Browsing the archives for the Org savvy category.

Career Bounce Back

Career Challenges, Geek 5, Org savvy

Sometimes work just sucks! Pardon my language, but you know it’s true. You try to do all of the right things, but a situation still gets out of control. Or you make an error and suffer the consequences. Or the political winds shift and you end up on the losing team. Or the company hit’s a rough spot and everyone feels it. You get the idea – sometimes work just sucks.

So what do you do when you hit a career setback?

We all hit career setbacks. The difference between success and failure after the setback is how you deal with it. To survive and thrive, you must be resilient. You need Career Bounce Back.  Career Bounce Back is related to the Geek 5 risk of Organizational Savvy.

Career Bounce Back involves finding and executing a strategy to fix a career setback. To develop a Career Bounce Back strategy, consider whether you a dealing with a passive issue or an active issue.

An active career issue is one that is caused by a specific, negative incident. Maybe you made a serious performance mistake or you made an influence or relationship mistake. In any case, you are dealing with a hot issue and need to do damage control.

A passive career issue is not necessarily related to a specific trigger event. Passive issues are likely to be related to under-political organizational savvy behavior. Being under political often leads to being underestimated, losing credit for work and having limited visibility. A passive career issue might develop over time, but eventually gets recognized as a career setback.

In the next few posts, we’ll cover how to orchestrate a Career Bounce Back from active and passive career issues.

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Geek Power!

Org savvy

Last fall when I started this blog, there was a lot of press about the rise of geeks.  I linked to stories about geeks on TV and science geeks and more.  Since then, I have not seen as much until I came across a great article by Steve Tobak from the Corner Office at BNET.

It’s called Want to Get Ahead? Better Get your Geek On!  This article does a nice job of spelling out specific advantages to being a geek.  It covers 10 things you should know about geeks in the workplace – a perfect connection for this blog!

Like my definition of geek, he also says that not all geeks are techies.  He also discusses the ability of geeks to be very focused and opinionated.  That all ties into our discussions of organizational savvy.  Check out the Lego organizational savvy story – as Savvy Geek battles evil, sabotaging co-worker!

Tobak also says geeks are prone to believing conspiracy theories.  On that topic, I have no data or opinion.   No opinion at all…in case they are watching and listening, remember, I have no opinion at all…

Check out the article for a positive boost for the geek image!

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Do you have the cringe factor?

Broader role, Geek 5, Leadership, Org savvy, Uncategorized

I’ve been learning all sorts of new terms lately.  Okay, they aren’t exactly intellectual, academic definitions, but they come from real people with real concerns.  As mentioned in an earlier post, the term “slime factor” was used in a succession meeting to describe someone who was borderline creepy.

This week, I heard another new talent management term – the cringe factor.  I was teaching Situational Leadership to a group of mid-level managers.  Sit Lead teaches that leaders must evaluate how competent an employee is at a task and then adapt their leadership style to match that level of competence.   It is a good training program for newer managers.  We’ll discuss it at some point in this blog.

The audience was managers from across the business – IT, Finance, HR, etc.  There were also some project managers who handle the big IT projects.  They asked a lot of questions about how to manage technical people (ie geeks) who were assigned to their projects, but were not formally direct reports.  They sometimes struggled to get the geeks to meet deadlines and do quality work, but they did not have direct authority over them.

One manager piped up and described the “cringe factor”.  The cringe factor is the unpleasant reaction that non-geeks can have when forced to talk with an uncooperative geek.  The non-geek knows he needs to go talk to the geek, but cringes at the thought.  He knows that the geek is a pain to work with and often hides behind technical jargon to make excuses.  The cringe factor often leads to excuses to avoid the problem and discussion until the problem escalates.

Does someone on your team cause the cringe factor in you or others?

If you are a manager, you need to address it.  Technical skills aren’t enough.  To be successful at work, your team also needs soft skills.  Part of avoiding the cringe factor is having good collaboration skills and being open to questions and concerns.

Keep an eye open for the cringe factor!

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Rating the Slime Factor

Favorite posts, Geek 5, Leadership, Org savvy, Uncategorized

Part of leadership (Geek 5 risk) is developing talent in future leaders.  One key part of this process is succession planning.  I sat in a succession planning meeting the other day that introduced a whole new element of talent management – the slime factor. I’ve facilitated a lot of succession planning meetings. Generally we discuss the behaviors of the employee – with a focus on current performance and future potential. If performance is good and potential is strong, that employee is rated a being “high-potential”. That label can lead to special development opportunities and assignments and usually leads to a promotion.

Our conversation was moving along well. The group I was working with is composed of seasoned executives. We’ve been doing succession planning meetings for a few years and have got the rhythm down. Then we got stuck. We were discussing an employee who was a very strong performer – let’s call him Ted. Ted works out in the field – in an operational, metric-driven role. Operationally and metrically, he was strong. Even so, when his name was brought up, there was silence around the table.

Hmmmm…. As a facilitator, this is when the warning flag is raised. I asked the group to describe Ted’s working style. Was he using the right behaviors to get his strong results? It is a common scenario that some employees get strong results by destroying everyone and everything around them. In our company that behavior is not tolerated. We have a leadership competency model that requires employees to get results through collaboration and critical thinking and good judgment.  Everyone in the room shook their heads – Ted wasn’t mean or difficult or cutting corners or sabotaging others. The group just couldn’t explain it.

Finally one of the few female leaders in the room blurted out – “He’s just slimy!” That broke the spell – everyone started talking and laughing – and agreeing. He is slimy. Slimy is hard to quantify, but there was strong agreement in the room about it.

Here is what slimy meant:

  • Ted made people feel uncomfortable – even if they could not explain why.
  • One leader described Ted as someone who would “check out all the women in the room”, but he never crossed the line into sexual harassment.
  • Ted always seemed close to crossing a line – in his jokes or attitude or touching.
  • In social situations he often seemed awkward and not part of the group.

Most of these descriptions are intangible.  I always try to push groups to focus on specific behaviors.  However, in this case, slimy seemed to fit. It was enough reason for the group to label him as “Correctly Placed” and plan to keep an eye on is behavior.

Slimy trumps strong performance.  Do you have Slimy Ted’s in your company?

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In-group versus Out-group

Geek 5, Org savvy

In previous posts, we discussed influence power. This occurs when an individual has more impact and influence than the person’s organizational chart position would grant. These folks are often the behind-the-scenes power network that make things happen and influence key decisions. Understanding power and influence is part of the Organizational Savvy component of the Geek 5.

One way to look at influence power is to consider the basic social psychology principle of in-group and out-group dynamics.  Way back in my undergraduate days, I wrote a research paper on in-group and out-group dynamics. This boils down to the fact that we give preference to people who are like us and who are part of our circle. Your in-group can be defined broadly as people of the same race as you or as all of the citizens of your country or as people in the same company or in the same department or in your trusted network of colleagues.   Your current point of reference determines who is in your in-group.  Immediate family is almost always part of your in-group.  Collegues in another department at work may or may not be part of your in-group regarding a specific work issue.

If you are part of an in-group (however broad it is) you are seen as more valuable and trustworthy, and you are given more opportunities. If you aren’t part of the in-group, then your are part of the out-group. Out-group folks have to work harder to be heard and have a positive impact. So the question becomes, who is part of the in-group surrounding the power players in your company?

A common in-group/ out-group scenario that I have witnessed centers around who the boss considers to be his or her “people”. Consider a leader who is taking over a new team. She takes time to understand the strengths and opportunities of the team members and eventually makes some changes to the group. She re-organizes the team, lets some folks go and brings in people that she has worked with elsewhere. Suddenly there is an in-group of employees who have a long history and trusted relationship with the boss. There is also an out-group of people that she “inherited”. The in-group has significant informal influence power with the boss. It can create an us (long-term employees) versus them (boss’s newly brought in folks) mentality.

If you are one of the longer-term, out-group employees, it is important to your future success that you recognize what has happened and position yourself properly.  The out-group folks have to recognize the shift in power, get along with the new in-group, show loyalty to the new boss and continue to be a strong, contributing member of the team. Hopefully over time, the out-group members become part of the in-group and the barriers will break down.

If you find yourself as part of an out-group, it is a waste of time and energy to fuss about “how it used to be” or “how it should be”.  Focus on the positive behaviors described above and work to get yourself seen as an insider with the power players.

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Reading power dynamics part 2

Favorite posts, Geek 5, Org savvy

In a previous post, we talked about how to identify the power players in your organization.  Once you have identified the official and unofficial power players, you need to continue to pay attention to them and what they are doing.  Paying attention allows you to react appropriately and protect your own interests and the interests of your team and organization.  In addition, you have to pay attention to the priorities and conflicts in the group. 

Here are some suggestions for reading power dynamics:

1. Watch and learn about the power players in your company.  Learn to read their agendas (public and hidden). To do this, you can:

  • Determine their priorities. Where do they give their attention and spend their time?
  • Watch body language and voice tone for signals of approval and irritation.
  • Ask people who know them about their management style and preferences.
  • Find out the leader’s personal preferences, passions and concerns. These can give you insight into the person.  It might also identify a common interest.  One warning – never try to fake an interest in an activity just to connect with someone else.  If you do, you’ll just seem insincere and fake.  Remember, you can be savvy and successful at organizational politics without sacrificing your integrity or values.

2. Pay attention to unwritten rules, so you don’t get tripped up by them.  

3. Don’t just listen to what is said. You also need to pay attention to how it is said and who says it and how other people react to it.  Be aware – watch these interactions.

4. Listen to your gut. If you are listening and watching, you’ll start to determine when something smells like bad politics, a power play or manipulation. Learn to trust your instincts.

5. When you detect problems, don’t react in the moment. Take your time to collect more information, make sure you know the scope of the issue and proceed with a plan.

Following these guidelines will help youto  survive the hidden risks in your organization.  More importantly, you can use your increased savvy to turn negative politics into positive politics that help you succeed and build credibility. 

This wraps up our discussion on Brandon and Seldman’s book, Survival of the Savvy.   We’ve discussed topics such as defining organizational politics, being under-political, overcoming fatal flaws, fighting sabotage and reading power dynamics.   This book is a resource that I use frequently and recommend to the executives that I coach – especially those with deep technical expertise.   We’ll come back to the topic of organizational savvy over time, since it is an important part of the Geek 5.

If you only take away three ideas from this series of posts, they should be:

1.  Organizational politics exist everywhere.  Even choosing not to play is a form of playing.

2.  Organizational savvy is about building relationships that can help you be more effective at your job. 

3.  You can become savvy at politics and relationships without sacrificing your integrity.

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Another view of org politics

Geek 5, Org savvy

Over at, Beth Weissenberger just wrote an article called How to Win at Office Politicsabout organizational politics. Similar to the thread we have been discussing, she writes that organizational politics are real and everyone plays them whether they intend to or not. Politics are another way of saying that relationships are important at work, just like they are important in our private lives. Weissenberger goes on to describe some tactics for succeeding in politics such as finding a mentor and networking.

Check out her article for another perspective related to our discussions of organizational savvy.

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Reading Power Dynamics part 1

Geek 5, Org savvy

In Survival of the Savvy, Brandon and Seldman discuss two risk points that are especially relevant to geeks – sabotage and power dynamics. In previous posts, we covered the definition of sabotage and how to react to it. In this post, we’ll cover how to read power dynamics and some strategies for dealing with them.

Power dynamics center on who has the power and influence in your organization. Sometimes it is obvious. Official position power refers to people who are high up in the hierarchy and org chart. They have power due to their position. Even so, people with position power have different levels of effectiveness and influence. Sometimes you’ll find a leader who has the title, but functions like a lame duck, because his or her ideas are not valued. Even peers in similar roles can have different levels of influence based on their level of organizational savvy, networks, and of course, their knowledge and competence.

Unofficial influence power is less obvious, because you don’t find it on an org chart. This refers to people who have power without the title. These are people who can make things happen and are considered well-connected in the organization. Sometimes their power is based on having great ideas or a dominant personality and sometimes it is about their network. Part of becoming a politically savvy person is learning to watch and understand individual behaviors and group dynamics. You can identify people with unofficial position power by observing some of the following:

– Who is in the favored, inner circle of the boss or other power players?
– Who always seems to know everything that is going on?
– Who acts an advisor to the boss?
– Who can get away with bending the rules?
– Who can always seem to avoid blame for team issues?

Another group with unofficial influence power is the up and comers, often described as emerging leaders. These are fast-rising superstars who often have access to senior leaders through work and mentoring. High-potential superstars are often very ambitious and aggressive about their careers. Some of them will fall into the over-political bucket. Be wary of anyone who seems focused on his or her own career to the detriment of others and the company.

To effectively read power dynamics, you need to amp up your observation skills. Watch and listen with peers and bosses and teams. Think about situations from the perspective of other folks. Determine their goals and motivations and think abut how those intersect with your own goals and motivations. Watch and think!

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Fighting Sabotage part 2

Geek 5, Org savvy

In this post, we’ll continue with an overview of Survival of the Savvy by Brandon and Seldman.  As we discussed previously, there are many different types of corporate sabotage, and all of them can impact your effectiveness and potentially derail your career.  Now we’ve identified the problem, so what’s the solution?

The first thing to do is be aware that sabotage exists and keep your eyes open for it.  Refer to the previous post for a reminder about what it can look like.

Some additional things will help you put up a defense, so you are less vulnerable to sabotage.

One of those is to be careful about favors.  If someone asks you do do something questionable or to speak for them on a controversial issue, realize that they are intentionally or perhaps unintentionally trying to manipulate you. Sometimes a co-worker will put you into a position to make a risky suggestion or take an unpopular stance.  Once you speak up and get negative attention, he or she backs off and leaves you hanging. 

I had a personal failure in this area in the past.   A  co-worker got me all riled up about an issue.  I was new to the company and did not realize it was a sensitive topic.  I spoke up with great passion about the issue in a meeting with peers and the boss and predictably got struck down quickly.  He stayed clear of the whole issue after manipulating me in to doing his dirty work.  I was under-political and did not recognize the risk.  Now I’m much more careful about what I say and how I say it.  I always make sure that I am representing my own thoughts and not those of someone else.

Another strategy is to stall for time.  If you sense more going on than someone is saying, don’t commit to anything.  Say that you need some time to think about an idea or request and to check your schedule, before you can give a response.  Stalling buys you time to investigate the situation and find out if there is more going on and whether or not you want to get involved.

To fight back against sabotage, you must stop being a victim and an underdog – without becoming overly aggressive or offensive. Some ways to stop being a victim include:

  • Check your self-talk – keep your ego out of the conversation and make sure you don’t fall for taunting
  • Don’t apologize when you are not to blame – it positions you as subservient
  • Use appropriate humor to defuse a situation
  • Use active listening to take the wind out of someone’s anger. Listen carefully and repeat back what you hear. Sometimes the chance to vent can defuse the situation.
  • When facing an accusation, ask for specifics. Don’t accept an accusation of incompetence – ask for specific situations or behaviors that concern someone.
  • Give balanced responses
  • Play hardball when you need to, but do it thoughtfully. Make sure the battle is worth fighting and that you have a chance of winning.

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Geek Fun: Org Savvy Lego Humor

Geek 5, Geek Fun, Org savvy

On some Fridays, I’m gonna try some new things.  Words and writing come easily to me.  Pictures, illustrations and graphics don’t come so easily.  So I’m going to push myself out of my comfort zone and try to tell some of these stories via images. 

In previous posts, we’ve covered the Geek 5, the definition of organizational politics, and tactics for becoming more savvy

This first attempt at visual storytelling is inspired by creative use of Legos by Geekdad at Wired Magazine.

Geek with sword of knowledge

Geek with Sword of Knowledge


Evil guy wins small

Oh no! Evil co-worker defeats Geek


Geek with sword of knowledge and org savvy armor

Geek with Sword of Knowledge and Organizational Savvy Armor


Savvy geek wins!

Savvy Geek wins!

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