1. Section Editor(s): Raso, Rosanne MS, RN, NEA-BC

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One of the striking (and unexpected) takeaways from our Wellness Survey, published in last month's issue, was that respondents listed navigating organizational politics and culture as the #2 rank-ordered workplace stressor. Maybe it isn't that unexpected at all-we all know the road to success is lined with political savvy and aligned cultural values. But can we turn the stressor of organizational politics into a satisfier, or at least into an achievable goal?

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Politics, or the unspoken and unwritten governing rules, is one of the major influences on how things get done in your organization. What seems arbitrary isn't when you decode the situation and learn the systems, relationships, and contexts. Don't think of playing the political game as inherently negative; it's wise learning and using the subtleties of power and influence.


Let's first look at "good" politicians. They strive to meet their constituents' needs, not their own, working the system to realize that agenda. They're well networked and know how to manage stakeholders, often having large groups of support. On the other hand, "bad" politicians have hidden agendas and display dishonesty and undermining behaviors, often reflecting corrupt values and a moral compass that's adrift. We can learn lessons from both.


If corporate culture is the organization's shared values and goals, is politics a subset of culture? Probably. We've all heard that culture eats strategy for lunch-a very true statement. Politics can chip away at culture and they're inexorably intertwined.


What does this mean for you? You can't distance yourself and disengage from politics if you want to be successful. You'll want to make it work for you; play the game and avoid being derailed. How? When you're new to an organization, or even not so new, avoid baring your soul and speaking negatively about anything to anyone. Keep that perspective to yourself for multiple reasons: first, negativity isn't healthy; second, you don't know who speaks to whom; and, lastly, your words will most likely come back to bite you when spun by third parties. This is practicing diplomacy-handling work matters without stirring up opposition forces.


This doesn't mean that you should keep your head low and shun others. The opposite is true-you must develop trusting, give-and-take relationships and have astute social awareness. This is critical to success and key to navigating politics. Without diplomatic relationships and political capital, you won't achieve your agenda. You need allies, particularly those with influence. Find out who they are within and outside of the nursing structure. What drives them? Here's where culture, values, and politics intersect.


Let's say you want to change the skill mix on your unit, which will be budget neutral but involve increasing full-time equivalents. The politically savvy leader will know who the decision makers are (and have a good relationship with them), what their philosophy is about increasing headcount, who and what else influences the decision makers, and if and how the change aligns with organizational values. If you know that your boss isn't in favor, it isn't good politics to continue without gaining his or her support. Another political landmine is if you're new, don't know the players, and exclude an important person. Having no relationship with stakeholders (or a bad one) doesn't add the political capital you need either.


You can and should be able to succeed in playing the political game. Learn the players, what hand you've been dealt, and the rules. You can win for all the right reasons, namely your constituents-patients, families, and staff.



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