Management and Career Development:The Joys of Office Politics

Management and Career Development:The Joys of Office Politics

Politics – A definition – “activities aimed at improving someone’s status or increasing power within an organization” Oxford Dictionaries

This is a re-post, with some slight amendments, of something I wrote a while ago. But I think it is useful and I hope you will agree!

I don’t play chess.  I admire those who do – for me the game is too slow to enjoy.  But I do know the rules!

For me, Office Politics is just like that.  You may decide not to ‘play’ but you do need to know how the game works.

This is true in most work situations but particularly if  you lead or manage a vital project or programme.  If you don’t manage your stakeholders, your initiative may be shot down in ways you never expected.

Stakeholder management (managing those with an interest in what you are doing) doesn’t work if you don’t make sure you understand the politics of the organisation and your particular part of it.

Wherever you have a group of people, you will have a degree of politics operating.

People will usually jockey for position, form alliances, decide who they do like and who they don’t!  They will come to the group with different personalities, sets of values and opinions. Over time a group/team develops a set of norms or standards and ways of working. They develop a pecking order – a hierarchy of status and influence.  This may not necessarily reflect the organisation chart.  For example, the person who controls the stationery cupboard can have quite a lot of power to disrupt their colleague’s day, if they choose to do so, in lots of offices!

If you don’t understand the influence-hierarchy you can find it difficult to get things done, particularly if you are new to an organisation.  And the hierarchy will change over time, as people strive successfully and unsuccessfully to achieve greater influence.

You need to understand the office politics, even if you find the concept distasteful. And, you will be very lucky indeed if someone actually tells you the rules of the game! It is far better to understand what is going on and  adopt a strategy to keep the negative effects of office politics on you and your work to a minimum.

In reality, it is useful to be regarded as inside the influence group, rather than outside looking in. What you are probably best to aim for is to manage any effects of office politics that directly relate to you!  Then turn them in your favour, or at least minimise any possible harmful e effects on you and your work.

Office politics in its crudest form usually occurs when one, or more than one, person holds (or is seen as holding) a significant amount of power within the office.  This may be formal power – the CEO’s private office is usually a hotbed of office politics – or informal power. Formal power is pretty easy to read. And, for example, PAs to top managers, who may all wield considerable power,  are fairly easy to discover.  Informal power is generally much more difficult to identify and work with. 

Informal power can arise in a number of ways! Someone with depth of knowledge of the organisation, the key subject matter expert, can accrue significant amounts of informal power.    And sometimes this informal power can be abused; for example, the ‘office bully’ or those in a relationship with someone holding formal power who are unscrupulous players of the office politics’ game.  You need to listen and observe the group you work with and its surrounding organisation to find out more about these!

What can you do to make office politics work for you?

  1. Try to get to know the politically powerful within your organisation.  Don’t be afraid of them – they are often much, more receptive to people who aren’t intimidated by them!  
  2. Make sure they understand what you are trying to achieve.  Deal with their reservations and make sure they understand that you are taking on board their views.   
  3. If someone does try to undermine you, don’t get drawn in. Simply be bold and assertive, but not aggressive.  Make your points clearly and offer good will.  If their negative behaviour persists, then ring-fence them – make sure they have as little as possible to do with your work.
  4. People often play office politics because they are unsure about their own abilities and achievements.  They try to conceal what they believe are their shortcomings behind a façade and to make others feel they are less worthy. Don’t let them undermine your self-esteem – be proud of your own accomplishments and make sure that your efforts are recognised by those who matter. 
  5. Don’t get into direct competition if you can avoid it – it’s a waste of your time! If people know you are doing a good job consistently there is far less opportunity for you to be undermined. 
  6. Forming alliances with senior managers and using them as sponsors and champions for your work can increase your own informal power.  If you have a formal sponsor, make sure they are well informed and really up to date with your project or programme and can talk about it fluently to their colleagues.   As with all stakeholder management – targeted communication of  good quality of information is key to you and your project or programme’s success.

If you want to know more or do want to play the office politics game then here are some books that might be useful!

‘Office Politics: How work really works’ by Guy Browning   http://amzn.to/efTzjO

‘100+ Tactics for Office Politics (Barron’s Business Success)’ by Casey Hawley   http://amzn.to/hkBR6r

For the really evil!

’21 Dirty Tricks at Work: How to Win at Office Politics’ by Mike Phipps, Colin Gautrey http://amzn.to/fFMHQ4

I have started a new Career Development Group on LinkedIn where you will find lots of tips and other resources in due course – you can join it by clicking here 

Wendy is the The Career Coach – helping you to find fresh perspectives on your Job Search and Career. She helps you work towards your goals and aspirations, in a way that fits in with both work and home life. Email her at wendymason@wisewolfcoaching.com,  find her on Skype at wendymason14, or call +44 (0) 2081239146 (02081239146 for UK callers) or +1 262 317 9016 if you are in the US.

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