In organizational politics, most attack strategies assume accurate predictions of the defender's response. Since unsophisticated attackers tend to leave options open for defenders, finding suitable defense strategies is relatively straightforward. But sophisticated attackers usually try to gain control of the defender's choices to reduce uncertainty about the outcome. The sophisticated attack is therefore the interesting case.
For sophisticated attacks, unexpected responses are preferable. One response that's often effective is "rope-a-dope." The term was first applied to Mohammed Ali's strategy in a boxing match with then heavyweight champion George Foreman, on October 30, 1974, in Kinshasa. After letting Foreman tire on the attack, Ali won by a knockout in the eighth round.
The strength of "rope-a-dope" is its focus on the long time scale. Foreman was thinking on the time scale of the jab or punch, or at most, several combinations. Ali was thinking on the time scale of several rounds. Ali's strategy was to withstand blows while Foreman exhausted himself, and then switch to offense.
In organizational politics, attackers tend to focus on the same time scale as their attacks. They try to control the defender's immediate response options, emphasizing especially those responses that could harm the attacker and eventually give the defender the initiative.
A rope-a-dope response to political attacks first emphasizes withstanding the attacks long enough to render the attacker incapable of effective defense. Only then does the defender go to the offense.
For example, suppose Hannibal, the attacker and more powerful, is the leader of H-Division. Hannibal seeks to acquire C-Division, headed by Clarice, the defender and less powerful. Hannibal intends to terminate Clarice, and then install policies that decrease sales of C-Division's products, some of which embarrass H-Division because of their superiority.
Defenders usually try to make the most cogent rational case for retaining the status quo. Because logic is less effective than political power, they rarely succeed. For instance, the attacker might have prepared the ground by having pre-positioned persuasive rational arguments — sometimes based on misrepresentations — outside the defender's awareness.
The rope-a-dope response to such an attack has three steps:
- Enhance situational awareness
- Enhance In organizational politics, attackers
tend to focus on the same
time scale as their attacksdetection of the attacker's pre-positioning of rational arguments for acquiring and eventually dismembering the defending organization. Using this knowledge, adjust C-Division's activities, and prepare — but don't deliver — counterclaims and refutations of Hannibal's claims.
- Produce a superior, high-value, high-visibility product
- Produce a product that's based on strong customer relationships, and which cannot be replicated outside C-Division, because it depends on the division's continued existence, intact. This ploy secures organizational longevity, even if H-Division acquires C-Division.
- Seize the initiative
- After the acquisition, when Hannibal's exaggerated claims are beginning to crumble, release the previously crafted refutations and counterclaims.
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Beware any resource that speaks of "winning" at workplace politics or "defeating" it. You can benefit or not, but there is no score-keeping, and it isn't a game.