How many times have you heard someone say "I don’t do politics", meaning they are averse to any kind of manoeuvring or manipulation in pursuit of success at work. I’ve heard it lots of times and my view is that the people who say this are very well-intentioned – but a bit naïve.
Let me explain…
When you hear the phrase 'office politics' what do you think of? Bad decisions being made for the wrong reasons? Poor performers being promoted because they tell the bosses what they want to hear? Good projects getting diluted because of overlap with someone else’s pet initiative? Do I need to go on?
Yes, all of these phenomena can be attributed to office politics. But so can the reverse kind of experience.
The 'employee of the month' goes to someone who has never been recognised before but has just managed something outstanding and the right person became aware of it at the right time. The budget was reshuffled or re-prioritised to find the funds for a brilliant new initiative because someone made a persuasive presentation about it. The right person was promoted because someone insisted on a full assessment centre.
These are also examples of 'office politics'. Done well.
Do you see yourself as someone who is ethical, moral and honest; someone who has the organisation’s best interests at heart?
If you do, you can’t afford to ignore office politics. You can’t afford to leave the management of perception and information to people whose ethics you doubt. You can’t afford to stand back while others canvas support for one course of action when you know it would be wrong for the business.
You see, most of the time when office politics go wrong it's because someone is manoeuvring and manipulating to achieve a particular result that is in their own best interests, rather than the interests of the organisation. If you get involved in protecting the organisation’s best interests, you can help avoid the kind of travesty I described above. If you refuse to 'do politics' you are actually helping the people you mistrust.
What we call politics at work is, ultimately, about managing information, perceptions and priorities. It’s about influencing other people and pursuing a specific goal. And the larger the organisation, the more information and perceptions need to be managed, the more people need to be influenced.
If you’re a Senior Manager or Director, it’s your job. If you aspire to a role at that level, you’ll need to learn to do it.
And if you still don’t want to 'do politics', how about 'doing' Perception Management or Psychological Strategy? That’s what I do.