Email address : Adrian@ahcltd.biz
Organisational Politics, Sensemaking & Leadership Identity.
The unpredictability of the organizational context, in which the traditional procedural rules and career ladders have gone, implies that leaders have become more dependent on their own resources and interpersonal skills. Regular personal advance based on ‘time serving’ cannot be taken for granted. The competition of ideas becomes an even hotter competition for promotion. Increased uncertainty increases the prevalence, and the significance, of unstructured decisions. Organization structures become more differentiated, fragmented and fluid. The relatively stable coalitions and interest groups of the past are replaced with transient alliances. The personal decisional and structural triggers of change are thus intensified in the ambiguous, so-called ‘postmodern’ organization. Accepting these trends indirectly implicates a future in which political behaviour will play an increasingly significant role in organizational decision making and leadership careers.
This thesis is concerned with examining how leaders make sense of organisational politics, the way in which this influences identity construction and the extent to which such processes are gendered. My aim is to understand, rather than generalise or predict, how individual leaders construct a sense of their own political identity and the way in which this shapes, and is shaped by, perceptions of their own participation in – or withdrawal from - what is happening around them politically and why.
Many writers and commentators have highlighted the absence of a common definition of OP and a lack of agreement as to the nature and impact of the concept in daily organisational life ( Drory & Romm 1990; Ferris et al 2002a; Buchanan 2008). Points of contention concern distinguishing “political” from “non political” actions, the treatment of self interest and the inevitably illegitimate and damaging nature of either the behaviours or outcomes associated with OP. Such disagreement is of long standing concern to those who argue for the development of widely accepted dimensions of the term that can be operationalized and tested causally – “Only when consensus is reached about what organisational politics is and how it should be measured will the filed be advanced” (Kacmar & Carlson 1997 p656). From a more interpretative perspective, however, the ambiguity and ambivalence associated with the literature offers opportunities to deepen our understanding of the way in which individuals make sense of and use the concept in pursuit of a variety of personal and organisational goals.
I have been an independent Organisational Development consultant for the last 8 years, supporting both large and small organisations right across the public, private and not for profit spectrum. The nature of my work has given me extensive first hand experience of how change is played out in organisations on a daily basis and the role that politics plays in this. The insights offered by working in this way with executives and managers at all levels have acted as a catalyst in motivating me to undertake more detailed academic research into the sensemaking processes associated with organisational politics and the extent to which such processes are gendered.
Reflecting arguably a broader shift in wider society, organisations have become more individualistic in nature, held together by transactional alliances based on mutual self-interest rather than a collective sense of purpose. An emphasis on extrinsic rewards has eroded more intrinsic values of meaningful work, achievement and fulfilment and consequently distorted leadership behaviour - never more strikingly apparent than in the near collapse of the world financial markets. The seemingly straight forward construct of “performance” has become highly complex in a matrix structured and pluralistic setting in which a broad range of stakeholders compete for finite resources and strategic influence. This cultural and contextual shift implicates the rise of politics in terms of a process through which a wide range of organisational outcomes are achieved and power is both gained and lost. Functionalist and unitarist perspectives which view politics as either an aberration or deviant and irrational are increasingly open to challenge as being naïve and out of touch with the reality of organisational life.
My research is concerned with examining how managers make sense of their relationship with organisational politics over their leadership career. Past research has positioned OP both as a necessary skill and as a negative impact on organisations. Given the current ambivalence about OP this research focuses on the ways successful managers interpret political activity. My aim is to understand, rather than generalise or predict, how identity, ambition and engagement are shaped by perceptions of their own participation in – or withdrawal from - what has happened to them politically throughout their managerial development. The research focuses on when and how leaders first become aware of OP, their current perceptions and finally their own negotiations of a credible identity as a leader in the context they describe. The notion of gender differences in this highly politicised environment are worthy of closer analysis and deeper understanding. How are any gender differences defined and maintained in this process and what role does masculine, as well as feminine, emotion play in how those with formal and informal organisational power make sense of their experiences and actions?
- 2010 – present MPhil/PhD in Organizational Psychology
- 2003 - 05 MSc Org Behaviour Birkbeck
- 2005 – present. Director , Ashley House Consulting Ltd, own freelance OD practice.
- 2008 - present Sessional Lecturer, Birkbeck MSc Consulting and Change (Organisational Change Module) MSc Organisational Behvaiour / Psychology ( Understanding Change , HRM & Life Career Development modules ). Personal tutor and MSc dissertation supervisor)
- 1982 – 2005 Strategic Change & HR career LloydsTSB plc.