Many people hate office politics. But staying out of 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 head of the communication function, 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.
Think of office politics as networking
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 named Nenad, knew our Managing Director loved football, and so while waiting for the Monday executive meetings to start he would suck up by talking animatedly with the MD about the latest weekend 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 in 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 for faking aspects of his own importance.
Identify your key personal stakeholders
A stakeholder is any person, group or organization who can place a claim on your attention, resources or output, or is affected by that output. They have a stake in what you do, something at risk, and therefore something to gain or lose as a result of corporate activity. Early in a job, and maybe later with some care, identify who your key personal 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.
Decide your aims with stakeholders and start informal program with them
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.
Information and communication are valuable assets in dealing with personal stakeholders
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
- Check any opportunities for them to feature in social media
- Ghostwrite articles for them in industry publications
More generally, you could look to initiate networking and political opportunities for yourself.