Sunday, April 22, 2012

Playing Politics

Being political in an organisation is a strategic move. You have to know who the players are, what they stand for and who is most likely to win in order to choose the right political side. You also have to be very good at the game.

Its a bit like choosing a sporting team. If you’ve ever played competitive sport, you’ll have an idea on who the players are, what strengths and weaknesses they all have, and what kind of loyalty they have to the team.

In social circles, there are politics as well. Every person in the group will play a certain role. Some groups are extremely supportive of one another and some are so toxic and divisive that it’s a wonder they have a group at all.

In the workplace situation, politics can be both positive and negative; it just depends on how its played out. A negative political environment is one where there is a lot of division, backstabbing and gossip. A positive political workplace is where there is career development, open communication and internal support

In my recent organisation, there were strong political plays throughout the organisation and it was difficult to understand who the players were and what they stood for. I didn’t consider this a positive environment, or conducive to retaining good staff. There was a lot of confusion on where the goalposts were and also who the good guys were. My intention is not to be negative about the company - just merely making an observation on the behaviour. Being in this environment where the leaders are actively gossipping, it’s difficult not to join in. It takes a very strong person not to partake in the office gossip. While I was aware of the political nature, I tried to avoid playing the game. Sadly there were times when I was unknowingly roped into a conversation or situation that I couldn’t avoid, and I didn’t like myself very much afterwards. Thats a sure sign that the organisation may not be the right one to remain in.

My current organisation is a small company and there are three main departments where everyone seems to get along really well. Sure its hierarchical, but the leadership is strong and the staff are aligned and have bought into the vision. The direction is clear and set out early on, with all communication transparent and honest. To date I have not witnessed any kind of gossip or backstabbing and everyone seems very respectful of each other. Invitations to social events are open to all and often attended by most. This is not a workplace that encourages hungry ambition at all costs, but allows individuals an open forum to grow gradually. I am yet to identify any kind of political agenda here, perhaps I have my blinkers on?

It's a very good lesson to learn. I have since considered alternate ways to playing the political game and hope to be able to put them into use in my next career.

Saturday, April 14, 2012

Somebody That I Used To Know

Some time ago, I engaged the services of an executive coach. We would meet for an early morning coffee, and go through my week - the highs and lows - and talk about areas that I could improve on.

Together we analysed my career and wrote strategies on my future goals. I was energised by our time together; it was positive, constructive and focused on a part of my life that was very important to me. Each session had a different focus, from confronting my areas for improvement to expanding my areas of expertise.

One such session focused on meeting new people in my workplace. We called it the “hello” time. At first I was to spend 5% of my day networking with senior colleagues, getting in front of their face and marketing myself as well as find out a bit more about them and see if my skills could help them in any way. I also enjoyed learning about their holidays, their families and their sporting hobbies, and of course sharing my own stories. The key was to not share too much, but enough to let them know I was human; interesting, adaptable, and with a life outside of work. The ultimate aim of my networking was to share information and market myself.

As my confidence built, I was to spend more “hello” time, and each day I had to include a new person to talk to. This wasn’t difficult working for a multi-national, especially with a stream of overseas colleagues visiting.

Easy task right? Wrong. Walking around the office each day is actually a bit of a chore for time-poor managers. For me, I had to schedule it into my calendar as personal time away from my desk. It meant that anyone looking at my calendar knew they couldn’t book me in for a meeting at that time.

My friend Dana had a different approach. As a senior manager in a crisis management centre, getting up from her desk to casually “socialise” was almost out of the question. Instead, she would find someone in the organisation that she had yet to meet and send them an invite for lunch. Dana was a well respected member of the organisation and worked in various offices around the world. Her knowledge of the company on a global scale was surpassed by none, so when she sent an invite to someone, they rarely refused her. Not only was she able to market herself in the company and share knowledge with colleagues, she has also made some amazing friends worldwide. Myself included.

I used Dana as a “silent mentor” in networking. We sat next to each other at work, and I took many mental notes of her methods and success. Dana was approachable, friendly, and had a genuine interest in sharing what she knew. She never self-promoted, never gloated about her success in the job and was sincerely interested in the people she worked with. And she had a wicked sense of humour which attracted a lot of people to her. Again, myself included. I wanted to be like Dana, not for the popularity but for her ability to positively embrace new people.

I’m no longer at that company, yet I still remain connected with many of the people I met there. This has served me well in both personal and work situations. I have called upon ex colleagues to introduce me into companies that I am interested in working for, and have also been fortunate to reciprocate the act. Some colleagues have remained friends and we meet up for social gatherings to continue laughing together. Some have probably put me on the “Somebody That I Used to Know list” - and that’s ok as well. My aim has never been to win the Miss Popularity contest. I don’t believe in burning bridges.

Since my redundancy and after a lot of practice, I have become even more confident in my “hello” time that I now enjoy the 30 second elevator pitch, coffee shop conversations with strangers and networking on the twitterverse.

You can find me on @lisafryar on Twitter.

I've met a lot of Bunnies in my life.