Pragmatism and Corporate Politics

· 3 minutes · 617 words

We tend to treat corporate (or office) politics as something despicable while it is a necessary and even vital part of working and dealing with other humans. Any group, no matter if small or big, will manifest a certain degree of internal dynamics — norms, roles, relations, and goals. Furthermore, any group institutes a state of interdependence among its members. Navigating around all of this is what we call politics.

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As the group grows, subgroups start to emerge. Therefore group’s overall dynamics are represented in both dynamics between the subgroups and dynamics inside the subgroups. Obviously, the bigger the group gets, the more levels of subgroups you get. This can quickly escalate to complicated structures where navigating the environment might equal to a nightmare.[1]

Let’s take a look at transnational corporations. On the outside, we may perceive them as entities operating with a single goal, all of its subsidiaries sticking together. However, that’s what it is, a mere perception. A transnational internal dynamics are extremely complex. The constant reorganizations, new initiatives, shifts in direction, all of it can be seen as a manifestation of the internal power struggle among its subgroups on different levels.

Struggle is natural state of transnational corporations; the actual executive level power is limited because there are so many people they can influence directly. The only mass-control tools they’ve got at their disposal are:

  1. perpetuating the global mission of the company

  2. maintaining the internal balance of power

They can achieve partial alignment of the effort happening in the corporation through perpetuation and through balancing they can prevent the company from imploding and exploding. However, a notion they keep tight reins on is amusing at best.[2]

How an individual should act in such circumstances then? He has to compromise, for there is no other way to achievement in a corporation:

Politics is the art of the possible.
— Otto von Bismarck

Or in German “Die Politik ist die Lehre vom Möglichen.” as the chancellor said in an interview with reporter von Waldeck for St. Petersburger Zeitung.[3]

This is one of the cornerstones of Realpolitik.[4] Realpolitik throws away notion of idealism and focuses on pure pragmatism. Realpolitik teaches us what is successful is right. It does not matter if it is moral. Only achieving the goals matters, through whatever means necessary.

How far can we go with “Realkorporatpolitik” though?[5] Keep compromising, keep adding the small victories and we find ourselves at the point where the art of possible turns into the art of despicable, when we sacrifice the last remnants of our personal integrity and we can’t even recognize we’ve wandered too deep into the rabbit hole.

When is it more important to hold onto our ideals and loose our influence and when do we need to play and sacrifice because the alternative would be much worse? Is leaving the game altogether the best solution?

Too many questions and not enough answers. Welcome to the churn.

1. Overly simplified summary of group dynamics which are extensively studied in several fields such as sociology or psychology.
2. Actually, I’d argue state politics are beacons of transparency in comparison with transnational corporate politics. State politics has various controls and counterweights in place to ensure visibility and accountability and yes, while we may see them as imperfect and faltering, there is nothing like that in the corporate internal politics. It’s a silly notion a state should be managed as a company.
4. The term was coined by Ludwig von Rochau in Grundsätze der Realpolitik angewendet auf die staatlichen Zustände Deutschlands
5. I know, it should be “Realunternehmenspolitik”, but that would not convey the point in English, would it?