Sunday, November 12, 2006

Corporate Politics

Corporate politics, what the heck is that ?

Consider this statement: "Achieving a goal is often not as important as the way its achieved". Balderdash? Confused? Disagree? Read on.

If you don't know what corporate politics is yet, then you are either new to the job market, naive, or an agnostic. If you are new to the job market - you will learn over time, unless you are naive and continue to be one. If you are agnostic then you must think that you can find a small cubicle in your company and get into "heads-down" work, try not to bother anyone, not let anything or anyone bother you. My friend, you have a lesson to learn. I used to be an agnostic. When it comes to politics, I say you should not be agnostic.

If you are one, the symptoms are telling. Things happen to you at work, i.e. you are not in control of those things or your own career. You never decide the work you want to do, things don't fall in place as you would expect. You aspire to get to the next level, but simply can't shake off the isolation you are in.

It is time to get up from you easy office chair and look beyond your gloomy cubicle walls. People in your office are out and about. They are talking to key individuals, they are comparing notes, going out to lunch, golf and beer. You are working hard, producing results and hoping your manager will notice how great you are at what you do. You are in great danger. If you stay the course you are bound to get into conflicts, distance people, be primarily task-oriented and pigeon-holed for the rest of you career. You will be labeled if you aren't already.

You will do what you are doing for the rest of you life if you are lucky. If you are like the rest of us, things will change, and the change may not be what you agree with. Learn about politics, because that is what I have done & recommend strongly. Importantly, don't learn destructive politics. I believe in karma, and I believe politics can be positive for the organization. Negative politics is destructive & in the long run is a "lose-lose".

Politics in this context of can be defined as "the total complex of relations between people ..." [ref Webster's]. The age old adage explains politics - "It is not what you, it is who you know that matters". According to Kathleen Kelly Reardon it's all politics. She believes that winning in a world where hard work & talent aren't enough is possible. In her book "It's All Politics. Winning in a world where hard work and talent aren't enough", she describes several political advantages one should work to develop:

  • Develop an uncanny attentiveness to what others say & how they act
  • Develop empathy - what others have to say & how they think and feel
  • Prepare in advance all outcomes of a discussion. Prepare, prepare, prepare.
  • Ability to see things as others do is critical
  • Convey a strong interest in what other people are saying. Don't impose views - rather manage interactions to synergize
  • Each of us is at least 75% responsible for the way we're treated
  • Become a skilled interpreter of meanings at a number of levels
  • If it quacks like a duck it is a duck. Be able to communicate with a duck

Once these principles are learned, they must be practiced. Books & blogs may teach you about a topic, unless you practice it, you will never truly learn it. Try to learn it, not about it.

Learn positive politics. Basically, craft your skills to achieve. Get things done. Reardon proposes the ACE method. What is it ?

The ACE Method:
  • Appropriateness - what others are doing
  • Consistency - what a person like you would do
  • Effectiveness - what will get you what you want

These are boundaries within which one must operate. Learning to be appropriate (with seniors, peers, juniors & external team members) is critical. As a leader, consistency and effectiveness are the other two sides of the triangle.

You may cringe when you hear the word "power", this seems to conjure up several negative images & feelings. However, I do believe that power in the right hands is a blessing. In order to achieve what you need in your job, you need to acquire and craft enough power to intrinsically influence a group or another person to do what needs to be done. Reardon describes clean power crafting & maintaining strategies.

Power crafting/maintaining strategies

  • Impression Management: craft your reputation
  • Surroundings: attend to the decor of your office/work area
  • Credibility: Aim to get the respect, trust & confidence of your co-workers
  • Commitment: Be busy & in demand - but not overwhelmed
  • Charisma: Be charming & humorous
  • Value: Link what you do to company/division goals

  • Attraction: Make people feel good about working with you or for you
  • Similarity: Be like "the duck" in some important way
  • Favor bank: Remember the value of reciprocity
  • Mentors: Seek out advisors. If you don't have one - get one. Select carefully though
  • Connections: Get to know people in power who can be helpful to your career

  • Information control: Use caution when giving information to others
  • Conversation management: Avoid dysfunctional habits & going offtrack
  • Style management: Adjust your style to facilitate conversation
  • Open to input: Do more listening than telling
  • Facework: Avoid causing other people to lose "face"
  • Flexibility: Remain open to creative ways to achieve your goals

Structural Power
  • Job status: Assess the power of your position and ask yourself where you career is headed
  • Limit access: Be a team player but don't tell everyone everything you're thinking
  • Rewarding allies: Be sure to thank people who help you, and remember to help them too
  • Selective availability: Help out, but don't be over available

Knowledge Power
  • Keep learning: Never stop learning from people at every level of the organization
  • Recognize: "Regimes of Truth": Identify organizational philosophies
  • Be where knowledge emerges: location informational sources and be around them
  • Create knowledge dependence: Find out what areas of expertise those in power look for
Caution! Don't flaunt power. Acquiring respect & power is a lot of hard work. Don't blow it away by being cocky and insolent. Having a helping nature, zero ego and a respectful attitude are primary ingredients to maintaining power. Respecting others is to let others make mistakes and not penalize them punitively. Let the other person save face. Spare the reputation of others.

Recognize negative & destructive politics: "credit snatching", "career threats", "targeting", "scapegoating", "patronizing", "double bind" or moving target, "lording" or when everything is a power issue, "embedded spy", "gossip", "belittling", etc. Reardon cites examples of each and suggests specific things to say and combat each scenario.

One principal concept of politics is the art of persuasion. Aligning thoughts is a way of doing this. Reardon calls this "Framing", A framing effect happens in a communication. When a person sees a situation in a different light and expresses his frame of reference. Others react and realign. This is framing.

Several such techniques exist and there are lots to learn. Your intrinsic attitude and disposition will dictate much of your career path. Just be aware there is something called corporate politics that plays a major role in your work life. First know about it and learn to participate. Remember there is the right side & dark side to politics. Positive constructive politics is the only long term sustainable path.