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how to live with political realities:
By Shari Barnes

Even in a world of disputed ballots and electoral delays, we eventually have to learn to live with one political reality. Just like any company, we will have one chief executive officer and one management team. Whether we like our new president and cabinet, doesn't stop us from making the best of the election results. Working within the political realities of business organizations is not that much different. How successful we are depends on how we react to some simple observations.

Roger is annoyed. He compiled the annual sales report, but the CFO won't convey questions to him. He wants to deal with Roger's boss. "I'm the one who has all the information, so why does the chief act like I don't exist?" he asks.

Every organization has its own environment. Do you understand your company's politics? Can you learn to live with them?

politics and

Mandatory training was the rule at the clinic where Anne served as training manager. Hospital accreditation demands high education, so classes were always full. When she moved into an academic setting, Anne was discouraged when her sessions were 70% empty. "I don't get it," she said. "I'm a good trainer, and I publicize these meetings in advance." Anne didn't understand college culture. Employees won't sit through Electrical Safety 101, and no one will force them.

Do not expect the standards from your old company to be consistent with your new organization. Anne's bag of hospital training tricks didn't fit academia. When she scratched her old culture and developed programs to meet the new environment, her classes filled to 90 percent. "I don't worry about the other 10%, and I'm learning to enjoy a looser atmosphere, " she says.

politics and

Carol accepted a job with a prestigious law firm. The new position doubled the salary she'd been making in a non-profit environmental service. Culture shock hit Carol almost immediately. The attorneys were male, and the support staff was female. "Chauvinism immediately raised its masculine head," she says. "Logic told me that the good old boy system should be dead, but reality was different." In her new location, women made coffee and men made decisions.

Carol's feminist values conflicted with her financial needs. "My stomach was in a knot because the money was so good, but the system so medieval," she says. "I naively thought I could gradually change the culture, but I can't change a system that works so well for the people in power." Carol is looking for a new job. Logic doesn't always mesh with the way things really are.

politics and

Fairness, like beauty, is in the beholder's eye. "It's not fair that I keep getting passed over for promotions," says Todd. "I've been here forever, and I have so much potential." Whining "it's not fair" worked in kindergarten, but it's ineffective for adults. Todd's standard for what's rational has little to do with the company's idea of business.

If you're confronted with vague feelings that your organization isn't fair, you should get specific policy and procedure information. Tom's salary is higher, and you don't think it's fair because you work harder than he does. Perhaps your company rewards Tom because his skill level is higher, and the organization values his abilities more than your hard work.

politics and

Laine moved from the northeast to the south, and the customs shock is overwhelming. "I think I'll eventually get used to grits at executive breakfasts," she says, "but I don't know if I'll ever become accustomed to being called 'honey.'"

Laine worked in a large city union environment before her move. "If someone was called 'honey' in my last job, there would have been a sexual harassment suit filed before the morning coffee break."

In spite of federal laws that cover all 50 states, custom differs. That doesn't mean it's illegal to proposition a secretary in Phoenix but lawful in Poughkeepsie. Discrimination can land you in a lawsuit anyplace. However, law doesn't dictate cultural norms, and one person's taboo may be within boundaries for another. We douse snails with pesticides, but they're a gourmet delicacy in France.

Study the politics of your organization…then decide whether or not you can live with what you've learned.

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Sharon (Shari) Eurich Barnes is Director of Employee Relations for Texas Christian University. Complementing her human resource career, Ms. Barnes writes for numerous publications, including the New York Times, Working Mother, Women as Managers and Management Review. She also conducts private and court-ordered mediations.

In addition to hosting Books in Review on cable television, Ms. Barnes speaks on employment issues for professional associations and conferences.

Ms. Barnes received her Bachelor's degree from California Baptist University and Master's degree from Texas Christian University. Among other affiliations, she is a member of the Society for Human Resource Management, American Society for Training and Development, American Association of University Women, Fort Worth Human Resource Association Board of Directors (past), College and University Personnel Association, Fort Worth Mayor's Committee for Disabled Persons, and Tarrant County Association of Mediators Board of Directors. Ms. Barnes has also been named to Who's Who Among American Women.

Comments and questions about this article: Shari Barnes.

The opinions expressed in articles by this author do not necessarily represent the opinions of MindData. These articles are provided as a means of informing you of current events and opinions that impact employers and the workplace.

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