The successful entrance into a new company and position brings new challenges and responsibilities. That includes the appropriate education and experiences, as well as the right appearance and skills. Most of the companies look for well-rounded talents who fit in the company's profile and match the job description. Human resources does the leg work and screens out the bad apples to reach the best candidate for a job. But this is not the end, in fact, it is the start. The start of a new career indicates making the right impression and doing the job right, but in addition it means to 'play the game'.
What is office politics and how is it played? Office politics are an existent tool within a company, a tool to get to know others and ourselves. As the words imply, it is about politics in an office environment and the actors are the employees of all levels, starting from the bottom of the hierarchy pyramid up to the top, including the boss. The mission and values of a company are usually embraced in office politics, and if one adheres to it, success might follow. In addition, office politics include human dynamics and emotions (Dobson & Dobson, 2001). This makes it tricky because different personalities and competing goals often clash and resources, such as people or promotions might be scarce.
A milestone of office politcs can be 'to be ahead of the game', to identify the company's and our own principles and goals, be involved in the process, establish a network and be true to ourselves. It is important to have some kind of power to survive, and not to participate in office politics can cost a promotion or even the job. As Dobson and Dobson (2001) point out, it is of advantage to have one or some of the '6 types of power': Role, respect, rhetoric, resources, relationship and reason/purpose (p. 12). One can reach these powers by maximizing people skills, communication skills and own performance, while maintaining integrity and ethical behavior. The authors add that "relationship building, management skills, persuasive ability and the desire for the job" may push a candidate forward (Dobson & Dobson, 2001, p. 30).
In office politics, it is nice to win as a participant, but the ultimate goal should be a win-win situation. This can involve "profiling powerful individuals", while not disregarding "tooting your own horn" (Zupek, 2008). Because we are new to a company or a position, it does not mean we are the clueless rookie, but if we want to jump in quickly, it is nice to have a reliable mentor, who guides us through the 'need to know and do not attempt catalogue'. From there, we can establish useful relationships and identify role models.
A network not only gives us access to information within the company but also eventually power and influence and 'nice to have lunch partners' outside the organization. It is often advised that 'making friends' is not an option at work, but this is not entirely true. Zupek writes in her article that "not aligning too strongly with one group" is part of office politics. She explains that establishing connections across the company might be rather helpful professionally in the long-run than associating with one particular group. While this is true, it can be of advantage to have allies with whom we can share common interests, such as golfing or shooting. Of course, relationships of that particular format can be abused when it is time for promotion. A good player of office politics is loyal to the company and to himself/herself, while playing nicely with others.
Generally, it is crucial to know the waters we are swimming in, and in particular the stingy fishes and sharks. By maintaining a professional and productive work environment, an actor who "develops a personal track record as someone who gets results" as author Zupek calls it, we might survive. We can 'play the game' while still "be true to ourselves" (Zupek, 2008).
- Dobson, M. & Dobson, S. (2001). Enlightened Office Politics: Understanding, Coping With, and Winning the Game--without Losing Your Soul. New York: AMACOM Books.
- Zupek, R. (2008, March 10). Ways to win at office politics. Retrieved January 22, 2010, from http://www.cnn.com/2008/LIVING/worklife/03/10/win.office.politics/index.html