Monday, September 9, 2013

From the Article Archive: Why You Can’t Afford to Ignore Office Politics

Question: Do you feel you must engage in office politics in order to be considered successful?
Jo Miller answers:
In a webinar on the topic of office politics, one participant asked our guest speaker, Nina Simosko, “Do you feel you must engage in office politics in order to be considered successful?” Simosko, who is responsible for leading the creation and execution of Nike Technology strategy and operations world-wide, responded, “Politics are a reality and one must not ignore them or do so at their own peril. I am not a fan of politics, but I have learned that ignoring them can have negative consequences. I believe that we all must understand the nature of the politics within our respective companies and participate to the extent necessary.”

In an article titled Seven Career Killers, careers author Erin Burt points out that refusing to engage in office politics can be a career-killing move. “Avoiding politics altogether can be deadly for your career. Like it or not, every workplace has an intricate system of power, and you can — and should — work it ethically to your best advantage. To get a promotion, avoid downsizing or get a project approved, you need co-worker support.”

Burt went on to add that it is crucial to identify your workplace’s hidden pockets of power. “On paper, a certain person may be in charge, but you need to know who else in the office has influence.”

When moving into a new role or a new team, Nina Simosko will fast-track the process by seeking out key people. “To quickly learn about the politics of an organization, whether I am simply a new employee or coming from a different culture/country, I would ask others who have been around for a while and seek out those that seemingly have influence within the group or company. People like to be sought out for advice or guidance and generally are willing to assist."In a recent article, Getting the Lay of the Land in a New Role, I wrote about ways to quickly pick up momentum in a new role, by identifying key people, creating a plan to connect with them, and setting yourself up as a go-to person in your area of expertise. I call this skill ‘organizational savvy’, and it is also the most important skill for navigating office politics in a positive and effective way.

Become a savvy observer
To identify those hidden pockets of power, pay attention to how people interact with each other in meetings, in the hallways, at lunch, or virtually. Become a savvy observer of the communication and relationships that surround you in your organization. Notice who gets along with whom (or does not), and see if you can understand how that relationship was formed (or became broken). Did these individuals work together in the past, or do they have a common background or interest? What is the glue that maintains the relationships? Asking yourself those questions will point you toward ways to navigate more effectively with those individuals.

Pay attention in the same way to coalitions: groups of people that work together effectively, and freely share information, resources, and opportunities. Notice who the “key influencers” are in a coalition, and try to build a relationship with them first. Aligning yourself closely with these groups is a fast-track way to gain a supportive, collaborative network.

If you meet someone who seems to navigate the environment well and is well-connected, ask them to mentor you on company culture. Nina Simosko explained, “I love to exercise and when traveling on business, I regularly use the gym facilities in or near the hotels that I stay in”, she explained. “It is purely coincidental that a very senior executive within my company also likes to exercise and use the facilities when traveling. So, it is somewhat often that we find ourselves on treadmills or other exercise machines that are right next to one another and we are able to strike up conversations which often relate to business issues.”

Connect authentically
If you think it seems inauthentic to go around trying to build relationships just for the same of furthering your career, think again. According to Simosko, one of the very best ways to connect with people is to offer to assist them in some way. “Especially in these challenging economic times, there is no shortage of people who feel overwhelmed and could use some assistance”, she explained. “If you are able to authentically connect with and assist folks with things of importance to them, then they will want to repay the favor and will be available to you when needed. Surely, if it is perceived that you are only reaching out to help yourself, this will not achieve the best outcome. Your efforts to connect with others must be authentic.” 

To hear more from Nina Simosko, watch the webinar “Winning at the Game of Office Politics”.

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