The Toxicity of Office Politics to High Potential Employees

Predicting and identifying top leadership traits is a focus of academics and HR professionals alike.  But most businesses are poor evaluators of human potential.

Despite the fact that science has given us robust tools to identify, measure, and evaluate indicators, organizations often make employee evaluation mistakes.  In fact, according to a recent Wharton School of Business study, over 40% of all designed high potential employees (“HiPos”) fail to live up to their expectations.  According to another study in the Consulting Psychology Journal, over 50% of business leaders fail to translate supposed performance indicators into high team engagement and performance.

But why?

According to a recent article in the Harvard Business Review, organizations are “contaminated” by organizational politics  which prevent them from identifying and developing the right people for leadership roles.  Specifically, the authors of the Harvard Business Review study identify six “dynamics” that they believe are responsible for this phenomenon:

The politics of intuition

Organizations use inherently unreliable, subjective feelings and judgments rather than hard science.  Plus, organizations often rely on these subjective evaluations of past performance, which has been demonstrated to be a poor predictor of future performance when a HiPo’s “context” and “role” changes.

The politics of self-interest

Those in charge of identifying an organization’s next leaders are often more interested in advancing their own careers than in helping the organization.  These individuals often believe that they will suffer a “personal cost” if they identify a HiPo from within their own teams.

The politics of avoidance

Managers who are conflict avoidant often fail to make the hard calls necessary to cull the herd so that the best and brightest rise to the top.

The politics of favoritism

Leaders have “asymmetrical information” on their employees which, in turn, causes them to identify the more familiar candidates as the HiPo employees.

The politics of ageism

Many organizations reward those employees who have been with the company the longest or who have ties to the company’s founders or other senior leaders.  Younger HiPo employees are not always accepted by the organization’s workforce.

The politics of gender

According to a research from the international accounting and consulting firm PricewaterhouseCoopers, a disproportionately large number of women quit the workforce by the time they reach mid-career and have the most relevant experience.  This combined with pure old fashioned sexism causes many organizations to overlook and/or underestimate their female employees.

You can read the Harvard Business Review article here.

You can read the Wharton Business School study here.

You can read the Consulting Psychology Journal article here.

Comments are closed.