[Blog 35] The Chief Guru Chronicles 110: Never Stay Above The Fray

Political dynamics at the workplace can often come in the way of the advancement of hard-working and deserving employees in an organization.

In a recent Harvard Business Review post, Tomas Chamorro-Prezumic and Abhijit Bhaduri pointed out that one of the six ways managers hinder the progression of high-potential employees is through the politics of self-interest. This issue comes into play particularly when a manager retains an employee for their own benefit—such as to advance their own career—at the expense of squelching the development of the employee for bigger roles and responsibilities. Such perceptions of personal cost then unfairly bound the potential candidate to the impulses of the manager instead of filling leadership opportunities.

In all of my years observing the ins and outs of employee nomination, the political barrier of a manager’s personal incentives has always been a catalyst for derailment. For instance, a prized individual I once knew from an established media conglomerate was slated for an internal transfer to lead the talent management section of the company. The managing boss, however, consciously refused to release the staff and unwittingly delayed the transfer possibly because the staff’s capabilities was a great asset to him at the time. Furthermore, he was also much aware that a new head of human resource was coming on board and that the likelihood of his own transfer to another department may be jeopardised if the staff was released ahead of him. The new head of HR eventually came on board and true enough, the staff’s transfer was excluded from consideration, thus resulting in the manager’s transfer to another department as per his desire. The staff was naturally displeased with how things played out and made the decision to leave the company. Unknown to him, he was informed by his ex-colleagues following his departure that he was indeed part of the company’s elite talent pool—had he known this prior to his resignation, he might not have chosen to leave after all. Be that as it may, it was the practice of the company to not disclose such information to their staff under their talent management framework which was still in its infancy stages. This also stemmed from the fear of raising the expectations of their high-potential employees who may not be well-managed by the inexperienced managers. In many other companies, on the other hand, information about the talent pool is communicated to members of the staff in hopes of keeping them highly-motivated to maintain optimum levels of performance and retain all of the company’s greatest resources.

Organizational politics are truly the greatest bane of any company that may otherwise prevent star performers from reaching their full potential at the next level. When political issues of self-interest plague the corporate culture, these employees suffer along with the unit’s performance and team engagement. While there may be other present contaminants in the organization such as the politics of favouritism, ageism and gender, it is a manager’s responsibility to provide suitable developmental opportunities by keeping track and adhering to standard identification processes and incentives for high-potential employees.

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This article is part of a series of accounts of The Chief Guru Chronicles, a monthly column which recounts our Founder & Chief Guru Tommy Ng’s experience and encounters in HR management across various countries and industries. The purpose of this column is to provide helpful information on the subjects discussed, and to educate readers through challenges experienced. It should not be perceived and used as a professional advice. Any views or opinions are not intended to malign any religion, races, ethnic group, organisation, company, individual or country. In addition, we do not make any warranties about the completeness, reliability and accuracy of the information. As a disclosure, some names, information and situations were intentionally concealed or edited in order to protect the identity of the involved parties. Except as expressly consented, the contents may not be reproduced, transmitted, or distributed without HR Guru Pte Ltd permission.