Systems and complexity

How Machiavellians affect organisations

Over the Christmas and New Year holiday period, we’ll be republishing popular RealKM posts that you may have missed the first time around. Thank you for reading, and we’ll see you in 2016.

Machiavelli’s The Prince described techniques for managing all organisations of “supreme political power”. The treatise’s highly utilitarian approach to success led to the coining of the term Machiavellian, a personal style of operations with “a cynical disregard for morality and a focus on self-interest and personal gain”. Jeffrey Braithwaite has a great piece summing up recent research into the traits and effects of Machiavellianism in organisations:

[People] aren’t either Machiavellian or not. Instead, there are gradients of more or less Machiavellian tendencies …

High Machs tend to be manipulative, selfish, and deceitful, and to act tactically in favor of their own interests. They are relatively detached from others, and calculating about relationships. They have been labelled as having the “cool syndrome”. Unlike psychopaths, however, who have a clinical condition, they understand the difference between right and wrong, and can accept responsibility and the consequences of their actions …

High Machs as employees tended to make less positive contributions to the organizational culture, and had the potential to inflict greater levels of harm in the organization than their Low Mach counterparts. In a sense, High Machs had less of a psychological contract—they were less cognitively signed up to the organization’s aims, mission and purpose. Low Machs were much more so. Another way of describing this is that High Machs were poorer organizational citizens than their Low Mach colleagues.

High Machs are normal. They just manipulate more readily, and are more exploitative, than most others … They will bend the rules in their favor, confess less than others when found out, lie more plausibly than most, and find ways to manipulate others in novel and unexpected ways.

Source: The psychology of Machiavellians in the 21st Century — Jeffrey Braithwaite

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Stephen Bounds

Stephen Bounds is an Information and Knowledge Management Specialist with a wide range of experience across the government and private sectors. As founding editor of RealKM and Executive, Information Management at Cordelta, Stephen provides clear strategic thinking along with a hands-on approach to help organisations successfully develop and implement modern information systems.

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