Company politics are everywhere. They inflict every business. In fact, you’d be hard-pressed to find a senior executive who’s avoided the fray altogether.
Depending on your climb up the corporate ladder, you will feel the heat the higher you go. Executives and professionals talk about it all the time, especially at cocktail parties, but rarely in discussions or formal meetings. If it happens in a formal setting, it’s likely to be framed as “We need to reinvigorate the culture.”
And if you’re running a new venture at a large company that’s developing or trying to develop a product or solution that disrupts the core business, you’re probably drowning in company politics.
It was definitely my personal experience running a group of companies that were creating new computers and devices for people living at the bottom of the pyramid. Any product we create would meet Clayton Christensen’s definition of disruptive innovation: that is, compared to the PC, it would be more affordable (cheaper), easier to use (solving computer/technology literacy) and would have unique value not found in today’s PCs. .
How did it go for me? Not great. I walked in with my eyes open, having already seen politics in action and having successfully navigated it to get things done. I knew it would be hard work considering what we were doing, but I was still blindsided by the intensity of driving a disruptive business.
In fact, I had found a way to describe the company policy that I frequently discussed with my team, my peers and my respective bosses:
There are “good” policies and there are “bad” policies. A good policy is when someone has to work the system (eg culture, personalities, organizational silos) to achieve business goals that are GOOD for the company (eg generate new revenue, growth, profits and satisfied customers). Bad politics is when someone uses the same system to make themselves look good.
The moral of the story is obviously to practice the right policy and avoid the wrong one. Looking back, the problem with this approach, and why I was caught off guard, is that you can do the best work, exercise your best networking skills, and create fantastic things for your business, but by ignoring this which I call negative politicians, you probably end up on the short side of the stick and you and the business you run will suffer.
So my main advice is… know your enemy better than he knows himself. I really hate using the word enemy, because my “people” philosophy tends to be more on the side of trust. But these people see YOU as the enemy; as competition for that lucrative future position or promotion. (And a hint: they’re right in a way. As you move up the company, there are fewer vacancies. Everything becomes more competitive.)
So let me outline five characteristics of negative politicians that I have observed over the years. They effectively:
Self-promotion. They go out of their way internally to promote themselves under the auspices of promoting their company or product. If they blog or post inside articles about something related to their business group, you’ll see subliminal cues of self-promotion.
To manage. They usually hide negative information about their business from their bosses and selectively spin things for the positive.
Use information as power. They may use confidential (or what they consider to be confidential) business information about a part of the business in which they are involved to enhance their credibility. For example, in a meeting with other senior executives, they will disclose certain decisions or strategies that they know will captivate their audience.
Become “buddies” with the powers that be. They tend to actively network with key players in the business. If the executive suite also tends to be political, you can bet they’ve found ways to endear themselves to the top dogs in the business.
Spread misinformation about potential “competitors”. They quietly spread rumors and/or misinformation about someone that could threaten them to their career or the company that person runs.
If reading these five characteristics makes your stomach ache, either in principle or because you’ve seen them in action, the next question you’re probably asking yourself is how can I stay away from these people? ?
Short answer: you can’t. Long answer: learn to work within the “company of wolves”, whether the intensity of politics is low or high. And I think you can do that without falling to their level.
I am by no means the expert on how best to navigate these waters, but I have learned from past mistakes and thought long and hard about it.
I have five recommendations I would give to those who are currently or expect to be in this situation:
Keep your ear to the ground – always. Keep an eye out and keep a mental list of those who consistently act as I described above. By increasing your network of trust, you uncover misinformation and can make corrections.
Don’t report them to anyone. Bad-mouthing people is what negative politicians do, and you’ll probably hear about it eventually. Information flows remarkably easily in a company. The adage “If you have nothing good to say, don’t say it” applies here.
Don’t push them away, even if they fuck you. The other adage that I have found ALWAYS true is “never cut ties” no matter what. I have never burned a bridge. Those who were were bitten hard.
Keep your friends close and your enemies closer. Don’t avoid negative politicians. Network with them. Kind words and praise go a long way. I find that those who are insecure and have self-esteem issues tend to be the most political, so find ways to help them and/or increase their sense of self-worth. . But do not invent. Be sincere in everything you say or do.
Use some of their tactics sensibly. Promote yourself in a way that ALSO promotes others. Network with the powers that be in a way that shows your value to the company. Don’t avoid them at social functions…look for them. Read Keith Ferrazzi’s “Never Eat Alone” for great tactics on how to do this.
Another reference for you: Dan King, Director of Meaningful Careers, has written an excellent article titled “Winning in Organizational Politics Without Losing Your Soul” which gives additional information and reasons not to keep your head in the sand. As he says in his article, politics is a game. “Play or don’t play, the game is still going on!”
Read full article here