Transforming Talk at Work | October 2015



Dear Reader,

Unbeknownst to Marcy, senior leaders at her company were meeting behind closed doors to talk about her.

Tasked with putting together a succession plan, the senior leaders made a short list of the mid-level managers with high potential, the ones who might have what it takes to be in the very same senior level positions they currently held.

Although no one doubted Marcy’s competence or her motivation, several people voiced their concern about her ability to effectively navigate the political terrain.

“Does she have what it takes to deal with the likes of Darren who’s in line to be the next VP of Sales?” one leader asked. “I don’t see her building alliances and selling her ideas across the company,” another executive remarked.

In a climate where people often slipped into one another’s offices to strategize before decision making meetings, keeping your head down and getting your work done wasn’t enough to be recognized or rewarded.

Marcy was an evangelist for a new methodology the company recently adopted. She was outspoken and impassioned when it came to that methodology. And it made all the difference in getting people to adopt the new system.

But could she translate the visibility and influence across other capacity areas? The executives weren’t sure.

Marcy cultivated and nurtured relationships only as they pertained to her immediate role. She was so focused on the implementation and adoption of her methodology that it didn’t occur to her to develop relationships with those in other capacities like finance, accounting, research and marketing.

Todd, the VP who was Marcy’s boss’s boss, voiced his faith in her. “I think she’s got what it takes. I don’t think she knows that she’s got what it takes, though. I don’t think it’s ever occurred to her,” Todd mused. In demonstrating his confidence in her, Todd offered to take Marcy under his wing and do some informal mentoring.

Marcy got lucky. It doesn’t always work out that way. Oftentimes, the “Marcys” get passed over for those who are winning at office politics.

Read on to learn how to reverse engineer office politics to get ahead and stay ahead.


Reverse Engineer: Winning at Office Politics

1. Go wide. Get to know a wide variety of people in your organization. Consider that your role has implications beyond your immediate work. Find out what’s happening upstream and downstream from your work.
2. Go deep. When the work warrants it or when chemistry is right, develop deeper relationships as well.
3. Skip a level. Get to know your boss’s boss and others at that level of the organization. Speak up when you are in their presence, find a common interest or ask for a short “get to know you” meeting.
4. Learn the history. Perhaps from those same skip-level leaders. Find out the whys and the wherefores of “how we do things here.”
5. Get a mentor or a sponsor. A mentor (who guides) or a sponsor (who advocates) can help you do all of the above with velocity.
6. Help others. As you up your political game, do a good turn for other colleagues who could use some additional visibility. Speak highly of them, introduce them to others and take them under your wing.


Digest This: Let’s Get Political

How Savvy Are You About Office Politics? (Forbes)
The author describes a four stage process of becoming politically adept at the office. Stage 1 is complete naiveté, where you keep your head down and focus on your work, with the hopes that it will speak for itself and that you’ll naturally be recognized and rewarded for your talent (hint: you won’t). At the other end of the spectrum is Stage 4, where you are so politically savvy you are able to mentor others on how to build influence in the company. Which stage are you in?

Office Politics Isn’t Something You Can Sit Out (Harvard Business Review)
Much as you might wish you could sit on the sidelines rather than play office politics, that’s a strategy that will sideline your entire career, explains Kathleen Kelley Reardon. The former USC business school professor and noted author explains that “political proficiency is not a choice, but it’s a necessity that can be improved at any point in your career.” She describes four levels of political culture, from minimally political to pathologically political. Where does your company land?

6 Ways You Can Win at Office Politics (Entrepreneur)
Check your own office politics strategy against this list. Are you incorporating all of these ways to win? Or if you are just starting to acknowledge that you need to have an office politics strategy, this list will give you some great ideas on getting started. Just pick one of the six to begin with, and incorporate additional strategies over time.


My Treat: My Home Town Football Team Scores Big

Take a look as 20 high school boys (plus six coaching staff) lip sync Justin Bieber’s What Makes You Beautiful as a tribute to their moms.

Now, that’s beautiful!


Until next time,

Janel Anderson, PhD
Workplace Communication Expert and CEO of Working Conversations

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