Defining Organizational Politics

Geek 5, Org savvy

The tagline for Geeks Gone Pro is “Gain professional savvy to advance your career”.  Of the Geek 5, one of the most challenging obstacles to overcome is resistance to a broader role.  Frequently people tell me that they “don’t want to play the political game”.  The reality is that if you are working in a group with two or more people there are always some politics going on.  The key is define what that all means and determine how you can stay true to your principles while it is occurring.

There is a book called Survival of the Savvy by Rick Brandon and Marty Seldman that I use a lot in my work. This book does a terrific job of framing the importance of savvy for career and company success. The authors present a compelling model of the dangers of being under political and the dangers of being over political. They guide readers to find a balance that will serve them well at work. Over the next few posts, we’re going to explore some elements of this book and discuss how they apply to geeks.

On page one, Brandon and Seldman tackle two key issues that I often see when coaching geeks. The first is to recognize that corporate politics do exist. Anyone naïve enough to try to ignore politics will usually find their career at a dead end or at least in a holding pattern. Acknowledging that politics exist is the first challenge. They describe this as a “corporate survival of the fittest.

The second issue they address on page one is the fact that the word “politics” is usually spun as a dirty word. The word connotes manipulation and compromising values for self-serving purposes. Recent events on Wall Street have proven to us that the negative side of politics definitely exist. Even so, Brandon and Seldman  argue that organizational politics can also be positive – they call this “high-integrity politics“. Before you react to this idea, consider their definition and explanation. They define organizational politics as:

…informal, unofficial, and sometimes behind-the-scenes efforts to sell ideas, influence an organization, increase power, or achieve other targeting objectives.

From this definition, politics can be neutral or even positive if the targeted objectives are focused on the good of the company or team and if the influence tactics have integrity (legal and fair).

Get comfortable with the idea that politics exist and that they can be positive as well as negative.  Once you open to that idea, you can identify politics and react to political maneuvering.

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