Business Politics for the Records Manager and Archivist

By Goodman, Susan K. | Records Management Quarterly, January 1998 | Go to article overview

Business Politics for the Records Manager and Archivist


Goodman, Susan K., Records Management Quarterly


The ability to understand and negotiate business politics (a.k.a. corporate, organizational and office politics) is a critically important skill for employees. In a study of 1,000 people who were fired from 35 different types of jobs, 75% reported deficiencies in their office politics skills as the reason for their termination. In their estimation, they did not get along with their boss, their peers or the values of the organization.(1)

Records managers and archivists are, sometimes painfully, aware that business politics invariably affects the development, administration and success of records management and archival programs in all kinds of organizations. Project approval, resource allocation, the support of management and other necessary participants, methods of accomplishment and, critically, ultimate program success are impacted, positively and negatively, by the political maneuverings (or, equally important, the lack thereof) of actual or perceived stakeholders.

Additionally, records managers and archivists are (and if they are not, should be) political actors themselves. They must not only maneuver effectively among political land mines, but must also be proactively political in order to develop and administer their programs effectively and be a credible professional. To accomplish this, they need to understand the attributes and potential influence of business politics generally and its implications in records management and archival settings. This article initially explores the nature and ramifications of business politics as presented in the literature. This is important as a framework within which to understand the implications of politics within a records management environment. The article also suggests how records managers and archivists can utilize political tools to the advantage of their programs.

WHAT EXACTLY IS BUSINESS POLITICS?

Many definitions, explanations, descriptions and examples of business politics appear in the business, management, and what is called the "politics" literature. Most authors attempt to define, explain, describe and exemplify one or more aspects of what seems to be the same multifaceted, complex phenomenon. Some imbue business politics with the attributes of an insidious, demoralizing and destructive beast which is potentially lethal to persons, programs and organizations. These authors believe that we must either protect ourselves against it or conquer it. Others describe it as an extremely positive force which can be empowered to enable us, our programs and our organizations to achieve important goals. The overall consensus seems to be that business politics is neutral, i.e., that it is potentially good or evil This author believes that it is an ever-present, pervasive, dynamic force within our business environments which constantly impacts us and which we (potentially) impact. It is also a potential catalyst for positive change (or inertia) and a tool which we must utilize well and constructively to effect positive change.

Business politics has been defined as "competition between competing interest groups or individuals for power and leadership."(2) Scholars "agree that politics is the actions related to power and that power is the potential of one person to change the attitudes or behavior of another person in a desired manner."(3)

To explore the power aspect of business politics a bit more, there are thought to be different sources of the types and bases of individual power.

* Reward power is based on the ability to control valued organizational rewards and resources such as pay and information.

* Coercive power is based on control over punishments.

* Legitimate power is based in the belief that an individual has the recognized authority to control others because of organizational position.

* Referent power is based on subordinates liking the powerholder.

* Expert power is based on the acceptance of the person's expertise in a specific area. …

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