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Hewlett-Packard Company: Organizational Politics Case Study

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Updated: Nov 10th, 2020


Hewlett-Packard (HP) is one of the giant technology companies around the globe today. The effective management of the organization is key when it comes to fostering its success in the industry. Nonetheless, over the past decade, HP has portrayed a political behavior that questions the conduct of its leaders, especially the directors. Notably, since 2005, the public has seen HP’s Board of Directors engage in political battles that influenced the hiring of at least five Chief Executive Officers (CEOs) (Veverka, 2011). In this case, the first part of this paper identifies the individual and organizational factors that triggered HP’s intense political behavior. The paper will also identify the types of political behaviors depicted by the members of the board and the CEOs before assessing whether or not the leaks made by the board members undermined ethical standards. The second part will describe, in brief, a political battle I witnessed in my workplace before identifying the contributing factors and the types of political behaviors portrayed by parties in controversy. Finally, an evaluation of the ethical aspects associated with the witnessed political battle will be made.

Individual and Organizational Factors Influencing HP’s Intense Political Behavior

Robbins (1997) underlines that political matters constitute an integral part of an organization’s life. Such lifespan is affected by a range of individual and organizational factors. Undoubtedly, the political behavior demonstrated by HP since 2005 suggests that several individual and organizational factors influenced the management of the global technology company. As such, the following factors affected the high-intensity political behavior that has seen HP sack five CEOs since 2005.

Individual Factors

Internal locus of control is one of the individual factors demonstrated by HP’s former CEO, Carly Fiorina. Internal locus of control entails the manipulation of an environment to act in the individual’s favor. Notably, Fiorina acquired the Compaq Computer for a considerable $25 billion intending to stamp her control of the expansion strategies adopted by HP (Veverka, 2011). Patricia Dunn, Fiorina’s successor, also demonstrated the influence of internal locus of control on HP’s politics by commissioning a private investigation firm to unearth the source of the leaks about the company (Pearlstein, 2011).

Further, Fiorina’s expectations of success triggered her to consider the acquisition of Compaq Computer in 2001 (Granelli, 2006). However, the issue sparked controversy with some of the board members, including Walter Hewlett, a son to one of the HP founders. Hewlett’s reaction denotes organizational investment as a factor that triggered political intensity to the extent of leading to Fiorina’s resignation. Moreover, the directors responsible for leaking HP’s sensitive information revealed the influence of high Machiavellian personalities. Individuals demonstrating a high Machiavellian personality manipulate the environment to gain political power (Robbins, 1997). As such, the report regarded George Keyworth II, a board member during that time, as one of the sources of the leaks. His Machiavellian personality influenced him to gain political mileage at HP.

Organizational Factors

The reallocation of resources showcased by Fiorina’s acquisition of Compaq Computer in 2001 triggered controversies among board members who perceived the decision as unnecessary. Similarly, the leaking of information regarding the strategies that Meg Whitman would implement once she assumed office as the new CEO in 2010 revealed that the reallocation of resources was a major issue that concerned the board members. Whitman intended to abandon some business ventures initiated by HP, including the development of the Palm OS for mobile gadgets, as well as making a $10.3 billion payment to ‘Autonomy’.

Further, HP subjected its leaders to high-performance pressures that prompted CEOs such as Fiorina and Whitman to consider specific strategic approaches (Granelli, 2006). The political intensity affected the value of HP’s shares in the stock markets. Promotion opportunities could have also influenced HP’s board of directors to adopt intensive political behavior. In this respect, the democratic decision-making process adopted by the board members also influenced the political atmosphere at the computer technology company.

Types of Political Behaviors Exhibited by HP’s CEOs and Board Members

Blaming is one of the types of political behaviors showcased by HP’s CEOs and board members. For instance, the investigation commissions by Dunn to identify the source of the sought to place the blame on the individual responsible for the portrayed political manners. Further, the board members Whitman’s successor, Leo Apotheker, was also held responsible for the 47% drop of HP’s value of shares in 2011. The formation of coalitions also characterized HP’s political behavior. Notably, a section of board members, including Tom Perkins, protested against the motion to ask George Keyworth II to resign after the investigation uncovered his communication with the press (Veverka, 2011). The investigations regarding the leaks prompted the formation of coalitions to characterize HP’s political behavior. The management of impressions as a type of political behavior influenced the political battles at HP. The management of impressions seeks to alter the perceptions of others regarding a specific individual, object, or event. The leaking of critical information through the press embraced an acclaiming approach to influence the perceptions of stakeholders regarding the leadership of particular CEOs.

The Ethical Issues Associated with Leaking Information to the Press

Robbins (1997) underlines that political ethics considers the aspects of self-interest versus organizational goals, respect for the rights of others, and fairness and equality of the actions. The leaking of crucial information to the press by the members of the HP board undermined various ethical principles (Lasswell, 2013). Based on Robbins’ (1997) model, the exposure of sensitive information to the press came from the self-interest of the board members, rather than the need to secure organizational goals.

Further, the leaking of information undermines the rights of the various CEOs and board members of HP. Notably, the leaks jeopardized the affected leaders’ freedom of expression, as well as the right to privacy (Kessler, 2006). For instance, the leaking of information regarding the strategies considered by Fiorina and Whitman among other CEOs undermined their privacy and freedom of expression regarding the company’s matters. Moreover, the leaks undermined the fairness and equality among the CEOs and board members at HP. Notably, the series of leaks during the tenure of different CEOs led to their exit from HP’s leadership. Thus, besides infringing on the rights of the concerned parties, the leaks influenced the inequitable dismissal of several CEOs.

The investigations commissioned by Dunn to identify the source of the leaks embraced an ethical approach, despite the witnessed challenges (Kessler, 2006). The initiative sought to secure the organizational goals associated with communication and public relations and thus not based on Dunn’s self-interest. Further, the move respected the rights of the board members involved amid the concerns regarding the “pretexting’ approach adopted by the private investigators. Moreover, the practice investigated the entire members of HP’s board without fear or favor.

Description of a Political Battle

The depiction of a political battle in an organization I worked for underlines the importance of politics in business settings. The controversy involved the CEO and a few members of the board of directors. The board members questioned the CEO for engaging in corrupt deals and the misappropriation of the organization’s resources. After internal politicking failed to pile pressure that would influence the resignation of the CEO, the issue surfaced to the public through the press. However, the lack of evidence regarding the allegations saw the CEO retain his position.

Individual and Organizational Factors Influencing the Political Battle

The individual factors contributing to the emergence of the political battle include high self-monitors and internal locus of control. Notably, the CEO conformed to the acceptable norms that guided the organizational culture, an approach that proved too strong for the board members to influence his resignation. Further, both the CEO and the board members applied the internal locus of control to influence the political behavior in the organization. As such, the board members alleging the CEO of unethical conduct in the organization embraced a proactive stance out of personal interests to try to shake the leadership of the business leader. On the other hand, the CEO applied strategies that showed his authority to control the organizational environment in his favor since the allegations turned out to be false.

The organizational factors prompting the political behavior portrayed in the organization include the reallocation of resources and self-serving board directors. The expansion strategies adopted by the organization requires a considerable reallocation of financial resources to contracts. However, a few self-serving members of the board associated the move with the misappropriation of resources and awarding of tenders through corrupt dealings.

Types of Political Behavior Depicted

Blaming, managing of impressions, and selectively distributing information formed the major behaviors showcased in the political battle in the organization. The board members blamed the CEO of the slow growth of the company over the previous few years and termed the expansion strategy as an approach to further his resource misappropriation engagements. The blaming of political behavior was also coupled with the management of impressions among the board members.

The selective distribution of information done by the board members also intensified the political battle in the organization. Notably, the media covered the allegations, thus exposing the political issues affecting the organization to the public. Nonetheless, the press found no strong facts to further broadcast information regarding the corruption and resource misappropriation allegations.

Unethical Behavior Portrayed by the Disputing Participants

The board members falsely alleging the CEO of misappropriation of resources and engaging in corrupt deals demonstrated unethical practices that influenced the political behavior adopted by the organization. The false allegations showed how the board members sought to tarnish the name of the CEO out of self-interest. Furthermore, the actions of the board members infringed on the rights of the CEO by selectively issuing information to the press regarding the expansion strategies of the organization alleged to be associated with corrupt tendering procedures. Moreover, the few board members unfairly accused the CEO of treating the business leader unequally.


Political issues affect organizations considerably as depicted by the case of HP. As such, organizations engaging in political battles could adopt the different types of political behaviors depending on the factors that influence the controversies. There is a need to observe the essence of ethical-political behaviors to avoid infringing on the rights of others in the organizational environment.


Granelli, J. (2006). Lockyer probe of HP spying reaches to ’05: Sources say the inquiry goes back to the ouster of CEO Carly Fiorina, a possible victim. Los Angeles Times, pp. 2B, 3B.

Kessler, M. (2006). Controversial HP probe started under Fiorina: Stock falls as board continues public feud. USA Today, pp. 1A, 3A.

Lasswell, H. D. (2013). The analysis of political behavior. Abingdon-on-Thames, England: Routledge.

Pearlstein, S. (2011). How HP, Silicon Valley’s darling, became a soap opera. Web.

Robbins, S. (1997). Chapter 11: Power and politics-Essentials of organizational behavior. New York, NY: Pearson Education.

Veverka, M. (2011). The soap opera at HP continues. Barron’s, 91(39), 25-25.

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