Off the Radar - Insights from Stealth Creative

Puddle Jumping With Mindy: 5 Career Rules for Navigating Corporate Politics

Recently, someone confided in me that their company was a hard place to work. “Why?” I asked innocently – maybe – or maybe not!

I love to accumulate these stories because it reaffirms my conviction about my days in corporate America. It was so bloody hard…to quote our friends across the pond!

Why was it so hard? Everyone in the company constantly second-guesses every decision. That’s not only stressful, but also rapidly starts to get into office politics – managing up and managing peers and managing a team and managing the work!

Is that enough managing for you? It sounds ineffective – not to mention exhausting – to me.

Let Me Tell You A Story…

In one of my first jobs as a manager I had a great boss, Bob (name changed to protect the innocent), who was analytical and finance based. Come to think of it, every boss I’ve had was analytical and financed based, which is wrong, but that’s fodder for another blog.

So, here I was barely out of college, and this guy’s expression often brought to mind a cartoon bubble over his head, reading, “Are you sure?” Why? He didn’t want to make a mistake. He was barely out of MBA school, and he really didn’t want me to make a mistake either.

I think as an employee, I tried even the best person’s nerves. Why? I was constantly offering tons of ideas and different (non-analytical) ways to look at problems. I was the opposite of a linear thinker. In fact, they once sent me to a training program about how to communicate in a straight line. It was quite effective, but I ended up with a tick. 😜

Back to the story…so I said: Bob, this isn’t going to work for me. I am about to launch this campaign, media buy, mail piece, big event, fill in another project, and you are just now asking: Are you sure?

No. No one can ever be 100% sure! But, I’m relatively confident in the campaign approach, yes – otherwise, I wouldn’t be launching it. Instead, what if we debrief after the campaign vs. second-guessing right before launch and causing delays? We shook on that deal quickly and never looked back.

The reason I’m sharing this story is to illustrate that you cannot be a very good marketer if you can’t get the campaign launched because of internal roadblocks – or politics!

So let’s look at some ideas that worked for me in a far off time and crazy land called Corporate America!

Rule 1: Don’t Stop A Project On The Start Line; Instead, Rehash And Debrief On The Finish Line.

This makes for a good partnership between analytical types and high performers because both love metric-driven campaigns.

Pro tip: To be able to debrief, you must set up metrics before your campaign launches.

Rule 2: Set Up Time To Keep Your Boss Informed!

I preferred one-on-one meetings weekly with a standing agenda. I would print it out/email it to the boss ahead of time, which allowed him to add anything he wanted to talk about as well. This organized approach helps drive connection and seek input into performance without the second-guessing or input coming at the wrong time.

Pro tip: Here’s a sample agenda you could use:

AGENDA

    1. Staff challenges/concerns
    2. Project/campaign discussion
    3. Ideas I have!
    4. Boss’ pain points? (Remember, your boss most likely has a boss, too!)
    5. Metrics from last projects/campaigns
    6. Agree on top priorities until the next meeting

Rule 3: Keep The Boss Informed And In The Loop To Avoid Surprises Or Confusion That Cause Internal Roadblocks.

There are some widely held beliefs that managing your boss or ‘managing up’ into the organization is negative. It’s implied that people who manage up well are horrible at managing everything else; they are just politicking up.

While, each situation is different, and this may be the case in some instances, what I’m talking about here is dispelling this belief. Your position, as a manager, is to keep everyone informed, but most importantly, to keep the boss informed.

Pro tip: One way to avoid being painted with the ‘managing up’ swath is to make sure you don’t go around bragging about how well you manage up or how well you manage your boss. Just do it, and call it keeping everyone in the loop to stay on the same page throughout the project/campaign. Bosses can be very insecure; so be sensitive to the optics, while ensuring you get your job done – and done well.

Rule 4: Assessments Are Your Friend.

I am an advocate of assessments. The first thing I do on my first day at a new job – and still to some extent in the entrepreneurial world – is talk with my new boss to give him or her insight into my strengths/weaknesses. I offer an assessment that explains how the boss can best manage and motivate me.

This can be a great way to not only share how you’d like your boss to manage and motivate you, but also what you’d rather a boss not do. For example:

    • I don’t respond well to micromanaging. I will keep you in the loop throughout projects/campaigns so there’s never a reason for second-guessing that can delay a project or campaign launch.
    • I have had great success analyzing a project/campaign after when we have results, which enables us to adjust for the next one.
    • Let’s set a plan now for continuous improvement.

Add your own spin to this list to set the stage from the get-go as to what will work and what you know won’t to ensure your boss and company get the most out of your performance. My superiors loved this approach and so did my subordinates.

Pro tip: There are a lot of assessment tools out there, such as CliftonStrengths or RichardStep Strengths and Weaknesses Aptitude Test (RSWAT), and you can do this very easily. Try it for yourself to see how insightful it can be. And then, get to the point you can talk about it: “These are my operating instructions. This is how you get the most performance out of me!” Who would say no?

Rule 5: Get A Mentor!

People love to help one another. Please let the universe confirm this! Peace, love and apple pie – I do believe that. Find someone you admire or someone that has done it before. Someone like that can really give you a roadmap.

Pro tip: The truth of the matter is: You have to work for quite a few frogs before you find someone who is brilliant to learn from and work with through the end of your career.

In general, I think the higher you go in an organization, the better the boss. There are several reasons for this: First, lack of widespread managerial training. Second, I think management is a skill some people have and others learn, but everyone is not a good manager. Some of my most valuable lessons came from working for really bad examples. The good news is people like that can make subordinates look fantastic!

The Bottom Line

While there’s no one right way to navigate the politics of the business world, these five rules should help put you on the right path. I wish you luck in working the internal maze of corporate America!

Want to chat more? Reach out today.