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Dine.TO co-founders Stratos Papachristopoulos, left, and Pantelly Damoulianos (Fernando Morales/FERNANDO MORALE/THE GLOBE AND MAIL)
Dine.TO co-founders Stratos Papachristopoulos, left, and Pantelly Damoulianos (Fernando Morales/FERNANDO MORALE/THE GLOBE AND MAIL)

The challenge

How to nip office politics in the bud Add to ...

Every week, we will seek out expert advice to help a small or medium-sized company overcome a key issue it is facing in its business.

Stratos Papachristopoulos has had his fill of office politics.

Grumbling employees are one thing, but the co-founder and chief executive officer of Toronto-based Dine.TO has suffered the consequences of situations like a former staffer bad-mouthing the business to clients and another trying to spread dissatisfaction with the company’s employee benefits program to others.

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As Mr. Papachristopoulos and his co-founder and vice-president, Telly Damoulianos, have grown the business, which offers online restaurant recommendations and guides, that they started in 2004 to a 30-employee company with $2-million in annual revenues, they have found office politics creating more problems more often.

They have tried to curb the politics by holding team-building events, relaying positive corporate news, talking to employees one-on-one, and trying to empower managers to better deal with issues. They’ve also spent money developing aptitude tests for potential employees to see if they’d be a good fit.

While they have had some success diffusing already escalated situations, they now want to know what else they can do to simply nip office politics in the bud before they become disruptive.

“This might be one of the most stressful things for a business owner,” Mr. Papachristopoulos says.

The Challenge: How to reduce the incidence and effects of office politics.

THE EXPERTS WEIGH IN

Susan Robinson, Toronto-based partner in Ernst & Young ’s advisory practice

Office politics are inevitable. When you have a group of people congregating in any sort of environment, what we call politics will occur. I’ve never seen a silver-bullet solution, which is the bad news, but on the other hand you can reduce politics with strong leadership.

That includes building a level of trust with staff and managers. There was an old adage that you don’t work with your friends, but there’s a shift that’s happening. I say friendship in quotations; it’s more of a commitment to the relationship. If he can build trust with other leaders in the company, it will cascade down to the rest of the staff.

Engage them in what’s called practice development – giving responsibility to junior employees. They’ll be a little more invested in the organization and take more ownership in how the company is shifting and growing. Let employees take on something that has a bigger profile within the company. It makes people feel like the job is bigger and it’s not just punching a clock.

Jeff Mowatt, Calgary-based corporate trainer and author

What we often find with companies where there’s office politics, it comes down to the underlying culture. He needs to get his staff better-focused on a goal, not each other. He may be experiencing this problem because not enough people feel like they’re in the game. Try and stay focused on what the customer needs. Talk to the staff about what the company is about. What is the goal and how are we going to improve our customers’ lives?

Avoid perks like employee parking or health-club memberships. Those things don’t matter. Ownership [through stock options]is what really helps people focus on the goal. Employees feel like they’re getting recognized and that they’re part of something larger than themselves. People take pride in ownership.

Jason King, president of Red Deer, Alta.-based King’s Energy Services Ltd.

I’ve learned that you need to treat employees fair, but not equal. You can give the better [behaved]and performing employees extra perks, or a higher hourly rate. That makes them happier and more committed, and I’ve had these employees actually stop another person that’s been grumbling.

I also try to hire within the culture of the staff. I don’t hire people that just look good on paper. Their attitude and adaptability has to work within our environment. Depending on the position, we’ll have three or four interviews and I bring in different people each time. They can tell whether the potential hire is a good fit.

I also make sure employees understand where the company is going five years from now. We do this through monthly staff meetings and semi-annual managers’ meetings, who communicate that vision down. It makes them feel part of a bigger picture.

THREE THINGS DINE.TO CAN DO NOW

Make employees feel more invested

Give staffers new and greater responsibilities and challenges. Offer ownership. All this may make them feel more invested and quicker to solve conflict.

Keep employees in the loop

Spell out the company’s mission, goals and long-term expectations, That makes it more likely for employees to keep their focus on the big picture.

Rethink perks

On the one hand, offering greater perks can motivate better performance and behaviour. On the other, the practice can ignite feelings of unfairness. Think about which way your staff are more likely to react.

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