Browsing the archives for the organizational savvy tag.

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 Businessweek.com, 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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Personal failure of org savvy

Broader role, Geek 5

In the previous post, I presented a definition of organizational politics. One of the keys points is that you must be aware of the politics to spin them for positive uses and to not fall victim to them. Personally I have fallen prey to these issues. Specifically, I always believed that good work would be rewarded and the person with the best ideas would be listened to. The reality that I found was that I occasionally ran afoul of organizational politics, because I did not pay attention to them. Good ideas went unnoticed or even worse, other people got credit for my work.

In one case several years ago, I was in charge of a new project to test e-learning within our organization. At the time, the work was outside of my job description, but the Director of Training position was empty, so I was tasked with the work. I was excited about the project, because I had done significant e-learning work with my previous employers.

The company had no foundation for e-learning and the senior leaders put a tight timeline on getting a pilot going (so they could discuss it with the Board of Directors). I led a fabulous team and we accomplished a monumental task. We had to define the project, set a strategy, get buy in from various parts of the company, find vendors, determine technology (in a company with limited technology resources), plan a rollout, develop content and more. We accomplished great things and delivered a strong pilot.

Soon after the pilot launched, we hired a new Director of Training. All of the thought work was done and we had done and executed all of the very complex planning. I assumed that I would get credit for the success of the project, since I was the leader that did all of the heavy lifting. However, the new Director of Training was a better politician that I was. He also got to be the one to announce the metrics and indicators that proved that it was a good solution.

As I result, I started hearing about what a great job he had done, and the positive impact he made on the company. Everyone seemed to forget that all of the work was done and humming along by the time he came along. In hindsight, my mistake was that I did not do enough to toot my own horn and toot the horn of the team as we went along. I assumed that everyone knew what we were doing. I focused on the task and not the glory. As a result, I wasn’t automatically associated with the project and the success. I lost that battle of organizational politics. I performed as a leader, but I was not seen as a leader.

If I had taken into consideration that I needed to influence the organization and increase my power as the definition of organizational savvy states, I might have gotten more recognition. Fortunately I recovered from this goof.  If you have had similar oversights, you can recover too.

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Introduction to the Geek 5

Geek 5, Overview

In my experience in coaching geeks, I’ve seen five recurring themes.  Some or all of these might apply to you.  Many of my coaching suggestions will center on what I think of as the Geek 5.  If you are struggling to advance or to excel in a professional context, consider your standing on these five areas.

  1. Broader role – Geeks often prefer to stay in the cocoon of their technical specialty.  They resist giving up their expertise to move in to broader roles.  Sometimes they are pushed in a new direction and sometimes they pursue a new role to increase status and salary.  To be successful, a geek has to find peace with this decision.  In addition, geeks tend to have analytical work styles and introverted personalities.  These tendencies can make it less natural to focus on professional success strategies such as developing relationships, selling ideas and personal branding.
  2. Organizational savvy – Organizational savvy is about understanding how businesses or organizations work – and specifically how to get things done easily and effectively  in your workplace.  Some geeks refer to this as “playing politics” and cringe at the thought. “Politics” does not have to be a dirty word.  Organizational savvy is about understanding how to get things done, build networks, communicate effectively and protect yourself.  You’ve got to learn the rules of the game in order to win.
  3.  Managing people – Technical experts often make it to a mid-career point as well-paid individual contributors.  They are responsible for their own production, performance and success.  When they move into their first role managing other people, they are often missing basic knowledge around directing the work of others, delegating, communicating expectations, having performance conversations and developing their direct reports.  Managing people well is not an easy thing to learn – and it is not as clear-cut as technical knowledge.  A chemist who knows that two chemicals will always react the same way can struggle when two employees need completely different management styles. 
  4. Leadership skills – With a narrow technical focus, geeks are often not stretched into bigger leadership roles.  Leadership means setting a vision and clarity of intent for the organization or group, so everyone is moving in the same direction.  It involves building cross-functional relationships and always considering the systemic impact of decisions.  It involves strategy and motivating others.  It is often fuzzy to define, but yet remains critical to success.  Leadership skills are gained through experience and by learning from other leaders.
  5. Business acumen – Geeks who are not already in financial and business areas often lack basic business and financial fundamentals.  Moving into higher level roles or getting attention outside a technical area, requires geeks to think about bigger organizational issues.  This often involves an ability to understand and discuss financial metrics like EPS, EBIT, Margin, etc.  If you don’t know what these are, my point is made.  Go look them up.
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