THE BLOG
03/26/2013 05:08 pm ET | Updated May 26, 2013

5 Tips to Avoiding the Pitfalls of Politics in Business

It has now been one week since Ted Cruz (R-TX) and Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) mixed it up during a Senate Judiciary Committee debate over Second Amendment rights and proposed gun control legislation and over 100 days since the tragedy in Newtown, Conn. Congress appears no closer to voting on an assault weapons ban, stiffer background checks, or any further firearms legislation since Senators Cruz and Feinstein's heated exchange, yet there has been a great deal of attention paid to their verbal food fight.

Consider Senator Feinstein's emphasis in her now widely known immediate response to Senator Cruz where she used her personal experiences as in when she was the first one to find San Francisco Mayor George Moscone after he was shot. Rather than keeping the discussion focused on the matter at hand and her desired result, Senator Feinstein chose to validate herself, her credentials and her deep personal experience dealing with Moscone's death.

In my opinion, there are certainly better ways to address a serious issue with significant implications than reducing it to a contest between empowered individuals with opposing views. Yet, this is behavior that routinely keeps organizations from solving problems -- in politics and business. Here are my five keys to avoiding that:

  1. Every idea is encouraged, no opinion is welcome: Positive results are generated by a free flow of ideas that are evaluated, refined and ultimately perfected and undermined when replaced by opinions.
  2. Ideas and topics for discussion are always framed through the desired result: Healthy debate is another essential ingredient for effective problem solving and it is best encouraged by never losing sight of the goal. This tactic also continually tests for alignment.
  3. Personal pronouns prohibited: The slippery slope downhill from idea and results-driven problem solving is lubricated by the use of "I" and "me."
  4. Actions over activities: Results are quantifiable, actions tangible. Problem-solving processes must be guided by measurable plans, including timelines, where every participant's contribution can be easily evaluated along the way.
  5. Adhere to "Launch & Learn" principles: In problem solving, perfection is the enemy of progress. An aligned company that is able to freely exchange ideas determined to produce a given objective is conditioned to continually improve on a new strategy or policy. Waiting too long for the perfect solution to appear inevitably leads to frustration which is an open invitation to politics and personal preferences over results.
Business growth is too often stunted by managers placing themselves and personal career aspirations above corporate objectives. Managers taking the attention away from a topic by placing it on themselves are not only unlikely to achieve desired outcomes, but they will get further away from a goal. Invariably, all dialogue shifts away from the problem to be solved is never about the merits on the business matter, but always about which manager they want to line up with. These interpersonal battles are the #1 reason for inertia in large companies (where it is politely called "analysis paralysis") but they are oftentimes lethal for smaller emerging businesses. Executive leadership sets the tone that will either ensure problems are efficiently solved by maintaining a laser-like focus on the issues or if power and turf commands attention. Because many executives have risen through the ranks by winning interpersonal and inter-department battles along the way, they are often ill-equipped or even blind to the real harm self-justification and posturing have on a company. Problems grow into bigger problems without leadership that emphasizes outcomes above all else.