducing the federal budget. They also discovered a secret weapon in David Stockman, the one person in the Reagan White House who understood the federal budget process. “Stockman got a jump on everyone else for two reasons: he had an agenda and a legislative blueprint already prepared, and he understood the real levers of power. Two terms as a Michigan congressman plus a network of key Republican and Democratic connections had taught Stockman how to play the power game” (Smith, 1988, p. 351). Reagan and his advisers had the vision; Stockman provided strategic direction.
Mapping the Political Terrain It is foolhardy to plunge into a mine!eld without knowing where explosives are buried, yet managers unwittingly do it all the time. They launch a new initiative with little or no effort to scout and master the political turf. Pichault (1993) suggests four steps for developing a political map:
1. Determine channels of informal communication.
2. Identify principal agents of political in”uence.
3. Analyze possibilities for mobilizing internal and external players.
4. Anticipate counterstrategies that others are likely to employ.
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Pichault offers an example of planned change in a large government agency in Belgium. The agency wanted to replace antiquated manual records with a fully automated paperless computer network. Proponents of the new system had little understanding of how work got done. Nor did they anticipate the interests and power of key middle managers and frontline bureaucrats. It seemed obvious to the techies that better data meant higher ef!ciency. In reality, frontline bureaucrats made little use of the data. They applied standard procedures in 90 percent of cases and asked their bosses what to do about the rest. They checked with supervisors partly to get the “right” answer but evenmore to get political cover. Because they saw no need for the new technology, street-level bureaucrats had incentives to ignore or work around it. After a consultant clari!ed the political map, a new battle erupted between unrepentant techies, who insisted their solution was correct, and senior managers who argued for a less ambitious approach. The two sides ultimately compromised.
A simple way to develop a political map for any situation is to create a two-dimensional diagram mapping players (who is in the game), power (how much clout each player is likely to exercise), and interests (what each player wants). Exhibits 10.1 and 10.2 present two hypothetical versions of the Belgian bureaucracy’s political map. Exhibit 10.1 shows themap as the techies saw it. They expected little opposition and assumed they held the high cards; their map implied a quick and easy win. Exhibit 10.2, a more objective map, paints a very
Exhibit 10.1. The Political Map as Seen by the Techies: Strong Support and Weak
Opposition for Change.
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Exhibit 10.2. The Real Political Map: A Battleground with Strong Players on Both Sides.
different picture. Resistance is more intense and opponents more powerful. This view forecasts a stormy process with protracted con”ict. Though less comforting, the secondmap has an important message: Success requires substantial effort to realign the political force !eld. The third and fourth key skills of the manager as politician, discussed in the next two sections, respond to that challenge.
Networking and Building Coalitions Managers often fail to get things done because they rely too much on reason and too little on relationships. In both the Challenger and Columbia space shuttle catastrophes (discussed in Chapter 9), engineers pitched careful, data-based arguments to their superiors about potentially lethal safety risks—and failed to dent their bosses’ resistance (Glanz and Schwartz, 2003; Vaughan, 1995). Six months before the Challenger accident, for example, an engineer at Morton Thiokol wrote to management: “The result [of an O-ring failure] would be a catastrophe of the highest order—loss of human life” (Bell and Esch, 1987, p. 45). A memo, if it is clear and powerful, may work, but is often a sign of political innocence. Kotter (1985) suggests four basic steps for exercising political in”uence:
1. Identify relevant relationships. (Figure out which players you need to in”uence.)
2. Assess who might resist, why, and how strongly. (Determine where the leadership challenges will be.)
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3. Develop, wherever possible, links with potential opponents to facilitate communica- tion, education, or negotiation. (Hold your enemies close.)
4. If step three fails, carefully select and implement either more subtle or more forceful methods. (Save your more potent weapons until you really need them, but have a Plan B in case Plan A falls short.)
These steps underscore the importance of developing a power base. Moving up the managerial ladder confers authority but also creates more dependence, because success requires the cooperation of many others (Kotter, 1985, 1988; Butcher and Clarke, 2001). People rarely give their best efforts and fullest cooperation simply because they have been ordered to do so. They accept direction better when they perceive the people in authority as credible, competent, and sensible.
The !rst task in building networks and coalitions is to !gure out whose help you need. The second is to develop relationships so people will be there when you need them. Successful middle-management change agents typically begin by getting their boss on board (Kanter, 1983). They then move to “preselling,” or “making cheerleaders”: “Peers, managers of related functions, stakeholders in the issue, potential collaborators, and sometimes even customers would be approached individually, in one-on-one meetings that gave people a chance to in”uence the project and [gave] the innovator the maximum opportunity to sell it. Seeing them alone and on their territory was important: the rule was to act as if each person were the most important one for the project’s success” (p. 223).
Once you cultivate cheerleaders, you can move to “horse trading”: promising rewards in exchange for resources and support. This builds a resource base that helps in “securing blessings”—getting the necessary approvals and mandates from higher management (Kanter, 1983). Kanter found that the usual route to success in securing blessings is to identify critical senior managers and to develop a polished, formal presentation to nail down their support. The best presentations respond to both substantive and political concerns. Senior managers typically care about two questions: Is it a good idea? How will my constituents react? Once innovators get a nod from higher management, they can formalize the coalition with their boss and make speci!c plans for pursuing the project.
The basic point is simple: As a manager, you need friends and allies to get things done. To sew up their support, you need to build coalitions. Rationalists and romantics often rebel against this scenario. Why should you have to play political games to get something accepted if it’s the right thing to do? One of the great classics of French drama, Molière’s The Misanthrope, tells the story of a protagonist whose rigid rejection of all things political is destructive for him and everyone close by. The point that Molière made four centuries ago
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still holds: It is hard to dislike politics without also disliking people. Like it or not, political dynamics are inevitable under three conditions most managers face every day: ambiguity, diversity, and scarcity.
Informal networks perform a number of functions that formal structure may do poorly or not at all—moving projects forward, imparting culture, mentoring, and creating “communities of practice.” Some organizations use measures of social networking to identify and manage who’s connected to whom. When Procter & Gamble studied linkages among its 25 research and development units around the world, it discovered that its unit in China was relatively isolated from all the rest—a clear signal that linkages needed strengthening to corner a big and growing market (Reingold and Yang, 2007).
Ignoring or misreading people’s roles in networks is costly. Consider the mistake that undermined John LeBoutillier’s political career. Shortly after he was elected to Congress from a wealthy district in Long Island, LeBoutillier !red up his audience at the New York Republican convention with the colorful quip that Speaker of the House Thomas P. O’Neill was “fat, bloated, and out of control, just like the Federal budget.” Asked to comment, Tip O’Neill was atypically terse: “I wouldn’t know the man from a cord of wood” (Matthews, 1999, p. 113). Two years later, LeBoutillier unexpectedly lost his bid for reelection to an unknown opponent who didn’t have the money to mount a real campaign—until a mysterious “ood of contributions poured in from all over America. When LeBoutillier later ran into O’Neill, he admitted sheepishly, “I guess you were more popular than I thought you were” (Matthews, 1999, p. 114). LeBoutillier learned the hard way that it is dangerous to underestimate or provoke people when you don’t know howmuch power they have or who their friends are.
Bargaining and Negotiation We often associate bargaining with commercial, legal, and labor transactions. From a political perspective, though, bargaining is central to decision making. The horse trading that Kanter describes as part of coalition building is just one of many examples. Negotiation occurs whenever two or more parties with some interests in common and others in con”ict need to reach agreement. Labor andmanagement may agree that a !rm should makemoney and offer good jobs to employees but part ways on how to balance pay and pro!tability. Engineers and managers in the NASA space program had a common interest in the success of the shuttle “ights, but at key moments differed sharply on how to balance technical and political tradeoffs.