Article: Don’t get Office Politics? You may not succeed

By Kunal Sen, Senior Vice President- TeamLease Services 

If you have trouble keeping up with the games people play at work you may, actually, be playing too straight to win. In a study carried out amongst senior executives working in mid- and large-sized businesses, we unearthed some nuggets of dealing with office politics and busted some myths. The one common thread across responses we obtained was – if you don't get it, you may not succeed. 

Kunal Sen, Senior VP, TeamLease Services
This, of course, does not imply that you necessarily need to play along and indulge in politics. In fact, our respondents thought that it is best to stay out of it but, with a caveat: you may not be up for it does not mean you can ignore it. You must recognize a 'manufactured' political situation in terms of what it means to you. If you sense that it affects you, the least you could do is not play straight into the hands of those who have laid it out. In other words, if you are the type that takes everyone and everything at face value you are set up to fail.

As a Finance executive at a beverages company based in Bangalore says, "Naïveté is liability. One needs to cue in to the grapevine often and stay on one’s guard. Even better if you are crafty." Some others recommend a slightly calibrated approach. A HR Manager at an Agrochemicals company prefers subtlety to indiscretion. "You need to retain people's trust if you want to be leading them. You cannot be seen to be politicking your way up – you will be stalled."  

A detailed and strategic approach is what came through when we spoke with an associate in a reputed, Mumbai-based, law firm. "Be aware, and avoid getting drawn into controversies. If you happen to, unwittingly, become a victim of office politics then you must definitely have an appropriate response to it. Begin with a fair sense of what is going on. Discretely speak with colleagues you trust to understand the situation. It is important to obtain multiple points of view. Then sort things out in your own mind to make as objective an assessment of reality as you can. Decide what needs to be done by staying as neutral as possible."

Phew! Yes, being on the receiving end of politics can, potentially, be a big distraction. You cannot afford to let it become one. Before you even bother with it you must judge if it is damaging at all. And assess how much of an immediate impact it may have on your standing in the organization. An M&A specialist at an advisory firm and who has put in close to two decades in mostly large organizations has this to say, "Think about if it will just go away. If, in time, the trouble-mongers will wear themselves out. Office politics is a huge time-sink!"

Huma might have had it easier than some of the other professionals we spoke with. A Software Engineer in a fast-paced software product company says, "While most of us are all nose-to-the-ground coders I wonder where and how some get the ideas and energy to stir the pot. And, before you know, a totally wrong perception has been formed by management and the damage is done." He thinks it is important to 'surface' once in a while from one's work and spend time obtaining feedback from the management. And, that it is better to be proactively managing perceptions than wait for an untoward situation to occur.

What, then, should a professional's working relationship with his / her colleagues be like if one wants to proactively avoid becoming embroiled in, or even remotely involved in, office politics? After all, most of us want to go about our jobs spending time productively and being goal-oriented. "Leadership qualities are essential to steer clear of politics and orient oneself towards organizational success. You must build a respectable stature and grow formidable in your area of expertise. The respect you command is an effective shield against petty manipulators", says a Vice President, Global Delivery in a large outsourcing company.

He, although, warns against a gloating sense of aloofness such a demeanour could bring about, in a successful professional. "Stay humble and sensitive to people around you. Irrational behaviour could also be the sign of an unsatisfied, or even disgruntled, team and the next thing you know when you continue to stay in your bubble is that team productivity has tanked and the team is disintegrating." Seemingly, people in leadership roles have a bigger responsibility in managing their teams in a way the emotional energy is not frittered away in politics and is harnessed for the overall good of the organization.

Politics may be the last bastion of scoundrels. But a leader needs to be able bring out the best in scoundrels too!

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