Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Office Politics

When I was in Russia, the university had a class that simply discussed American customs and business practices. I thought it was a little odd at the time. But upon further reflection, I don't think it was a bad idea. Growing up in American culture, we're exposed to the norms all the time. It's not just manners - but slang and other understandings.

Frankly, I don't think this would be a bad course for most American college students.
I would love a course in office politics. I took a lot of courses throughout my college career, some of which I've used in my working life.

I would have used an office politics course every day in my career outside of college. It really seems like a trial by fire thing. You either figure out how things work, or you sink.

Perhaps it's because I'm a very direct and analytical person. I'll come out and say how I feel. I'm also the first person in meetings (generally) to ask a question. And, sometimes I'll bring up the questions that many are thinking but no one else wants to be the one to ask. So, I shoot myself in the foot. I really try to be tactful. I have toned it down over the years. Yet it does drive me a little crazy when no one will talk about the elephant in the room.

For me, it's not just about those meetings though. Everyone has an agenda - their own motivations. What I've been stunned by is that sometimes it's not about how well you do the job, but who you know. Yet you can't be too obvious, it's very subtle.

In the workplace, I've also been surprised by how much like Dilbert it really is.

I've watched managers borrow ideas from employees. When the employee brings it up, the idea is subtly shot down. But six months later, funny how that same idea has become the new initiative. Or - like my current situation, they hired an outside firm to give my company feedback, and we're going to implement what they suggested. The majority of what they have sold us is exactly what the experienced team members have been saying for years. For some reason though, feedback from the employees is never as valuble (to sell to upper management or the shareholders) than someone from the outside.

Everyone has different motivations for what they do. Sometimes it's about money, but it also seems to do with power and control. Or who will hire or promote a friend. Who seems to share the same values and worklife balance.

I understand the change is inevitable in the workplace. That makes sense. And the piece of advice that I got when I just started out - be careful which bridges you burn and who you know, you never know who you will eventually report to.

My husband's grandfather advised to work hard, be loyal, don't complain and you'll go far. Thirty years ago, this was true. That strategy could work. It's just not the environment any longer. You've got to play the game - while still being true to your own inner values and motivations. It's a difficult balance.


Freckle Face Girl said...

**I am SO happy to be out of that environment!**

I also worked for a company that hired consultants to fix their problems. The turn-over rate was (& still is) ridiculous. They interviewed everyone & gave management our answers. Just like everyone who had spoken up before, the consultants got fired.

It might be a good idea to have an office politics class, but then again would anyone want to graduate & go to the "Real World" knowing how bad it sucks? Unless of course, they have great advice.

Anonymous said...

Thanks FFG! I agree - I never quite got the Dilbert cartoon until I started working in an office.