Although you might like to avoid them, in many situations the best way to deal with political environments is to engage them and to turn towards them.

Here, two experts share how you can navigate office politics before your next performance review.

Building the Right Relationships

In today’s organizations, we often negotiate complex, global networks of relationships that power the 21st century workplace. Harvard Business School Professor, Linda Hill, studies organizations as inherently political entities, and she affirms that our success is determined by how well we manage the politics associated with all organizational life.

It’s not easy today, says Hill, “the global economy is very unforgiving. I meet people all the time that have two and three bosses, for example. And the number of peers can be phenomenal, particularly in these global companies.”

A good strategy for success, Hill advises, is to think about who you depend on to get your job done: “And then you have to ask yourself, ‘Have I built the right relationships with those people? Do they really trust me? Do we have mutual expectations? Can I influence them? Can they influence me?”  It is important to answer these questions honestly, says Hill, in order to build the right kind of relationships.

To learn more from Professor Hill, view her Big Think interview here.

Power Play

In “Great Leaders Embrace Office Politics,” Michael Chang Wenderoth takes his Harvard Business Review audience behind the scenes of a rising young executive’s strategic ousting that was part of an internal power play. Highlights follow that include best practices that Wenderoth shares along with a successful recovery. 

As background – Jill, the young executive, had all the chops to rise to the corner office: consistent top 10% performer, hardworking, intelligent, personable, driven, multilingual, as well as an MBA from a top-tier school. Handwritten thank-you notes from the CEO proudly adorned her wall.

What happened?

When I met Jill (not her real name), she was struggling to make sense of her career setback.

“I was universally liked across the company, a team player who put in more hours than anyone else,” she said. “I was heads down on delivering results, shared my inner self and built trust…everything I was trained and even coached to do.”

With those words, I recognized what had happened immediately. Jill was one more victim of what I call the “Kumbaya” school of leadership, which says that being open, trusting, authentic, and positive — and working really hard — is the key to getting ahead. The Kumbaya school is doing the Jill’s of the world a great disservice, leading them to often act in ways that are detrimental to their careers.

What should Jill have done differently? Jill should have spent much more time managing up. She should have better managed decision makers, her boss, her image, and her own career.

Rather than being chained to her desk delivering great work, Jill should have been networking with the most influential executives, ensuring her contributions were noticed by those above her, and confirming that she was being perceived as executive-suite material. Managing a career in these ways is critical, but surprisingly few people do it.

Fast Forward

As for Jill, three years later she is thriving at her current company. It took time to get up to speed in a new industry, but she’s doing great work and rising quickly now that she understands how to play the game. She also advises younger people starting their careers that doing good work is only part of the success equation. Jill says she has expanded her worldview and is much better off for it. And to that, she and I both sing Kumbaya.


Have you successfully handled office politics throughout your career?

If so, please share your strategies with the audience by adding a comment below.




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Kelly Isley is an international strategist, business leader, columnist, author, and pilot with more than 21 years of experience in the aerospace, finance, engineering, and healthcare industries. She is a member of the Society of Professional Journalists and covers global workforce, workplace and leadership topics. If you have any suggestions for future articles please contact Kelly via email or twitter.