By Perminus Wainaina
What is office politics and what role does it play in your career?
A while back, I received an email from Alice, who works as a human resource manager in a marketing company.
Alice is concerned that since the new HRO –Debra, joined the organization, she’s been left out of everything important.
Alice writes, “Debra joined the firm six months ago. Immediately she joined, she made friends with everybody –even the boss, who we only talk once a while.
After her probation period was over, she was given a two-year contract (I was given one when I joined). Now, it feels like she’s taking over my job. The boss and managerial staff talk to her before they include me in the discussions.
This week, we employed a few more people, and I had little input in the matter.
Even after they joined, it’s Debra who handled the onboarding process.
I’m afraid Debra is slowly taking over my job.”
What Alice is going through is something most professionals have experienced.
In the HR department, you’re the link between the management and the employees. As such, you’re in the middle of all politics that play out in the office.
What exactly is office politics?
Whenever you bring up the term ‘office politics,’ it is usually taken up a negative statement. Most professionals view it as ways to backstab or attack other professionals in the workplace in order to get ahead in career, cut off competition, or to ensure job security.
However, it is much more than that.
Essentially, office politics is the process and behavior in interactions at the workplace revolving around power and authority.
In Alice’s case, she is directly being affected by workplace politics in the company.
In most situations, however, you as the HR will be outside looking in –you’ll see employees trying to get ahead in their professions by politicking.
From the description given above, office politics doesn’t sound wrong. And it is not!
The question then turns to, how do you ensure the politicking around the office works for the benefit of everyone?
I spoke to several HR professionals from Corporate Staffing Services, they agreed this was the most important starting point in office politics;
Leverage on relations at the workplace
An office is the meeting place for different professionals. These professionals have got different beliefs, ethics, and characteristics.
Then, this implies that each person will have a unique way of thinking, and even carrying out tasks.
This difference is what roots office politicking.
For example, I’m sure you’ve seen those professionals who’ve risen through the ranks with little or no effort. While there are other employees who work harder, smarter, and for longer, these employees just seem to cruise through to the next step steps of their careers.
If you look at the actual politics, you’ll also notice politicians who excel –increase followership, stay long in politics, and gain influence, yet they are not the best performers.
In the scenario given above, it looks like Debra started politicking soon as she joined the organization. From Alice’s email, you can see that Debra created a relationship with the colleagues.
To move forward at the workplace, relations matter.
A good part of the time, you don’t always get promoted because of the work you’re doing (though it does play a part), it’s often because of the relations you have.
As for your employees, try and seek out who it is that has a hard time relating with others, then encourage them to get to know other employees as well as the management.
Since career advancements are to an extent based on the relations, you should cultivate them.
At the workplace, there are three key types of relations that help with politicking. These are;
Operational networks –These are the people you need in order to get your tasks done.
Developmental networks –These are the colleagues you turn to for support or advice.
Strategic networks –These are the professionals who can help you both define and succeed in your career.
Office politics has gained a negative repute in the workplace. However, when utilized correctly, you can further your career, as well as that of other employees.
Next, we’ll look at key skills needed to help you further your career using office politics.
Perminus Wainaina is an experienced HR Practioner with over 15 years experience in executive recruitment and selection, training, performance management, and Kenyan labour laws. He has consulted for firms such as Safaricom Sacco, Oxfam, Un Women, Pacis Insurance, Windsor Golf, Muthaiga Country Club, etc. Currently, he represents the private sector at KEBS in the HR standardization committee.