“Office politics are killing me!” Can you help?”

So started an email from a new client, updating me on her situation.

In business, many regard it as something distasteful, even ugly. These people see it as Machiavellian, often facilitating an environment that condones bac-stabbing, gossiping, or sucking up to the boss.

True enough in many situations, but it can have a good side as well. Knowing how to work the company’s political environment can make or break your career. It can also facilitate the successful launch of a new initiative.

Unfortunately, there are rarely any formalized ways to get a good read on how things really work in your organization. My new client, like many in large infrastructures, is finding it hard to navigate the right path.

Fortunately, in almost all organizations, there are a few tactics and approaches that can help (almost) anyone become more successful when working through the levels of management and various departments.

Here are some tips I’ve seen work effectively:

1. Mentors – Still the best way to get a handle on what’s really going on in any organization. It doesn’t matter if your mentor is not the same gender – it can actually be better for you if (s)he’s not.

Insider mentors can give you a fast understanding of the company’s culture; but if they aren’t available, the use of outsider mentors can give you new perspective on your style and how business works in general. Everyone can benefit from having a confidante with whom they can discuss the craziness.

2. Open-ended questions – Ask a lot of questions to different people in different sides of the company. And then shut up.

When you hear the perspectives of people in departments or operations other than yours, it helps you to see the world as they see it and understand what they deem important. It may be different than what the boss has told you. Ask peers, old-timers at all levels, and superiors. Take notes. Don’t interrupt.  Just learn.

3. Review. Constantly. – Seek constant feedback from others. Discuss what just took place, that meeting you just attended, what the last message from corporate “really” said, how you did in a recent presentation, what is driving decisions and directives. If this means you have to go out after work to compare notes, do it.

Many great managers fail because they believe that what’s right is what is going to succeed. Not always.

4. Get buy-in – It’s important to ensure that everyone who may be influenced by your programs or initiatives is aware of what’s going to happen and feels like they’ve been involved – or at least were able to weigh in with their opinions or recommendations.

Ideally they’ll be supportive of what you are doing, but at the very least it may reduce friction that may derail your success.

In the best situation, you may learn something which will ensure the success of the activity; but even in the worst case where others won’t support you at least you’ll know who’s against the program.

When people in other arms of the company don’t agree with you or your plan, they can bring a great project or career to its knees pretty quickly.

5. Over-communicate. Keep others apprised of what you are planning or working on. Organizations hate to be surprised.  Often, when they are, it creates a blueprint for failure – personal or project.

In many companies this means having meetings with people you may not like or respect, but that’s just life in the fast lane. If you think that withholding information will allow you to sneak something past them, think twice.

If others don’t agree with you, they can quietly derail your plans even after a good start. And you won’t even know what happened.

6. Give credit where credit is due. Guys like to hog the credit, which gets old and can come back to bite them over time. I often see yesterday’s stars trip and fall, then act surprised that there’s no one around to help them get back on their feet.

On the other hand, the ladies can go too far the other way – giving the rest of the team so much credit that they don’t get the respect from upper management they deserve for their ideas, work, and contributions. These women end up watching others, who are less deserving, get promoted past them.

Credit those on your team who deserve it, but don’t miss an opportunity to take credit for your work as well.

7. Style – it still counts – It’s true that we pay more attention to the best presenters.  So is the opposite: bad presenters can make even the most important information get lost.

Here’s to your future!


Leadership Coach