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Frustration, Politics, and the Manager

One experienced department manager claimed that she began to deal successfully with the frustrations of the first-line management role and cope with the ever-present politics of the management hierarchy by recognizing that frustration and politics are natural features of life in work organizations.


You can perhaps best begin to deal with the frustrations of your position by recognizing the position for what it really is. To do so, try to view the organization from perspectives other than your own, and especially from the perspective of your immediate superior.


You see your boss as a single point of contact, your only official direct-reporting contact with the upper echelons of the organization. The boss stands as your primary source of answers, instructions, assistance, and guidance. There is every reason for you to view your relationship with your boss as a one-on-one, single connection through which your immediate needs should be filled without delay.


The view from your manager's perspective is likely to be considerably different from your view. Where you see one point of contact, the boss sees several; in fact, the boss sees many points of contact because he or she has direct-reporting subordinates. There also are differences in how these points of contact are likely to be viewed. You may see the boss' role in the relationship as positive, a source of guidance. However, the boss may see your and your peers' roles in an often negative light and regard you and your peers as sources of problems. In short, your view upward reveals one source of help; the boss' view downward reveals several potential sources of grief.


It is necessary to appreciate that there is far more to your relationship with your manager than may meet the eye. Because the boss has several channels to contend with, each channel must be served in its own good time. The priority for serving your channel and giving you the attention you desire is the boss' priority rather than yours. Thus, you may well be left with the feeling that things are moving too slowly, whereas the boss may be proceeding with an appropriate sense of priority as determined from his or her point of view. An appreciation of the boss' position is essential if you are to develop a realistic view of what is relative to what you feel should be.


Despite the generally negative connotation attached to the term, politics is a fact of organizational life. All people have unique personalities; all are motivated by different mixes of needs; all have somewhat different styles. Politics in the work organization amounts to no more than people working singly and collectively, being themselves, pursuing the fulfillment of needs in their own ways, and attempting to discharge their organizational responsibilities as best they can. If everyone thought and acted in the same way, there would be little or no politics in work. However, people are different from each other-some are courageous, some are timid, some are energetic, some are lazy, some are straightforward, some are manipulative, some are generous, some are selfish, and so on. As long as there are differences in people, there will be differences in behavior.


It is necessary to recognize the reality of the work situation, accept existing conditions, and work with the ever-present politics. Or at least learn how to modify your own behavior to compensate for the variations in others' behavior.


To cope with hierarchical frustrations and organizational politics, the first-line manager is offered the following suggestions:


* Consider the time it seems to take to get things done and recognize that the actions of the hierarchy invariably take longer than the actions of the individual. Understand also that this delay is often the result of legitimate multiple interests in any single action.


* Do all the homework you can possibly do before taking a problem to your superior. If at all possible, be ready with recommended actions or clearly defined solutions, not just problems. Make it as easy as possible for the boss to deliver a response.


* Know the precise limits of your authority. When you encounter a problem beyond your scope, research it thoroughly, and take it to the boss as described above. But when a problem clearly falls within your scope of authority, act on it promptly and decisively.


* Rather than complaining about the impersonal, slow-moving "system," do whatever you can to help move it along. Make certain that you, through your actions as a manager, do all you can to minimize frustration and delay whenever possible. It may seem as though you are trying to move a mountain single-handedly, but a few managers behaving in this fashion can, over time, alter the character of an entire organization.



For your additional consideration, this issue of The Health Care Manager (issue 27:4, October-December 2008) offers the following:


* "A Strategy for Enhancing Financial Performance: A Study of General Acute Care Hospitals in South Korea" reports on a study undertaken to evaluate the determinants of hospital profitability in South Korea, addressing such factors as pretax return on assets, after-tax return on assets, basic earning power, and pretax and after-tax operating margins.


* "Responding to a Bioterrorism Attack-One Scenario: Part 2" continues the discussions initiated in part I (issue 27:3), offering the outline of a simulation conducted as part of a Federal Grant award administered through the Center for Biological Defense at the University of South Florida.


* "Role of Information Technology in Disaster Medical Response" addresses the importance of information technology in supporting medical response to disaster situations and provides a framework for the use of information technology in responding to natural disasters or terrorist activities.


* Case in Health Care Management: "One's Word Against Another's" asks the readers to consider how to proceed when the stories of an employee and a fellow supervisor do not agree and there exists the possibility that the employee is playing one supervisor off against the other.


* "Economic Contributions of Physicians-The Financial Impact on Their Community" reports on a study undertaken to assess the value to the community of physicians as major providers of health services, employers, and generators of new jobs within the community, with results suggesting that physicians have a significant impact on the economies within which they practice.


* "Strategic Analysis in Nursing Schools: Attracting, Educating, and Graduating More Nursing Students: Part 2-Stakeholder Analysis" follows up on part 1 presented in the previous issue (issue 27:3), using the approach of stakeholder analysis to reveal ways of capitalizing on stakeholder relations in a manner that could draw more students to the nursing profession.


* "The Effect of Routine Rounding by Nursing Staff on Patient Satisfaction on a Cardiac Telemetry Unit" reports on a study undertaken to demonstrate whether patients' perceptions of the care they receive while hospitalized is directly affected by the amount of individual attention they receive.


* "Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services' 'Never Events': An Analysis and Recommendations to Hospitals" addresses a new reimbursement strategy of aligning payment to patient outcomes in a manner that represents a response to government and citizen groups' call for hospital accountability for health care quality, by no longer paying for certain hospital-acquired conditions.


* "Managing Immature, Irresponsible, or Irritating Employees" discusses some employee attitude problems and counterproductive behavior that can impede performance and suggests some managerial approaches for addressing these problems.


* "Hidden Workplace Violence: What Your Nurses May Not Be Telling You" identifies and examines the phenomenon of unreported and underreported workplace violence that nurses may be experiencing in caring for their patients and outlines the effects that this violence can conceivably exert on nurse recruiting and retention.


* "Does Size Matter to the Health Care Professional?" suggests that, despite how we are supposed to be nondiscriminatory, accepting all individual differences and advocating that differences do not matter, we are forced by factors in our environment to accept that truth that "size" is so often stressed that it must therefore be important.


* "Managers and Mergers: Functioning in a Blended Organization" addresses some of the significant changes that have been occurring in health care delivery, such as re-engineering and mergers and other affiliations, and recounts the ways in which these changes are forever altering the role of the health care manager.