Learning office politics creates success

Dear Joan:
I am very interested in knowing more about office politics. My boss told me recently that I need to be more "political" and I really don't know exactly what he wants me to do. I have always prided myself on doing a good job and staying out of office gossip and other political areas. I'm beginning to wonder if it truly is who you know rather than what you know.

I don't want to play games at the office since I don't regard that to be very professional. I'm frustrated because my boss has implied that I can't get ahead unless I start hob-nobbing with people and being everybody's friend. Do you have some advice I can live with?

True or False; Employees who are good at office politics are:

·        Insincere

·        Dishonest

·        Slick

·        Overly ambitious

·        Are likely to be more talk than action when it comes to getting things done

·        Spend most of their time "apple polishing" for people above them

·        Care more about doing someone a favor than making the right decision

·        Change their tune depending on who's in the room

·        Are likely to grab the credit for a group project

·        Spread rumors about others

·        Only act as if you are their friend when they need something

If you answered "yes" to most of the above, you are confusing underhanded, "political" people with employees who know how to use the informal system to get things done.

I'm sure your boss doesn't want you to be political in the way you might suspect. He is warning you that unless you become more sophisticated at understanding the human system you could be seen as unpromotable or even ineffective. The higher you move in company circles, the more removed you'll be from the technical work you do now. As you move up, your job will become more abstract and ambiguous. Your days will be filled with advancing the ball on projects that are underway and teeing up new ideas that need to be driven.

Start listening and observing the happenings around you. Closing yourself off from the human organization is like playing a game of golf with no flags in the holes. You won't know where to aim or how far to hit the ball. Your strokes may be perfect but they won't be any good to the organization because you won't be aiming in the right direction. Listen to the questions and objections of the people around you. They will point you in the direction of the goal and help you avoid major obstacles.

Perhaps you feel that the work you have done should stand on its own and the changes you recommended should have been implemented because they "were logical." Maybe you ruffled a few feathers because you "played through" their areas without asking for permission. Perhaps you spoke the truth about someone's lousy form, when it would have been wiser to concentrate on your own.

Here are some steps to consider as you learn the art of the game:

Make a score card of all the people who are recipients of your work or are affected by it. Star the people who are in a position to sand trap your ideas. Add another star if they are at least one level above you. No matter how good your work is, it will be useless unless these people understand it, see the benefits and know how to use it.

Now, think about a project you're working on right now and identify the people on your list who are players who stand to win or lose. Show your list to your boss and ask if you've missed any. If you haven't gathered input from them or involved them in some way, find a way to do so, even if it simply means a memo or phone call to tell them you're working on the project. Your boss should be able to help you establish a game plan.

This strategy will show your manager that you are sincere about learning the rules of the game. You will need to take a learning attitude with your coach- your boss- and let him demonstrate the techniques you should practice.

In the long term, look for ways to help your co-workers win their points and they will be more willing to support yours. Don't offer unsolicited advice (unless it's crucial) but be quick to offer help. Cheer their improvements and encourage them when they threaten to wrap their clubs around a tree.

Make it a practice to ask for advice from those who are in a position to stop your ideas. If you seek their advice early, you will avoid all the traps that can cause interference along the way.

Ask your boss to read your memos and seek his council on who should get copies and to whom they should be written. Memos are the paper trail of political actions and should be written as part of your game plan on any project. They will keep all the score keepers honest and the rules fair and understood by all.

As you become more adept at understanding the politics within your company, you will understand that many good things can result. You may be in a position to caddy a worthwhile idea across the organization, get support for a deserving co-worker's promotion, or get deserving new ideas onto the green with a minimum of hassle. If you really master the game, you may even hit a hole-in-one and get that promotion after all.

Joan Lloyd is a Milwaukee based executive coach and organizational & leadership development strategist. She is known for her ability to help leaders and their teams achieve measurable, lasting improvements. Joan Lloyd & Associates, specializes in leadership development, organizational change and teambuilding, providing: executive coaching, CEO coaching & leader team coaching, 360-degree feedback processes, retreat facilitation and presentation skill coaching and small group labs. Contact Joan Lloyd & Associates at (414) 573-1616, mailto:info@joanlloyd.com, or www.JoanLloyd.com 
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