Point Lookout: a free weekly publication of Chaco Canyon Consulting
Volume 16, Issue 36;   September 7, 2016: Cultural Indicators of Political Risk

Cultural Indicators of Political Risk


Because of fire risk, hiking in dry forests during dry seasons can be dangerous. In the forest, we stay safe from fire if we attend to the indicators of fire risk. In the workplace, do you know the indicators of political risk?
A forest fire

Wildfires in southeastern Australia in 2009. Photo credit: U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

Politics is indispensible at work. It is the means by which we resolve problems jointly, and allocate resources to achieve joint objectives. And politics has a dark side. Some political operators use political means to advance personal agendas at the expense of the organization, their colleagues, or both. What are the indicators of such behavior? How can we tell whether there is political risk to our organizations, or to our own personal well-being? Here are some indicators of political risk, emphasizing attributes of organizational culture.

Intentionally inflicting political harm
Political harm to others can be an unintended result of legitimate actions. Sometimes, it's unavoidable. But if someone you work with has harmed another politically, and has done so intentionally, as the primary objective of the political act, beware. That person apparently believes that such actions are within cultural norms. Maybe they are.
Boasting about having inflicted political harm
Someone boasting of having inflicted political harm on another could be a signal that, at least in the view of the boaster, the culture actually admires those who succeed in harming others. Such a cultural norm encourages politically motivated attacks. Watch your back.
Bearing grudges, seeking revenge, or avoiding someone
Harboring grudges Environments in which people
perceive an absence of procedural
justice are fertile grounds for
the tactics of toxic politics
against others, seeking revenge, or avoiding others, are all tactics people use when they feel wronged. People are more likely to use these tactics when they feel that "procedural justice" is unavailable[Aquino 2006]. Environments in which people perceive an absence of procedural justice are fertile grounds for the tactics of toxic politics.
Rampant bigotry
When people act out of bigotry against a race, a sex, a sexual orientation, an age group, an ethnic group, a profession, an educational level, an alma mater, a birthplace, or whatever, and when the organizational culture tolerates those bigoted actions, the bigots will, very likely, eventually get around to discriminating against some group that you belong to.
Rampant idolatry
Another form of bigotry, with polarity opposite to the most common forms of bigotry, is idolatry, in which we hold members of one social group to be inherently superior to all others. Members of the favored group rarely complain. But if you don't belong to the favored group, you could be at risk.
Feuds are long-running toxic conflicts between social groups. Feuds between alliances centered around members of the management team at a given level, might be an indication of the inability (or unwillingness) of more senior managers to repair the cultural defects that allow feuds to persist. Even if you aren't currently a member of a feuding faction, the culture may be such that a feud can develop that will involve your part of the organization. Be alert.

Personal attributes are another set of indicators of political risk. We'll explore these next time.  Next in this series Go to top Top  Next issue: Behavioral Indicators of Political Risk  Next Issue

303 Secrets of Workplace PoliticsIs every other day a tense, anxious, angry misery as you watch people around you, who couldn't even think their way through a game of Jacks, win at workplace politics and steal the credit and glory for just about everyone's best work including yours? Read 303 Secrets of Workplace Politics, filled with tips and techniques for succeeding in workplace politics. More info


[Aquino 2006]
Karl Aquino, et. al., "Getting Even or Moving On? Power, Procedural Justice, and Types of Offense as Predictors of Revenge, Forgiveness, Reconciliation, and Avoidance in Organizations," Journal of Applied Psychology, 91:3, 653-668, 2006. Back

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