navigating the politics of promotion

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Mention “corporate politics” and most employees cringe.

Many of us believe it’s best to avoid this sometimes dark underbelly of the business world, so we focus on working hard and delivering stellar results to distinguish us from our colleagues and move our careers forward.

However, ignoring workplace politics robs us of the information about what it takes to get promoted and who makes and influences those decisions. Political savvy is critical in order to survive and thrive in highly competitive work environments, and it involves both the willingness to embrace the politics that exist and the savvy to navigate the reality of your workplace. 

5 Actions To Develop Political Savvy

Executive coach Bonnie Marcus offers some great advice on this topic in her book, The Politics of Promotion: How High-Achieving Women Get Ahead and Stay Ahead. Here are her five best ideas for improving your political savvy and setting yourself up for promotion.

1. Promote yourself with savvy & authenticity

To promote yourself well, take the time to understand your value proposition – the unique way you deliver successful business outcomes. Your value proposition gives you confidence to communicate your achievements and enables you to see the direct relationship between your work and specific business results.

Once you understand this relationship, you can position yourself across the organization as someone who can help others achieve their goals for the overall benefit of the business. In doing so, you gain visibility and credibility for yourself and your team.

2. Observe workplace dynamics

There are three major factors to look for when it comes to your workplace: the rules, the power, and the culture. Who has power and influence? How are decisions made? Who are the decision makers and who influences those decisions? What are the formal and unwritten rules and which are sacred? What behaviors are rewarded and which aren’t?

It takes focus and intention to understand the complexities of your workplace culture. There are constant shifts in power and influence, and changes in leadership bring changes in the rules and culture. Keeping abreast of these dynamics helps you align yourself with those who can best help you reach your goals. Observing and reacting to workplace dynamics gives you the information you need to move your career forward and avoid landmines.

3. Network strategically

Networking strategically leads to higher income and bonuses and faster promotions, according to research. Start with your career goals. Who do you know and who do you need to know inside and outside the organization to help you reach those goals? Step outside your comfort zone to build connections and relationships with the right people – colleagues and partners who will speak for you and recommend you for promotions and high profile assignments.

The more diverse and intentional your network, the more effective it can be in helping you advance. This may require you to proactively reach out to people you may not know but who you believe can help you reach your goals. Seek out connectors who can open doors for you and make introductions on your behalf.

4. Find a sponsor

As you build your network of allies and champions, identify potential sponsors. Sponsors take action on your behalf and help create new opportunities for you. They promote and protect you from the politics at play. In fact, when it comes to winning high profile assignments, the intervention of sponsors tends to improve outcomes by 30%. If your company has a formal mentor or sponsorship program, find out what the qualifications are for enrollment. If there isn’t a formal program available, consult with your boss, colleagues, or HR to identify an appropriate sponsor.

5. Get a coach

Working with an executive coach helps you overcome both your internal and external barriers to success. A good coach can have a huge impact on your career by providing a clear road map to reach your goals. They’ll assist you in the development of leadership skills, executive presence and political savvy.

Ambitious employees understand that great performance only qualifies you for promotion. Political savvy is necessary to achieve and maintain leadership status.

By michelle m. smith, CPIM, CRP
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