Business People Conference Meeting Seminar Team Teamwork Concept
ATD Blog

5 Secrets for OD Practitioners to Win at Organizational Politics

Tuesday, November 14, 2023

Even though it is not four letters, politics is often regarded as a dirty word. Many associate it with efforts to place individual or tribal affiliation ahead of good sense, good management, and even loyalty to moral and ethical principles. Yet success in facilitating change efforts, a trademark of organization development (OD), depends partly on skillfully navigating organizational politics.

What five secrets can be instrumental in helping OD practitioners deal with the realities of organizational politics as they may affect change efforts? Answering that question is the focus of this blog.

Secret #1: Align Yourself With Powerful People

According to French and Ravens’ well-known 1959 work on the sources of social power, there are five sources of power: (1) reward power; (2) punishment power; (3) affiliation power; (4) knowledge power; and (5) charisma. Aligning yourself with powerful people is associated with #3 on this list. Find out who is on the fast track for promotion and who exercises the greatest influence on others—a sign of present or future leadership. Then, make friends with those people and curry their favor by trying to help them succeed. That will lead to a positive relationship. When OD practitioners work to facilitate change, having powerful allies can be most helpful. It can give them access to other sources of social power—such as reward power and punishment power.

Secret #2: Build Powerful Coalitions

Getting help should not be limited to powerful people. It helps to have allies in strategic locations at every level on the organization chart and in as many functional siloes as possible. Pick people at different levels, locations, and functions, and make friends with them. That will help when facilitating change.


A quick story about that. Years ago, I had a friend who joined an organization as an internal director of OD. She wanted to be accepted. I advised her boss, the CEO, if she could spend a week working with the hourly workers on the night shift. After securing approval, she spent the week on the graveyard shift working next to hourly workers. She ended up the special darling of the toughest union in the industry. She had so many friends in the union that she often used that union support to overcome management opposition.

Secret #3: Help People Get What They Want

Politics assumes that people act out of self-interest. OD practitioners who want to “win” political battles will take steps to find out what people want. Then, help them, to the extent you can, get what they want. If you do that, they will not forget. That will lead to political power because the principle of “you scratch my back, and I will scratch your back” is universal. The Chinese call that notion guanxi, but it is a universal principle in human nature that is not limited to China.


Secret #4: Find Out Why People Oppose Change—and Take Steps to Address Those Issues

When organizational change efforts are launched, managers rarely take time to find out why people might oppose the change. But in OD, the force field analysis of Kurt Lewin is based on the notion that the status quo is held in stasis between driving forces and restraining forces. Lewin believed that it was counterproductive to intensify driving forces. Such thinking leads to high turnover, high absenteeism, record disengagement, and outright sabotage. It is better to explore why people oppose change—and then take steps to weaken those issues. That will lead to fewer unhelpful consequences.

Secret #5: Make Yourself Likable

Never underestimate the value of making yourself likable. Build your charisma by being especially considerate of others. Send birthday cards. Take people to lunch and pay. Congratulate people when they have children. The more you demonstrate you genuinely care about others, the more they will like you. It is an idea politicians know well. But in frenetic workplaces, people have forgotten how powerful that principle of applied emotional intelligence can be.

About the Author

William J. Rothwell, Ph.D., SPHR, SHRM-SCP, CPLP Fellow, is president of Rothwell and Associates, Inc., a full-service consulting company that specializes in succession planning. He is also a professor of learning and performance in the Workforce Education and Development program, Department of Learning and Performance Systems, at The Pennsylvania State University, University Park campus. In that capacity, he heads up a top-ranked graduate program in learning and performance and is the program coordinator for the fully online Master of Professional Studies in Organization Development and Change. He has authored, co-authored, edited, or co-edited 300 books, book chapters, and articles—including 64 books. Before arriving at Penn State in 1993, he had 20 years of work experience as a training director in government and in business. As a consultant, he has worked with over 50 multinational corporations--including Motorola, General Motors, Ford, and many others. In 2004, he earned the Graduate Faculty Teaching Award at Pennsylvania State University, a single award given to the best graduate faculty member on the 23 campuses of the Penn State system. His train-the-trainers programs have won global awards.

His recent books include Organization Development Interventions: Executing Effective Organizational Change (Routledge, 2021 in press), Virtual Coaching to Improve Group Relationships (Routledge, 2021), Adult Learning Basics, 2nd ed. (Association for Talent Development Press, 2020), The Essential HR Guide for Small Business and Start Ups (Society for Human Resource Management, 2020); Increasing Learning and Development’s Impact Through Accreditation (Palgrave, 2020); Workforce Development: Guidelines for Community College Professionals, 2nd ed. (Rowman-Littlefield, 2020); Human Performance Improvement: Building Practitioner Performance, 3rd ed. (Routledge, 2018); Innovation Leadership (Routledge, 2018); Evaluating Organization Development: How to Ensure and Sustain the Successful Transformation (CRC Press, 2017); Marketing Organization Development Consulting: A How-To Guide for OD Consultants (CRC Press, 2017); and, Assessment and Diagnosis for Organization Development: Powerful Tools and Perspectives for the OD practitioner (CRC Press, 2017), Community College Leaders on Workforce Development (Rowman & Littlefield, 2017), Organization Development in Practice (ODNetwork, 2016), Mastering the Instructional Design Process, 5th ed. (Wiley, 2016), Practicing Organization Development, 4th ed. (Wiley, 2015), Effective Succession Planning, 5th ed. (AMACOM, 2015), The Competency Toolkit, 2 vols., 2nd ed. (HRD Press, 2015), Beyond Training and Development, 3rd ed. (HRD Press, 2015), The Leader’s Daily Role in Talent Management (McGraw-Hill, 2015), Organization Development Fundamentals (ATD, 2015), Creating Engaged Employees: It’s Worth the Investment (ATD Press, 2014), The Leader’s Daily Role in Talent Management (Institute for Training and Development [Malaysia], 2014), Optimizing Talent in the Federal Workforce (Management Concepts, 2014), Performance Consulting (Wiley, 2014), the ASTD Competency Study: The Training and Development Profession Redefined (ASTD, 2013), Becoming An Effective Mentoring Leader: Proven Strategies for Building Excellence in Your Organization (McGraw-Hill, 2013), Talent Management: A Step-by-Step Action-Oriented Approach Based on Best Practice (HRD Press, 2012), the edited three-volume Encyclopedia of Human Resource Management (Wiley, 2012), Lean But Agile: Rethink Workforce Planning and Gain a True Competitive Advantage (Amacom, 2012), Invaluable Knowledge: Securing Your Company’s Technical Expertise-Recruiting and Retaining Top Talent, Transferring Technical Knowledge, Engaging High Performers (Amacom, 2011), Competency-Based Training Basics (ASTD Press, 2010), Practicing Organization Development, 3rd ed. (Pfeiffer, 2009), Basics of Adult Learning (ASTD, 2009), HR Transformation (Davies-Black, 2008), Working Longer (Amacom, 2008), and Cases in Government Succession Planning: Action-Oriented Strategies for Public-Sector Human Capital Management, Workforce Planning, Succession Planning, and Talent Management (HRD Press, 2008).

He can be reached by email at [email protected] or by phone at 814-863-2581. He is at 310B Keller Building, University Park, PA 16803. See his website at, his videos on YouTube, and his wiki site at

Be the first to comment
Sign In to Post a Comment
Sorry! Something went wrong on our end. Please try again later.