Saturday, November 15, 2008

Shocked by Office Politics

I recently finished Police Chief William Bratton's account of his extraordinary work in turning around the crime rate in New York City. It is a fascinating tale containing a lot of worthy tips for managers. Bratton's practical approach to placing resources on needs and his adoption of the "broken windows" theory's technique of going after small offenders in order to establish order and catch larger offenders are reminders of the power of thorough analysis. [It's also a reminder of common sense, as in not letting your narcotics squads take weekends off.]

Anyway, one of the subtopics of the book is the conflict between Bratton and then-Mayor Rudy Giuliani. Bratton paints a portrait of a noble police department beset by a politically-driven Mayor's office. What is missing is the other side. Time after time, I'd read of Bratton's being shocked that Giuliani or his people would interpret a certain action as a politically inappropriate move by the police chief and my reaction was to side with the mayor, not out of any instinctive feeling for Giuliani but because of how city governments operate.

For example, if you are a police chief and Time magazine wants to place you on the cover of an issue on how crime was turned around in New York City, do you (a) agree and go pose for the photo?; (b) tell them that both you and the Mayor should be on the cover?; or (c) tell them just to put the Mayor on the cover? [The correct answer is b and maybe even c but Bratton went with a and then was surprised when the Giuliani people were upset.]

Now it may be that Bratton's surprise was less than genuine and that the savvy Chief knew exactly what he was doing. That was undoubtedly the suspicion in the Giuliani camp. If there was a huge amount of innocence about the impact of such publicity, its presence would indicate a colossal lack of political smarts in a job that requires high dosages of such talent. One lesson in Office Politics 101 is to make the boss look good. Chief's Bratton's book inadvertently teaches what can happen when a top decision maker does not. We could describe him as naive, but my guess is he was playing the "taking credit" game as ruthlessly as the mayor.

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