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Office politics major career obstacle

By Toni Bowers ·
I recently posted a question in which I asked what kind of career issues most plague IT pros. A good number of TechRepublic members said that tips on developing slick resumes and interview skills take a back seat to finding out how to deal with issues in an existing workplace. For example, how do you keep your career on the right track when your boss is ineffective or you have a co-worker taking credit for your accomplishments.

We'd like to develop a new column in TechRepublic's Career sector in which we talk about some of the on-the-job career challenges that many IT pros face. If you have a story to share or a need for some advice, jump in here. With the help of some career experts and your peers, we'll get you on the right track.

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personalities/cliques

by gralfus In reply to Office politics major car ...

When coworkers and the boss are of a very similar personality type (gung-ho athletes, golfing buddies, same political outlook) it is difficult to get promoted even though your actual work far surpasses the others. Cronies get promoted before those who don't fit in, even though you may very well be producing high-quality work. Very often promotions are based on the whims of managers and not on real output.

When I worked for HP, I was constantly told "The bar just keeps getting higher". And when you asked what the others actually produced so that I could know where the bar was located, I was told "that is confidential." So you can't tell me where the bar is, only that I missed it and that your buddies somehow made it... This is simply a way of promoting those who are in the clique while keeping a pretense of objective ranking.

I'm happy to not work there any more.

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corporate America

by Lumbergh77 In reply to personalities/cliques

No wonder why so many businesses fail these days. I place the blame on managers who are more interested in promoting their cronies than promoting the best workers.

But that's corporate life for ya and there's nothing that can be done about it. The reason I went into a tech field instead of management was to get away from that ****.

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Dealing with not getting the promotion

by j.lupo In reply to personalities/cliques

From experience I always found it more beneficial to ask what I need to do to qualify for a promotion. When you speak to a manager about not getting it, ask what you can do to improve so you are the right person next time.

Most of the time, this will work. I have used this technique for over 15 years in the IT/IS industry. On occasion it didn't matter what I would do for just the reason gralfus specified. However, a lot of times I got really good information about my personality, job performance, relationships with co-workers or customers, etc.

Just a thought that you might want to try sometime. Try not to put the "boss" on the defensive. If you can make it a learning exercise in which you show your qualifications and your desire to go to the next level for the company, you just might get that promotion.

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Do You Have Business Being In Management?

by FirstPeter In reply to Dealing with not getting ...

I'm going to pose this question not as an affront to anyone, but rather as a "sanity check" (great way to start, eh?). I think the place to start isn't why I didn't get a promotion to management even though I "deserved" it more than the proverbial next guy, but even more base than that: what makes me believe that I "deserve" a position in management, anyway?

A common theme I've seen on a number of the postings on this topic is that the perceived better performer gets passed over for the promotion. Not to rule out "you-scratch-my-back-I'll-scratch-yours" and stupid people making the decisions as real problems (it happens - been there, done that), but I think another problem that needs to be considered is the fact that people assume that better performance should equal a promotion. While this may make sense in a lead technical role (where the skills of the individual contributor are still 95% of the job), I would argue that such logic is badly flawed when dealing with a promotion to management or supervision, and as such it needs to be re-examined.

Some people just aren't made to be good managers. Management isn't (or, more appropriately, SHOULDN'T be) a "reward" for good performance for that very reason. In fact, I would argue that if you're the star employee in your department it's probably bad for you, the department, and the entire company if you ARE "rewarded" with a position of management. In that case the company loses on two fronts: they either outright lose or at the very least diminish your efficiency as an star contributor (because you're now saddled with the significant overhead of management), PLUS the effectiveness of the overall group declines. In math terms:

X * 100% + Y * 100% = Business Today
X * 75% + Y * 85% = Business Tomorrow

where "X" is the value added by the individual contributor and "Y" is the value added by the workgroup.

As a business owner, why in the world would I want to reward someone by hurting everyone (including them)? Wouldn't I be better off looking for someone who has the qualities of a good manager (which may mean they are average at best as an individual contributor)?

A great model to look at for this is sales. How many of the best sales people go in to management? And of those (few) that do, how many STAY there? The answer is a small handful. Why? Because the people that are good at selling would rather be out SELLING than MANAGING. There are some that are good at both, but the majority of them (throw me in that pot) are not made to be managers.

That's not to say that star contributors shouldn't be rewarded (THAT would be a Dilbert-esqe situation), but rather that an appropriate reward should be used (not the carrot of being able to move into management). If the issue is money, for instance, there is no logical reason that a star contributor should not make more than an average manager. Pride is the only thing that puts a policy that irrational in place. If I provide more value to the company, I should be rewarded commensurate with that. It really is that simple - it's fair, it's equitable, and it just plain makes sense.


One other quick note - many times the best "office politician" IS the best choice for manager. These folks are generally personable, they're able to get folks to do what needs to be done, they have good communication skills, and they think in terms of "how can I help Joe and Jane move to the next level so we can hit our numbers?" Qualities of a good manager. Now, whether or not they take credit for truly someone else's work or end up backstabbing people along the way is an issue of ethics and integrity - and if someone lacks those they have no business being in management at all.

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Well Said

by Observant In reply to Do You Have Business Bein ...

I agree with a lot you said, Paul. Many people are not cut out to be managers. Great ones, for some reason, just have in inate ability to lead. Still others can be taught (I prefer the term mentored) the necessary people skills.

However, of the qualities you listed like good communications skills, I would had to say that ethics and integrity should stand head and shoulders above everything else. Being a good communicator can sometimes just make you a good snake-oil salesman. An ethical boss will have a lot more respect from their subordinates than a boss who can charm the fangs out of a rattlesnake.

Granted, the individuals who move up in an organization are "usually" the ones that are smooth talkers and can stroke the egos of upper management - unfortunately. ... The captain of the Titanic was continually told the ship was unsinkable....

A truely excellent supervisor is the one that sees potential in their staff and will do everything possible to develop whatever talent is there. If the skill is databases, so be it. Put them in the correct department that can benefit from that skill and offer the tools to help them become a better DBA. If the skill is networks, a good boss will find a way for that person to work with the net-admins. I've been in an organization that had a few exceptional bosses like that. And they had no shortage of people wanting to transition into the department because the other employees saw them as someone that works to support them at their best, not pidgeon hole them. When their best employees move on (which is rare), only the best motivated individuals can fill the spots. And the cycle repeats. And the company benefits in the long run because now they don't have just one guru but a continually growing pool of gurus. The company gets better results in it's projects as well as respect in the industry. Word gets out that "Hey, that company over there does it's workers right."

All sound too pathetic, right. Well, it's rare because a lot of companies don't recognize the need to instill ethics, honor, integrity (sounds like a Military Recruiter ad) in the supervisory staff. Those that do, understand the investment will reward them.

I'm sure the grippy DBA in another post will have something to say but that's OK, i'm not hiring someone with that attitude anyway.

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A step further

by j.lupo In reply to Do You Have Business Bein ...

Let me take your example a step further Paul. You talk about rewarding based on where a person provides value. Suppose it isn't money that is important but career opportunity. Suppose the person wants a management (leadership) position and has the proven abilities, but because of their performance (make it sales, technical, whatever) does not get the promotion. Now what? How do you reward them? Offering money won't work because that is not the motivator in every case.

I have known people who meet your criteria of really good manager/leader for a company and yet don't get the position. In the end the company gets hurt worse because at best they leave at worse they bring morale down for everyone.

I think you need to expand your forumla. It is too simple and people are not that simple. If you have someone who is very good technically, but can also lead people and make a value to the company as a manager - then what?

I believe there are more variables here than you may be looking at. One of the things many in business forget is the cultural element, career goals, and so on for their people. There is more than the company bottom line to be watched. To improve that you need to account for the intangibles. That is a very difficult thing to do for anyone.

Just some thoughts on the topic.

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Clarification

by FirstPeter In reply to A step further

Your point is well taken, but let me make a quick clarification. My intent wasn't to imply that money was the only motivating factor or only reward, only that management promotions should not be considered a reward. I used money because it happened to be an easy one to identify and one that commonly ranks high (not necessarily, or even usually, highest - but high) on the list of most people's motivators.

If you're an excellent performer and looking for management, but you're simply not the kind of person folks want to put in management, then there's a problem. However, I wouldn't argue that it's a no-win situation. As a matter of fact, I was in that particular situation, but luckily I had a boss that understood where I was sitting and helped me.

The real key is to figure out "why" someone wants to be in management. For me it was two-fold. First, I had a mistaken notion that management=leadership, and I felt like I was a good leader (driven a lot by folks around me who thought so as well). If I was a good leader, I reasoned should be in management. Second, I have always enjoyed being able to help people, and management was the best way I saw to be able to make a tangible difference.

Ultimately my goals didn't really play out to a management role, but rather to a leadership role or a role in the company with more impact (to help people) than I had. However, _I_ wasn't the one who realized it - my manager did. Once I was able to re-orient myself I stopped being frustrated when management positions didn't open up.

But even if I say my goal is management and I won't budge but I'm just not management material, I don't think you can necessarily say the company loses. You could argue that the company takes a short-term hit because the star left, but you could also argue on that same vein that the company comes out ahead when all is said and done because the alternative would be someone who wasn't satisfied in their position (or with their future with the company) - a drain on productivity and morale.


One other note - we could get into a philosophical discussion about the purpose of a company, but this probably isn't the right topic to start that thread so I'll generalize what I'm headed towards instead. While I agree that there are cultural elements, career goals, etc., and that need to be accounted for, I would argue that I should not sacrifice the bottom line of the company only for those goals. If those help my folks become better managers/leaders/individual contributors - if they add more value to my company (whatever you want to define as value) - then I've make the right decision.

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Strongly Agree

by j.lupo In reply to Clarification

I agree whole heartedly with you. I just wanted to elaborate that the formula you put together needed some expansion. Believe it or not, I have seen companies go out of business for not considering the intangibles that members bring to adding value.

I could go into examples too, but any philosophical discussions go beyond our points here.

I would like to express one other point that you made about not sacrificing the bottom line. I don't believe in that either. I just believe (and have witnessed personally) that the intangibles improve the bottom line when taken into consideration. In fact in your response you gave a perfect example. That is what happened when your "boss" helped you re-orient yourself about management and leadership. Some managers are leaders, most are not (in my opinion and according to a lot of literature I have read). This is a very large issue about management and leadership and what they actually mean.

Personally based on my own performance and career objectives I would be just as happy leading a team on a project as "managing" a department. It is the role not the title that is important. I, like you described for yourself, excel in that area and don't perform as well when asked to be a "drone". I will do the work for the sake of the company, but I will go home or to the gym every night where I can let out my own frustration and not show it at work.

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Perfect!

by ohiois In reply to Do You Have Business Bein ...

I like this approach. I have argued for years that a good manager needs to know maybe 20% of the actual work. The other 80% is babysitting! How to handle disagreements, workloads, motivational factors (whatever they may be.) A manager must know HOW to get the right people to find the answers. There is no need for him to have all the answers. Unless this is a very small shop where half of the manager's job is hands-on work, technical skills are not the most important thing he brings to the table. People skills are.

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One of the major reasons

by Tony Hopkinson In reply to Office politics major car ...

I shifted into contracting was to get away from office politics. My survival in the workplace is judged soley on ability and cost and I'm good and cheap. Course not suffering fools at all, telling people what I think, and a total lack of desire to wedge my nose in my 'superior's' ****, was sort of killing my career anyway.
One of my major problems was I never realised I was going to be shafted until after I got up and staggered off to re-arange my underwear.

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