2 June 2010

Office Politics (You make the call)

Recently I was discussing with a colleague an experience she had. She was hired to lead a moderate sized change project. There was to be some minor I.T. work, but the bulk of the effort was in managing organizational change.

Her first act was to identify the key stakeholders and commence work on building a collaborative working relationship. Unfortunately office politics reared its head and she ran into trouble. An operational manager who was a stakeholder, and who should have been relatively minor in the scheme of things, decided this change manager needed to be shown who was who in this zoo.

This problematic operations manager then started spreading malicious (and unfounded) rumors about the change manager’s competency and running interference on her project.

What was our change manager to do? As a consultant she felt she could not effectively rely on internal HR processes to resolve the situation. Besides, processes such as HR facilitated dispute resolution can be slow and often ineffectual in the context of projects. We operate in a turbulent environment anyway, where change is the name of the game. And lastly, HR departments are not really geared up to assist external operators like consultants who are in and out in a few months.

She turned to her sponsor, but fund that the relationship she had had with him had been damaged by the rumors. She was committed, and alone, without support.

Earlier we had discussed the options of leaving or staying and for various reasons she was committed to seeing this project through.

What should she do?

Picture cc from  lamont_cranston at Flickr


  1. As soon as you lose the support of your sponsor you're a dead duck.

    A good friend and colleague of mine has had, quite recently, found himself in a very similar and unfortunate situation. In his case, though, it was the project sponsor himself that started spreading the (totally unfounded) rumours. Interestingly enough, in his case, not only did he not lose the support of all other major stakeholders and team members; he ended up receiving quite a lot of encouragement and support. This, however, was to no avail as the sponsor decided to remove him from his position.

    Putting aside the human factor behind these unethical circumstances, the bottom line is, if you lose the sponsor it is time to go.

    Cheers, Shim.

  2. What were her reasons for staying? I can't think of a good one, except being accused of breach of contract.

    What else... point out to the sponsor that the project is likely to fail because of the perceptions about her, wasting their investment. Would they like her to continue anyway? That way the sponsor has to decide what they want.

  3. Unfortunately it's called due diligence. It pays to check the landscape before you walk the territory. The sponsor was probably looking to solve some internal politics without getting their hands dirty - and when it gets to hot - they run for cover. cut your losses and look at it as a learning experience.

  4. First she should bring it out in the open. She should try to get the support of the key stakeholders and based on that decide whether the project can be completed or not. If she can't get the support of those whose help she needs, it's time to throw in the towel.

  5. Shim and David - nice try, but the story has a constraint. Our hero is going to stick it out and try to make it work. Want to have another bash?

  6. Retreat, learn more about the situation, get backup, fight back.

    Usually we put ourselves in this kind of situations when we aren't aware of constraints surrounding ourselves. If you're hired to work on organizational change you start from learning about folks like the operational managers and things like office politics before you start doing anything else. This is by the way your colleague's failure in the first place.

    Anyway, if you lose the battle, and she lost one, you don't continue your plan. You retreat and rework your plan under changed circumstances.

    I'd look for friends - people who would support change. There should be a few of them, even if they aren't key decision makers. It's hard to tell about exact actions she could perform since we know very little about the situation in detail, but that's how I would start.

  7. Squeaky wheels like attention. I suggest a full front assault of a devious kind.

    Since Mr. Operations Manager is not playing ball engage him, publicly, into providing his insight into the change management process; a full team meeting is a great venue for this. I’m thinking that this individual probably complains about every change to the status quo but is clueless about solutions to his organization’s problems.

    That approach worked for me in the past; the complainer self-destructed in front of the group.

    Patrick Richard ing., PMP

  8. Our heroine is sticking it out, yes, but I do think it is a fair question to ask why. I re-read the post and it says that was discussed earlier, so maybe I just need a link to that or something. Knowing that may help me come up with a suggestion or two.