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Benefit from participating in office politics

By Kim Harrison,

Consultant, Author and Principal of www.cuttingedgepr.com

Many people hate office politics. But holding back on office politics may hold back your career. You can see what happens when someone doesn’t play the game sufficiently – they lose influence and credibility. Probably you know people who have made that mistake.

As a communicator, especially if you are a communication manager, you are responsible for building productive relationships throughout the office so you can influence people beyond your formal area of authority by engaging is office politics and stakeholder relations management.

However, you don’t need to get into the destructive version of office politics. Think of it more as networking. Keep your focus on the ultimate benefit of the organization. Work with others for mutual advantage, not just your own. Always conduct yourself according to your personal values and ethics, regardless of others.

An example of how poor values don’t pay off: a few years ago, my boss, a young ambitious general manager, knew our Managing Director loved football, and so while waiting for the weekly executive meetings to start he would suck up by talking animatedly with the MD about the latest results. Being a sports fan myself, I soon realized at these meetings my boss knew little about sports and he was just faking his interest – he was just repeating the comments from the sports articles of the day’s newspaper rather than having his own knowledge and views. This fakery was a revealing insight, and eventually he fell out of favor with the MD for faking aspects of his management activities.

Early in a job, and maybe later with some care, identify who your key stakeholders are. How do you find out who they are? Ask! Speak to a handful of people you can trust, like your boss (if you can trust him or her sufficiently), peers, people you relate to at work, perhaps a reliable HR person.

Also, you can map your contacts over a week or longer, in which you note the people you interact with the most, especially the senior people. Also aim to develop positive relationships with the managers and supervisors of relevant departments in your organization such as marketing, HR, finance and operational heads so you understand them and their priorities and can respond to these.

Then consider what your goals are in interacting with these people and draft out an informal stakeholder relations program with them. Arrange contact with these people on a systematic basis. Ask for their opinions on relevant matters – people enjoy helping others and feel important when you approach them with sensible questions. Find out what their own interests and priorities are. You can also interview them in a more formal process to find out their operational priorities are. This will give you valuable insights into their areas and will help you work out how communication can help them achieve their goals.

You have a valuable commodity – information and communication. So offer certain others useful information. Perhaps early details on things. Perhaps special offers – without going overboard about it. Providing information to others invites the powerful principle of reciprocation to come into play: the recipients of your information will feel obligated to return a favor to you at some point, which should help to consolidate your relationship with them.

You could arrange support activities on a personal basis for particular managers. For instance, you could:

  • Arrange media and presentation skills training for them

  • Give them special briefings on relevant communication topics such as stakeholder relations management or issue management

  • Make sure to include them in general management briefings about stakeholder relations management or issue management

  • Set them up with networking opportunities such as including them in events for which they might otherwise have been considered a marginal attendee

  • Look after their interests at corporate hospitality activities

  • Create publicity for them internally or externally

  • Ghostwrite articles for them in industry publications

More generally, you could look facilitate your networking and political opportunities for yourself.

The political angle

A survey conducted by US academic, Christopher Spicer, found that corporate political astuteness tended to be about who you know, and more importantly, what you know about them, than what you know:

The politically astute organizational member has knowledge of the formal and informal decision-making process; he or she knows how to use the system to his or her advantage. Knowledge of the process of decision-making is based on being able to identify the key players and knowing their strengths, weaknesses, penchants, hidden agendas, personal likes and dislikes, and their degree of political astuteness (Spicer, 1997, p. 145).

The PR practitioners interviewed by Spicer revealed their views on how organizational politics is practiced or used:

Identify the players

  • Know which players belong to which camps

  • Know who holds the power, if not the title

  • Analyze the players

  • Know the personalities of the management committee

  • Be aware of others’ ‘hot buttons’ and how territorial they are

  • Recognize the working relationships between people and departments.

Bosses are most important

  • The astute political players understand their boss’s goals and how (or whether) they relate to the organization’s goals

  • They are aware of the strategies their boss is comfortable with, and act accordingly

  • They identify and use the ideas, feelings and opinions held by their boss.

Quid pro quo

  • They are able to trade favors for the good of the organization

  • They are able to play forces off one another for personal gain or to get the work done.

Strategic interaction

  • They understand what makes them (key players) respond positively and gear their approach accordingly

  • They understand what people want (their self-interest) and being able to give it to them

  • They know how to negotiate through the organization’s chain of command to get what they want or need when they need it (Spicer, 1997, p. 145).

Dealing with organizational politics appears to be inevitable for public relations practitioners. The PR function often deals with environmental uncertainty, addresses potential and actual conflicts between stakeholders, and coordinates communication activities across departments, up levels of seniority and over organizational boundaries.

The PR manager is often included in the higher levels of an organization’s management structure, or if not holding a formal senior position, is consulted consistently by top management. This role places the PR head in a difficult, complex and important position. It takes an astute political player to earn the respect of all key stakeholders. The guidelines above will help to crystallize some of the main issues and enable you to find your way through and up the organizational political maze.

Reference:

  1. Christopher Spicer. (1997). Organizational public relations: a political perspective. Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates.

About the Author

Kim Harrison is a recognized authority in the public relations field. His website, www.cuttingedgepr.com, provides a wealth of informative articles and resources on public relations techniques and management.

 

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