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Corporate consultant helps ferret out common political problems and transform your company into a ‘VEO'

RISMEDIA, Feb. 8, 2007-Well, the Democrats have taken over the House and Senate and most people are waiting anxiously to see what happens. Will the new leaders actually make progress toward their ideals or will partisan bickering result in gridlock? Will new scandals take the place of the old ones? Will the loudest, most strident squeaky wheels "get the grease"? If you'll notice, most of our expectations seem to be negative.

Regardless of your party affiliation, you've probably concluded that the political process itself is antithetical to real progress-beneficial progress, at least. And according to Joanne G. Sujansky, PhD, the same problem often afflicts companies.

"Never forget that although there is a huge difference between running a nation and running a business, human beings with human frailties are in charge of both," advises Sujansky, CEO and founder of KEYGroup®. "The same issues that cause problems in our, or any other government-selfishness, greed, petty bickering, lust for power-can creep into your company's culture and interfere with productivity. Leaders must constantly keep a sharp eye out for such 'political' problems . . . in their employees and in themselves."

So what is the cure for the politically driven-or perhaps politically hampered would be more accurate-organization? Sujansky says that no 100 percent cure exists, because human beings will always be, well, human beings. But your best bet is to transform your company into the kind of organization in which politics can't take hold and thrive. Her term for such a company? Vibrant Entrepreneurial Organization, or VEO for short.

As Sujansky explains it, a VEO is an organization made up of employees who feel that elusive sense of ownership that drives them to innovate constantly, to execute relentlessly, and to work with a sense of passion-employees who do what is necessary to stay ahead of the competition. She says a VEO has five characteristics:

* It shares the "big picture" people need to take personal risks and hold themselves accountable.
* It inspires and nurtures employee loyalty.
* It supports high productivity while minimizing stress.
* It produces a winning tradition.
* It elevates communication to an art form.

But first things first: before you can start transforming your company into a VEO, you need to recognize the telltale warning signs that you may have the antithesis of that: an overly political organization. Sujansky offers a list of symptoms to look for, along with some remedies you can start implementing now:

Political Problem #1: Gridlock-Your company is at a standstill because no one can agree on what to do.

Remedy: Start with the top leaders' getting consensus around the common goals. It is also helpful for leaders to hold people accountable to following consensus guidelines during discussion/decision making. These include: providing each person an opportunity to contribute, giving people a chance to describe why they feel strongly about an idea with objective rationale when appropriate, listening to others' opinions before responding, and trying to find common elements among the various ideas. Leaders can also develop shorter-term plans to "try" some ideas, thereby testing them for long-term use or giving multiple ideas a chance.

Political Problem #2: Bureaucracy-People are so bogged down in paperwork, red tape, and stifling rules that their progress is hindered.

Remedy: It is helpful for leaders to clarify those decisions that individuals can make on their own, those that they need to get input on, and those that they need to defer to others. For example, an employee may be able to make a less-than-$1,000 accommodation for a customer but may need to get approval from a supervisor for any amount above that level. You might also formulate task teams to review processes and levels of approval that can be reduced and streamlined.

"Often people just go through the motions without considering the option of changing a process or procedure based on the fallacy of 'But we've always done it that way,'" explains Sujansky. "Additionally, leaders are wise to ask 'What if?' 'What if we could change this process?' . . . 'What if we wouldn't require this signature?' . . . 'What if we accommodated customers in a different way?'"

Political Problem #3: Grandstanding (a.k.a. Brownnosing)-People pay lip service to leaders' ideas to flatter and curry favor, but have no real commitment to implementing them.

Remedy: Hold people accountable for following through on assigned actions. Leaders can do this by insisting on a detailed action plan with hard due dates and specific people charged with getting specific things done following each planning and update meeting. Action plans help to capture commitments and serve as an accountability record for subsequent meetings and discussions. If individuals are held accountable for getting things done-and reporting to their peers and managers about progress-they are more committed to follow through.

Political Problem #4: The Two-Faced Two-Step-People talk out of both sides of their mouths, saying what they think the people they're talking to at the moment want to hear.

Remedy: "Leaders, it's your job to set the stage for employees to be upfront and honest," says Sujansky. "Whenever possible, adopt the devil's advocate role to encourage employees to share bad news as well as good news. If they give you a compliment, ask them what you can do differently. If they describe the good points of a plan, ask them what could go wrong. And it is, of course, important not to 'kill the messenger'-make sure you aren't punishing people for bringing up bad news or offering constructive criticism. Always encourage open, honest, and direct feedback and thank people for voicing their opinions."

Political Problem #5: Passing the Buck-No one takes responsibility for anything; people are always shifting blame to someone else.

Remedy: Realize that chronic blame shifting is often a signal that employees operate in silos rather than working together toward one common vision. Consider job shadowing or an orientation session to expose people to other parts of the business. For example, marketing representatives can ride with salespeople on their calls. In a well-known credit card company, every manager is required to answer customer service calls at least one time per month so they don't get too far away from the lifeline of the business. Help people "connect the dots"-in other words, make sure Sylvia in accounting understands how her job affects Paula in marketing, and vice versa. Ask people in different departments to share their goals and what they need from each other. They can also describe what they will do to better support each other, putting their commitments in writing.

Political Problem #6: Laziness, Clockwatching, and Low Work Ethic-People have a sense of entitlement; they're just "putting in face time" until they can go home.

Remedy: Many workplaces need a shot of adrenaline. Find out about employees' likes, dislikes, interests, talents, hopes, and dreams. Take a personal interest in them as people and share your enthusiasm and vision with them. Find ways to set realistic but challenging goals related to their areas of interest and skills whenever possible.
And don't forget to coach them-provide ongoing feedback on what they do well and ask them for ideas on how things could be done more effectively or efficiently. Build in mechanisms and small rewards for goal accomplishment, change, and innovation rather than for maintenance of the status quo.

Political Problem #7: Indirect Communication-Instead of talking to coworkers directly when they have a problem, employees complain to supervisors and talk about people behind their backs.

Remedy: A VEO is completely transparent. Encourage individuals to ask questions and challenge the status quo. Remember, gossip, rumors, and backbiting thrive in a closed-door work environment. When there are no secrets or off-limit conversations, the rumor mill starts to dissipate.

"Obviously, leaders must make it a policy never to gossip or talk about coworkers behind their backs," says Sujansky. "But also, communicate your intolerance for gossip and the rumors whenever you can. Participate in open forums on a regular basis, and emphasize the fact that you're always accessible and available for inquiries or responses to rumors or fabricated hype."

Political Problem #8: Pork-barreling-Influential employees push through expensive projects that serve only one small part of the company.

Remedy: In a VEO, high-level leaders make it a priority to communicate the overall vision and goals of the organization. They also provide criteria for budget allotments and selection of projects: for example, contribution to overall goals of the organization, support for the organizational vision and values, and estimated return on investment.
"When everyone is absolutely clear on what the company is working toward, pork-barreling is automatically curtailed," says Sujansky. "People know better than to ask for money for 'pet projects' based on ego and personal gain."

Political Problem #9: Corruption-People are actually embezzling, fudging reports, and engaging in other unethical/illegal behavior.

Remedy: Upholding ethical standards isn't a "nice-to-do"; it is a "must-do"-especially in today's accelerated marketplace. Leaders communicate an ethical environment by stating the ethical code and holding people accountable to it. Leaders also model appropriate behaviors that they want to see in others. Sujansky recommends providing a "whistle-blowers" forum for individuals to report unethical behavior without repercussions. Obviously, punish ethics violations and continue to promote a zero tolerance environment.

"When you begin addressing these problems, one by one, you will find that the entire culture of your organization begins to shift," says Sujansky. "Why? Well, because the steps you take to defuse the political environment are the same ones that make your company more successful. Once employees start seeing positive results, they won't need all the distractions and dramas anymore. They'll be fulfilled by their work. That's what it's like to work for a Vibrant Entrepreneurial Organization-and once you break free of the political shackles holding you back, that's exactly what you'll be."

For over 25 years Joanne G. Sujansky, PhD, CSP, has been helping leaders to increase business growth and profitability by creating and sustaining what she calls a Vibrant Entrepreneurial Organization. Her expertise, insight, wisdom, humor, and practical solutions have made Joanne a highly sought-after speaker for keynote addresses, seminars, conferences, and workshops. She has brought fresh concepts and effective techniques to executives and audiences in over thirty countries around the globe.

Among the organizations that have called upon Joanne to deliver speeches, develop custom presentations, and provide consulting services are: GlaxoSmithKline, International Federation of Training and Development Organizations, PPG Industries, Inc., U.S. Steel Corporation, PA Recreation & Park Society, Inc., American Express-Sweden, AT&T, Meeting Professionals International, U.S. Postal Service, IBM, Society for Automotive Engineers International, T. Rowe Price, Mayo Clinic, and Volkswagen, Audi, Porsche.

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