November 3, 2014

The Positive Power of Workplace Politics

The words “office politics” can make you cringe. We’ve all been there. That certain someone (often early in our career) who stabbed us in the back as they were over eager to climb the ladder, happily leaving everyone in their wake. Or, the nepotism enjoyed by the upstart owner’s child with zero experience but ultimate influence.

Is it really all THAT bad?

Not in our book. It is about power – either real or perceived. Think about the people in your life who have been successful office politicians. Who could rally the troops? Who got things done? Who made solid recommendations versus complaining? Most likely those people all had a high emotional intelligence quotient (EQ), were highly engaged, had great networking and negotiating skills, knew the nuts and bolts of the business, and recognized the value of corporate culture. All these traits can be key skills that benefit an employer, fellow employees, and customers.

How can employees positively participate in office politics?

Believe you can make a difference and having confidence that your ideas will be heard is necessary. Be open and communicative, listening to build rapport and shutting down negativity. Give good, quality recommendations to leadership. Show leadership and allow and invite others to work alongside you to get something done. Offer a simple phrase, “Let me help you,” and watch the productivity magic take place. Is it a political move? Yes and that’s ok. Alliances are key, because a lot gets done when hierarchy is not involved.

How do you manage employee politics?

As a leader, you establish expectations of what is/is not acceptable. There are often difficult behavioral situations that may cause you to stick your head in the sand. The degree of the political sensitivity can dictate the action or lack thereof. We have made decisions to minimize damage in our organization because of the games employees were playing. It is hard to address. It is not always clear or black and white. Leadership influences performance but not behavior.

The aspect of office politics that speaks the loudest to me is the positive. There will always be the game players who manipulate the organization intentionally, or consistently contribute to negativity. You deal with it and move on. The great news is that your next generation of leaders may be the ones who wield positive political power. Perhaps your best “informal” leaders do not want to be a leaders at all. Maybe they simply want to be the best glue inside the team, the true servant leaders. We need everyone to make it work…at work.

Written by Jim Annis, President/CEO of The Applied Companies, which provide HR solutions for today’s workplace. Celeste Johnson and Tom Miller, Applied’s division directors, contributed to this article.

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