The hidden cost of corporate politics and the benefits of confrontation

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Corporate politics and the people who engage in them account for an extraordinary amount of waste, in terms of both time and money. We've been so wired to avoid confrontation, that issues fester for weeks, months, and often times even longer. Instead of addressing problems head on, and rewarding those who demand that they be resolved, passive aggressiveness takes over and relationships become permanently tainted.

Instead of having open debate, disputes are resolved by the person who can more effectively bend the ear of an executive over lunch. Instead of making someone justify a position against available evidence to the contrary, people who bring forth the evidence are encouraged to wait for something to "blow up".

It can be a funny place, the corporate world, where one is judged not only on the basis of their performance, but also their ability to control other people's perception of their performance. It's a world where the way someone reacts to a bone-headed decision becomes more important than the original problem itself.

It seems sometimes that in the corporate world you get all the bad things from politics, and none of the good. You get the ear bending, schmoozing, jockeying for position, and behind closed doors rule making. But you don't get Freedom of Information, an appeals process, open debates, challenges to authority, or any of the other stuff that makes politics fun.

What I'm driving at here though is that all of this has a cost, and it's huge. When the corporate politicians are running around, sales aren't getting closed. Software isn't being built. Automation of manual processes isn't happening. New products aren't being introduced.

The problem is, the cost rarely affects the people playing this "game" - at least not immediately. In fact, they're often times rewarded if they play the game well. The reward might come in the form of a promotion, a raise, or maybe even just a little more credibility the next time a similar issue rolls around.

But if they're not paying the cost, then who is? The people signing their checks, that's who. It's the shareholders, or the entrepreneur, or maybe even their fellow colleagues who aren't going to get a bonus because everyone wanted to avoid getting into an argument or being perceived as a trouble maker.

Confrontation isn't comfortable, and it isn't always the answer either. Sometimes though, a little confrontation is all you need to figure out who's stopping you and your company from being its best; you would be wise to encourage it every now and then.