Company Politics: Everyone is happy until you ask them to do something

by Colin Shaw on January 28, 2013

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Company Politics

One of the key things I have learned over my years in business is ‘everyone is happy until you ask them to do something’. I see it happen all the time in organizations. Their Customer Experience professionals talk about improving the Customer Experience and everyone nods but when it comes to making change in their organization they put barriers in place.

Let me give you an example from my corporate career and offer some learning.

My last corporate role, 11 years ago, was VP, Customer Experience. My CEO had given me the task of ‘improving the Customer Experience at least cost’. I had put together a large and audacious program of change. I managed the call centers and we had 20 sites. To save costs I was reducing these to 4 sites. At the same time I was taking the opportunity provided to redefine the roles of the Customer Service agents to make sure we had the right people in place. We were also moving into ‘front office and back office’ working and implementing a new system at the same time. As you can imagine it was a significant and complex project. When people outside of the company asked me what I did for a living I used to say ‘I play chess’ as all the politics felt like that.

Classically I didn’t have control over all the levers of the Customer Experience, many of them lay in the organizations of my fellow colleagues who also worked for the CEO. I called these people my ‘colleagues’, they were certainly part of the same team, but colleague implies someone who has a common cause. This is where colleague is the wrong word. However, the reality was that everyone was only interested in themselves and there were many power struggles within the team. Many of the team would stab you in the back if it meant they would gain a political advantage and smile whilst they did it! Isn’t company politics great! J

The previous incumbent of my role had never really achieved anything; he had talked a lot but never did make the promised changes. My ‘colleagues’ thought I would be the same. How wrong they were!

The CEO was keen on the change so outwardly my ‘colleagues’ smiled and agreed with my plan but you could see in their eyes that whilst they nodded in agreement they were really thinking, ‘I will put so many obstacles in the way this will never get off the ground’.

I set up a team of nominated people from their organizations. At the beginning of the project I found it difficult to actually get these people to attend the meetings then one day I sent out a note saying ‘at the next meeting we will be making important decisions on XXX’. Everyone turned up! What I learned from that was prior to this point they didn’t think it was real, therefore didn’t attend. When I said we were making decisions this galvanized them into attending. Everyone was happy until you were going to change something. At each meeting from that point on I made sure we advertised and made a decision. The next delay tactic was that the project team would send a substitute to the meeting who would agree with a decision but ‘my colleague’ would later disagree with the decision and open the debate again, causing delays. I quickly implemented a rule that all decisions would stand from the meeting. If they didn’t send the right person that was their issue, not mine.

I recall one big political mistake. I was updating the CEO and my colleagues on the project at the CEO’s meeting. I was really frustrated with the politics and their delaying tactics. At the end of the update my final slide showed a picture of the BORG from Star Trek with their phrase,

‘Resistance is futile’.

I made a joke of it, but the old saying ‘Many a true word is spoken in jest’ is very true.  They took the message and were annoyed! This made them work against me even more and I regretted letting my emotions getting the better of me.

Some of the politics were truly amazing. As we came close to the launch date of physically making the changes I received a panic call from one of my ‘colleagues’. We were due to go live the following week but, despite them saying they were ready, they weren’t. When I delved into this in more detail I discovered my ‘colleague’ had been literally taking bets with his team that the changes I was making would never happen! Therefore they hadn’t done all the work needed for the launch. We had to delay the launch because of this which was highly embarrassing for my colleague.

At the next CEO meeting my colleague, who was one of my greatest political foes, came up to me and admitted defeat. He paid me a compliment that I remember to this day. He said ‘he admired my tenacity’. This has always stuck with me and over the years I have reflected on this. Tenacity is a key skill for any Customer Experience professional. The journey is long, the road is tough and tenacity is needed. Last week I wrote a blog on the other key skills needed for a Customer Experience professional and asked people to add their views so we could crowd source a list of attributes. If you haven’t read and added to this I recommend you go here and read/add your comments.

My key learning from this project is ‘everyone is happy until you ask them to do something’. I see it happen all the time in organizations. Their Customer Experience professionals talk about improving the Customer Experience and everyone nods but when it comes to making change in their organization they put barriers into place.

Key Learning:

  • Everyone is happy until you ask them to do something
  • You need tenacity!
  • Shareholder management is key
  • Be good at company politics
  • Don’t get emotional, keep your head!

It would be good to hear of other examples of how to overcome the barriers put in place by people in projects such as this…

Colin Shaw is founder & CEO of Beyond Philosophy, one of the world’s first organizations devoted to customer experience. Colin is an international author of four best-selling books. Beyond Philosophy provide consulting, specialised research & training from offices in Atlanta, Georgia and London, England.

Follow Colin Shaw on Twitter: 
@ColinShaw_CX
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