When the topic of office politics comes up, I'm accustomed to hearing moans and groans from leadership workshop participants. I want to stay above the politics many of them remark. Others ask with exasperation, Why sully my own reputation by promoting everyday pettiness or agendas?
Disheartening as it may be, you seriously disadvantage yourself professionally by trying to side step office politics altogether. Therein lies the point of this two-part post: to help you first learn what the politics are at your job, and to subsequently maneuver through them successfully.
I've come to think of politics and culture for that matter, as the personality of an organization. It's up to each of us to learn our environment, figuring out if it's conservative or casual, hierarchical or flat, open to new ideas or fairly closed. While interviewing Cynthia Egan, President at T. Rowe Price, she reiterated the idea that every corporate personality differs, and that it's our job to find out what that personality is and to decide if we want to exist in it. Egan also pointed out, People just entering the workforce can be naïve about the extent that politics control decisions. Beyond basic awareness, we can do ourselves a service by asking questions that get to the heart of how the company functions, including:
Proactively asking and answering these questions can give you an immediate leg up. Rather than just focusing on your individual performance, you'll have an enterprise wide view of what's valued. Ever wonder why one person's ideas are always embraced, while someone else's continually get shot down? Most likely, the person getting recognition understands the inner-workings of the environment, including what's rewarded and how people like to be communicated with, and packages his or her messages accordingly.
The modern workplace is full of unwritten rules, often unspoken, that range from the seemingly small and ridiculous (i.e. casual Fridays are offered, but it's still frowned up to wear jeans) to the more weighty and significant (those who log the most face time tend to get promoted). To navigate every workplace culture with the same exact mindset can end in disaster. Instead, keep your ear to the ground, not so that you can become a mindless sheep or automaton, but so you can tailor your pitch, calibrate your performance, and dial up or down your communication as needed. Keep investigating what you observe around you and be sure to come by next week to find out how you can maneuver through politics with savvy.
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