During my seminar on the “Art of Office Politics,” I ask the audience to list the top three dysfunctions at their current organization. Each time I ask a group to share their experiences, the responses get more extreme and these pissed- off employees are absolutely sure that their office is the most dysfunctional organization in the U.S.
They’re not whiners
My take is that these professionals are not whining, negative, the “glass is half-full” people but rather they are reacting to the “survivor mentality” created by the recession. Yes, we’re slowly coming out of it, but as corporations downsized and cut their staff to a lean few survivors, they also realized how much productivity they could actually squeeze out of each employee. Add improved technology, outsourcing and ongoing mergers and acquisitions, you get an island of survivors who are overworked, resentful and suspicious of most of their co-workers and of any new staff that might be hired. This is a recipe for the survivor mentality that creates a cesspool for office politics.
It’s a Cesspool of Politics!
From micro-managing bosses who hoard information to actual bullying, the stories I hear even shock a veteran of corporate warfare like me. The most common complaint is never-ending workload with little recognition either verbally or by being given a new title or a raise. Then when the lay-offs come, the hard-workers who get kicked off the island are often talented, stand- up employees who consistently contribute to the team effort. This new way a business manages the bottom line is not going away any time soon. This is an example of extreme “office politics”. The survivors are often the ones who have “played the game” and understood who the real influencers were at the company. The survivors made sure they communicated often and well with these key players. Their actual “work performance” was not what counted but rather their relationships. This phenomenon also takes place when it’s time to hand out raises or promotions.
Non-negotiable Survival Rules
So instead of sabotaging your career by refusing to “suck up,” learn to survive by following my top ten survivor rules (and yes, your work performance counts too, but your behavior in the sand box is what will get your farther, faster than anything else):
1. Learn who the influencers are and make sure you take the time to know them; chat with them and understand what motivates them. You might think the VP or director is the “guy” who makes the decisions but it might actually be a charismatic up and coming manager who is really successfully pushing his agenda in your department.
2. Watch your behavior in meetings. Do not contradict or confront the influencer or your boss in the meeting. Take any issues on in a private meeting and do this when timing is right. You can do this in a non-confrontational way, privately.
3. Find either a formal or informal mentor at your company. You need someone who has more power and insider information on your team to coach you and to watch your back.
4. Guard your work-life balance with your life. Really successful people play as hard as they work which means when you’re at work, you kick butt.
5. Don’t ever send an e-mail that you’re not willing for the entire company to read, because that’s what can happen to a juicy e-mail or text.
6. Set boundaries. You do not need to take truly abusive behavior from a co-worker or boss. Gracefully leave the room (I have to go to the bathroom always works) and stay away until the abuser calms down. It’s also ok to say “let’s regroup when we’re both in a better frame of mind.”
7. Participate in department or company social gatherings (happy hour, birthday parties, etc.). If you don’t, you can be seen as “not a team player” and unapproachable. This doesn’t mean you need to party and do shots but show-up, and participate even for a “drive-by” visit.
8. Observe the chain of command. If you’re determined to go around your boss, be ready to get canned. If you have to do this, invite both your boss and his boss. Handle this with kid gloves.
9. Listen more than you talk. Be curious, kind and respectful to everyone even the maintenance man and receptionists.
10. Never, ever participate in gossip. I know it can be fun, but it never gets you anywhere and can backfire in a big way.
Wonder how you can get your job done while doing all the above?
Actually, you’ll have more time and less stress because you won’t have to clean up any messes created by NOT adhering to these rules.
“Fake it till you make it”