Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Being 'Political' in the Workplace

Welcome to my first blog post!  I welcome you to read what will be the first in a series of regularly published posts sharing my insights on people, finance and management topics.  I invite you to comment back and share your viewpoints regarding my posts. 

I was chatting with a friend last week about how her husband was doing at his place of work.  We were discussing that the work environment at his company is steeped with corporate politics.  My friend made a strong assertion that her husband does not get involved in the politics.  At all.  Period.

I've worked at a number of companies, both large and small.  There is a level of 'politics' at every company, without regard to the company size.  In my career, I have experimented with different levels of participation in the informal power and politics structure of companies.  Without reservation, I believe that you have to master the political 'game' in order to be successful.  This is akin to the adage, "it's not what you know, it's who you know."  If you can't master the balance of participation in the political web of your company while producing great work product, you simply are not going to move to the upper echelons of the company.  I'm not suggesting you have to be up to your neck in politics; in fact, I think that getting that deep can be fraught with difficulty.  However, not wading in means that you are not in the pool with the fish that matter.  Here are my guiding principles for successful corporate political participation:

1.  Wade in, but don't go to the deep end.  A level of participation in the informal structure at your company is essential, but you don't want to be known as the political machine that is trying to make your name solely based on your proficiency in the political arena.  Your work counts.

2.  Be political with those who matter.  Sure, we all have water cooler chats with our co-workers and peers.  This is really important because you want to hear the informal chat of what is going on and to build vital rapport with your peers and office mates.  Otherwise, be strategic in who you build a political relationship with at the workplace.  Who will be able to influence others regarding your work?  Who do you want to get to know so they know YOU as well as your work product?  Who can have an impact on your career?  Be prudent.  Don't be 'that employee' who chases someone you think would be good to align with and the party in question really isn't interested in reciprocating.  In the beginning, you have to build the relationship and there can be some following during this very early stage.  However, if it doesn't progress, let it go. 

3.  Be positive whenever possible.  No one dislikes anyone more than a backstabber.  Do not earn this reputation.  If you are politically savvy and produce great work, you don't need to step on anyone else.  If those you are political with are of this nature, tread the line carefully.  While it depends on your relationship with the individual, I strongly urge that you try to avoid outright agreeing with negativity regarding others.

Bottom line, follow your moral compass.  Feel positive about your political interactions.  Strive to master the appropriate level of participation in the extremely powerful and important informal interpersonal structure of your workplace.  Couple your participation with exemplary work.  In the end, it's really "what you know and who you know."

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