Are You Politically Savvy?
When you think of organisational politics, what comes to mind? When I ask this question in workshops I hear words like ‘backstabbing’, ’empire building’ and ‘game playing’. I also hear ‘influencing’ and ‘getting things done’. However the negative images always outweigh the positive.
Organisational politics is the art of understanding the informal and formal networks through which decisions are made and being canny in working with these networks. The truth is that all organisations are political and we cannot avoid organisational politics if we want to both be successful in our roles and in our careers. Engaging in politics helps bring about positive change in our organisations, helps get things done, helps to make decisions and to complete projects.
If you are unsure about how to be politically savvy in an ethical way here are 8 practical ways of learning the art of politics.
- Study the experts. There will be people in your organisation who are very good at the politics and know how to work with it well. They will be respected for their ability to seek win-win solutions. Seek these people out and sensitively ask them about the political landscape and any tips they have for navigating it well.
- Develop your internal network. When we think about networking we often focus on people outside our organisations. Friends and colleagues inside your organisation are possibly more powerful in understanding where the informal networks are and in seeing how decisions are made.
- Understand the power map. Power doesn’t always sit in the places we most expect within organisations. Often we assume that power is directly related to seniority and the hierarchy. Power also comes in different forms, through informal personal relationships, through the importance of a key client relationship, through a person’s professional skills and competence. Observe where the power lies and who has power outside of the usual seniority channels.
- Learn how to lobby. Lobbying has bad press. We imagine characters from The West Wing and House of Cards. In organisations many decisions are made through a series of conversations behind the scenes prior to discussions in meetings. Lobbying is the art of carrying out these conversations. By talking to people in the informal networks you can learn about people’s views on a decision or project, take the time to help them understand your perspective and possibly win their support. Even if you don’t win them over, at least know where your dissenters are.
- Be transparent. Ethical political players are open and transparent about what they are trying to achieve. For example, if they are having informal discussions prior to a meeting, they say “I’d like to talk to you about X before we go into the meeting as it would be really helpful to understand your perspective and to tell you my views.”
- Learn to influence. The ability to influence people is a key political skill. When you are lobbying people you may discover they disagree with your perspective or aims on a decision. The first place to start influencing is by standing in their shoes and understanding the issue from their perspective. Once you understand their perspective it is often easier to influence them.
- Promote yourself. Being politically savvy involves having a wide range of people who know you and respect you and the work you do. Unfortunately this cannot be achieved solely by doing a good job. We all have to take responsibility for a little self-promotion so that when we lobby, people open the door to us because they know our skillset.
- Think win-win. Most importantly seek solutions which benefit both you, the organisation and the people you are aiming to influence. Self interest is what gives politics in organisations a bad name.
Finally, whatever you do, don’t break your own ethical code of behaviour. Be yourself, be confident and be ethically political.
About the Author
Jean Balfour is Managing Director of Bailey Balfour and Programme Director of our ICF Accredited Coach Training Programmes (ACTP). Jean is passionate about helping people to have good conversations both at work and at home. She believes that coaching is a life skill and that you never regret learning to coach.