#3.5 Preparing to be a High Performer: Office Politics
Office politics are another important part of the office life that needs to be addressed. In case you haven’t thought about it, playing office politics is leveraging internal networks and relationships to promote your wishes. When office politics are improperly navigated and get in the way, it can be an uphill battle to get things done.
Here are a few tips to help negotiate them.
1. Identify the Decision Makers
Figure out who the decision makers are. Who holds the power? To do this effectively, put the organizational chart aside and think about these questions: Who has the boss’s ear? Who has the boss’s boss’s ear? Don’t be surprised when you realize the organizational chart doesn’t reflect the true flow of power in the organization.
2. Build and Invest in Relationships
Foster relationships with the decision makers; you want them on your side. Developing strong connections and gaining access to them will be essential to your long-term success. Some refer to this kind of relationship building as “brown nosing.” But call it what you like, it’s smart business to engage the people in power and have good working relationships with them.
Some recommendations: shoot the breeze with these folks whenever given the opportunity; find out their interests and hobbies so you have something to strike up a conversation about in the future; always be cordial and pleasant.
3. Office Values and Decision Drivers
Understand the values and drivers that determine the majority of office decisions. Knowing this helps you know how to frame sales pitches, what can be sold and what can’t be. There are untouchable items. You can save yourself a lot of grief by staying away from the untouchables. Knowing an organization’s history holds a lot of answers to this area. What worked in the past? What didn’t?
For example, say your boss has always trusted using a certain vendor for a task. This could be an “untouchable item”. There might be no sense challenging the vendor decision until your boss moves on.
4. Scratching Backs
Live the saying, You scratch my back and I’ll scratch yours. It’s important to realize this is a two-way street. The easy side of this is, of course, getting what you want. It’s returning the favor where things get interesting. It may be very positive and build your relationship OR could prove difficult and worse case, challenge your ethics causing a negative reply. But the cost of not holding up your end of the deal can be high: you will have broken the other party’s trust, which delves into the importance of credibility, a topic we’ll soon cover. Essentially, hold up your end of the deal or don’t expect future reciprocity. That said, you need others to be successful, the back scratching game is part of it but does come with some risk.
5. Power of Consensus
If you believe strongly in something that goes against office politics, see if you can find others to join you in standing against management. Consensus can be a powerful force. A large group might be able to better hold up against the flow of office politics; if you challenge management on your own, you may find yourself alone in a hurry.
When you are known for delivering results and being trustworthy, you gain credibility. Having credibility goes a long way toward being able to hold up against the currents of office politics. Take Billy for example. Billy has earned a place of respect among his peers. He recommends making a process change that challenges the way the boss has always done it; with valid points of support it is more likely to be heard and adopted because he is respected. If it was his first week on the job, I doubt his suggestion would be taken seriously. Another way to think of it is that credibility buys greater idea acceptance.
Credibility gives you room to push the edges too, which can be a great advantage. By this I mean your audience will listen to you and give you more time/space to speak to and provide input on a larger range to topics/issues.
7. Follow the Structure(s)
As a general rule of thumb, follow the organizational structure, but keep in mind the power structure. Be sure to keep both of them informed. You don’t want your boss or the decision makers to be surprised or left in the dark. For example, when you hold bad news, get it on the table early within both networks, not just the organizational one. This goes the other direction, too: if you have good news (e.g., a breakthrough in a major project, winning a small battle with a difficult client), make sure to share that with both parties as well. (If nothing else, this will help build credibility and respect.)
True Story: While I was pursuing my master’s degree, there were many small groups that formed to complete group assignments. After sizing up the groups, keeping in mind potential networking opportunities, I joined the one that had two high ranked employees of contract management. It took some quality contributions early on, but I earned my spot on the team. My consistent high performance unlocked the networks of these high ranked employees, and it turned out that in one of those professional networks was the manager of NASA’s spacewalking group. The spacewalking group was one of the most difficult groups to join at NASA, largely because there was always considerable (talented) competition for any open positions, and I wanted in.
Eventually I was granted an opportunity to work in the spacewalking group, and that was because I was given access to the manager by my teammate, and my teammate gave me a glowing recommendation. My time in that role lead to some of my most cherished professional memories. This was all made possible by creating relationships with a few of the decision makers within the organization.
What are your thoughts on this topic?
Do you agree with the list above? Did I leave off any important items?