Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Politics in the Workplace

Though many people believe that politics have no place in the workplace, if you think of politics as relationships than I would guess your opinion might change. The way I see it us the term "relationships" has a much more positive connotation than "politics," though they are very much the same.

As a boy, I grew up in a very loving and athletic minded family. When it was time for bed, my brother and I might be able to negotiate a delayed bed time if we challenged our Dad to a wrestling match. We knew that the best time to challenge Pops was when Mom was out. We also knew that he rewarded maximum effort. If we fought hard, he might let us last more than the requisite two minutes before getting pinned and thereby "earn" an extra half hour of awake time. Though I did not know it as a ten year old (yes, I was a slow starter), I can now connect the dots and recognize that him not pinning us was a foregone conclusion, but he wanted to give us the sense of earning the privilege. In layman's terms, he was ensuring we tried our best, and we were appealing to his desire to spend more time with "His Boys" (though the feeling was mutual). We were both leveraging politics, or acknowledging the unwritten rules of the game.

I have been a staff officer for longer than I care to admit, but any success in achieving any objective to which I was championing on behalf of my seniors is due to the power of the network and the relationships built over time. The longer one spends in the Navy (or any team for that matter) the more adept the capable become at getting things done. That is due in large part to us gaining a better understanding of the rules to getting things done and less because we have some unique perspective or area of expertise.

During my current tour, I have had the unique opportunity to work with someone who I sincerely hope is a Flag Officer in our community. Though he continues to teach me a great deal, one of the many lessons I have learned (though I will clearly spend more time honing) is realizing the power of a "BATNA" (Best Alternative to a Negotiated Agreement).

Politics in the workplace have everything to do with our ability to influence others, to grow our personal networks and to manage relationships with seniors, subordinates and peers. With that I hope we all translate "politics" in the workplace to "relationships" in the workplace, and see it as a positive and not a negative.

Seeing as my brother works at Cisco Systems, I can't help but plug their example of the power of the human network. Are we doing our part to realize that power? In the commercial, they speak of a world where anyone can "be famous." I offer we replace "be famous" with "add value." How are we adding value?

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