Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Leadership Workshop: Office Politics for People Who Don’t Like Politics

Last year I attended Jo Miller's excellent session on "Building Your Brand".  When I heard she had a session this year on office politics, I knew I had to attend!  Even though office politics is not a first-choice topic among many people, Jo found many ways to find it to the topic of leadership and career building in fun and engaging ways.

The session was three hours long so I won't go into excruciating detail here, but the structure was as follows:
  • why you can't afford to ignore office politics
  • two tools for navigating with savvy
  • five quick wins
  • table topic discussions
  • q&a
Jo started with an anecdote about a friend she had who was not willing to 'network' and 'shmooze' to get ahead.  She saw two people promoted over her and described them as 'playing the game'.  However, by following some of Jo's strategies she ended up becoming a VP.  Now those fast-risers originally promoted over her report to her, and she is a master networker.

To answer why you can't afford to ignore office politics, Jo provided two quotes:
  • "avoiding office politics altogether can be deadly for your career" and
  • "every workplace has an intricate system of power, and you can - and should - work it ethically to your best advantage." ~Erin Burt, Seven Career Killers.
Two Tools
Jo gave two tools for navigating office politics:
  1. "Work Less": She said the corporate workforce is full of hardworking people who are not getting ahead because they are waiting to be recognized.  She also said that 'work expands to fill the time given for completion'.  It's better to work smarter, using your time wisely to choose projects strategically and make sure they get noticed.  I totally agree but have found 'working less' a challenge in the past!  This also fits well with a piece of advice my supervisor in grad school gave me: "you need to take time to think".  Always working on small projects that don't move the big picture forward aren't always the most productive use of your time.
  2. Transform 'office politics' to 'organizational awareness': be a savvy observer of the communication and relationships that surround you in your org.  This also struck a chord with me.
We did a great exercise individually, then sharing the results, with org charts.  We each drew an org chart for  our teams and groups at work, then drew influencing relationships superimposed on top between people, using arrows to identify directions of influence and grouping people in 'coalitions'.  This illustrated that the org chart doesn't necessarily tell you what you need to know to operate with savvy: often some low level people are the go to person!  There can be people at the top who aren't helpful either.  Using the 'shadow organization' visual shows you how those relationships actually work.  It was a very powerful exercise and made me think about some of the relationships in my own org in a new light.

So, what are some ways to gather information to map your shadow org for yourself?  For face-to-face interactions:
  • 'friendship lunches' with people in your chain of command
  • never miss a happy hour
  • don't open laptops in meetings
However, in virtual teams people at our table discussed:
  • knowing the 'gossip' guy/girl and use them to get information you might not have
  • find out when they are available by checking their calendar
  • set alerts on communicator/lync/etc to catch busy people when they are available
  • find out the big picture from 1:1s with senior people - forecast the direction of your org and align yourself
Jo says that the most important asset you will build in your career: your network, 'aka your sphere of influence'.
  • are people on your org chart missing?  go back and have some 1:1s to fill the gaps
  • build relationships with people outside your org
It's also important to quickly identify the unwritten 'rules of the game' in your org and find ways to navigate them ethically and effectively.

One thing we talked about at our table during the discussion period was what do you do if you don't want to join a coalition's activity.  Jo answered this question by explaining that learning about this activity would empower us to make the right decisions and also understand what it meant to choose not to join in.

Here are Jo's five ways to generate a quick win:
  1. enlist senior-level sponsors and advocates: find a good sponsor and recognize when they have those qualities
  2. manage upward: understand your leaders goals and challenges as well as how they make decisions, and anticipate their needs.
  3. if you don't like the rules of the game, become a game changer!
  4. build an influential coalition: it's often quicker and easier to get great things done from the grass-roots.
  5. in every organization, there is someone who is great at navigating.  find them and ask them for tips!
She also provided some useful tips on cultivating sponsorships:
  1. outperform!
  2. make your value visible
  3. observe the protocols: how does sponsorship work in your organizations' culture?
  4. ask who the leaders are with a strong track record of developing talent
  5. network across your organization and beyond your direct management chain
  6. look for exposure opportunities to work with or work for senior leaders
  7. have clarity about your career goals
  8. share your career goals with your leaders
I really enjoyed Jo's session again this year and found her strategies thought-provoking.  What did you think?  Do you have any insights of your own to share?  Will you be making your own 'shadow org chart' as a next step?

No comments: