As you move up in an organization you are less likely to be fired because of a lack of knowledge and skill. You’re more likely to be terminated because of politics. Now that may not be the reason they give you, but it is likely the underlying cause. Unfortunately, there is no business school course that teaches you how to successfully navigate the political waters of your organizations. Yet, political savvy is often the hidden factor to your success, and in many cases, will determine your career trajectory.
Political savvy has received a negative connotation. Many people associate it with non-cooperative behaviors such as game-playing, sabotaging, and gossiping. Others use the term for describing a self-serving company culture rife with backstabbing and cliques.
While all of this may be true in some companies, a better way of thinking about political savviness is the ability to network, build relationships, and influence others. One of the biggest blind spots most new leaders have is not realizing the importance of building an extensive network of supporters to support them when they make a mistake. And guess what? Everyone makes mistakes – take my word for it. During these times, you will greatly benefit from having your network advocating for you.
In the book, Survival of the Savvy: High-Integrity Political Tactics for Career and Company Success, Dr. Rick Brandon provides a good definition of organizational politics that is devoid of values and does not elicit a negative connotation. He states that organizational politics are informal, unofficial and sometimes behind-the-scenes efforts to sell ideas, influence an organization, increase power or achieve other targeted objectives. In other words, politically savvy skills can assist ethical people in selling ideas and influencing others for the good of the organization.
At its core, corporate politics is about impression management. And the first step is to know how you are perceived by others. Take the time to observe and reflect on how people treat you. You can also ask for other people’s feedback, although you may not get their honest opinion depending on your relationship with them or your position in the organization. However, whenever someone you know leaves the organization, it provides you an opportunity to receive honest feedback from them, since many of those impediments are removed in receiving honest feedback.
Another piece of advice is to not ask for feedback, but instead ask for advice. People usually feel more comfortable in giving advice rather than providing corrective feedback. You could ask them the following, “from your perspective, what can I do to become more successful in my role in this organization?” In her best-selling book, The Hidden Language of Business: Workplace Politics, Power and Influence, Margaret Morford provides readers with valuable strategies designed to increase your political savviness and accelerate your career. The following are a few of her tips that I have found to be especially relevant in today’s corporate environment.
DON’T TALK ABOUT BEING STRESSED OUT AT WORK
Stress is very real in today’s society. According to the American Institute of Stress, 80% of workers feel stress on the job and nearly half say they need help in learning how to manage stress. You can, and should, talk about your causes of stress and the feeling of being burnt out with your support network (friends, family and counselors) who care about you and can help. Do not have these conversations with your superiors, however, who are responsible for your career growth. Remember, companies don’t promote people who they believe can’t handle additional responsibilities.
By taking this approach, you increase your chances of getting that promotion. Now you may be saying to yourself, “now I have more work, causing me even more stress.” That is true, but only temporarily. Now is the perfect time for you to have the following conversation with your boss. First, thank them for this amazing opportunity and then remind them you want to do the best job possible. You are, therefore, requesting certain things to be taken off your plate. You can help them further by identifying individuals who could take on this work and be successful.
GET TO KNOW THE POWER BROKERS IN YOUR COMPANY
Being in a position of power doesn’t mean you have authority or influence. Title is not a reliable measure of power. Those with senior titles are likely very competent at their job, but may not be the real influencers in the organization. The following are some of the ways you can identify who has the power in your organization.
- If you are in a meeting, and a person joins late. Does the meeting stop for someone to catch them up? If so, you are looking at someone who is powerful.
- When that person speaks, everyone else stops talking.
- A power broker is able to operate outside the normal operating procedures. During tough times when budgets are tight yet this team or division continues to get more resources. The leader is likely someone with significant power.
- They deliver results. And the fastest way to become a power broker within your company is to over-deliver results.
DON’T BE THE LONE VOICE CRYING OUT IN THE WILDERNESS
If it is obvious a change is going to happen in the organization that may have negative repercussions, don’t be the lone voice of dissent. This will only compromise your reputation and political standing within the organization. Even if you are right, the cost will be greater in terms of your standing with those who are in power. A better way to approach it is to understand the impact impact that you might have trying to fix the issues.
Regardless of your pedigree and track record, your political savvy will impact your career trajectory. Start building your network today and forging those connections that will benefit you in the future.
If you want to go even deeper into Margaret Morford’s ideas on this topic you can view the recent podcast interview that I did with with her. To learn how political savvy can impact impacts relationships, read our May blog on how your relationships can impact your life and career.
ABOUT CHARLES GOOD
Charles Good is the president of The Institute for Management Studies, which provides transformational learning experiences that drive behavioral change and develop exceptional leaders. Charles is an innovative and resourceful leader who specializes in bringing people together to develop creative organizational and talent strategies that enable business results. His areas of expertise include assessing organizational skill gaps and leading the design, creation and delivery of high impact, innovative learning solutions that achieve business goals.