Surviving Corporate Politics

Office politics are worse than state politics. Try not to become a wedge of it – Mohith Agadi

Politics is part of corporate organisations which you cannot avoid if you want to be successful in a corporate environment. It can either make you successful or a failure in your career. You will pay a heavy price for not acknowledging and recognising it. Some play it openly whilst others play it in a subtle way. It must be recognised with a clear strategy on how to avoid or play it. Some play it successfully whilst others play it at a heavy price to their careers.

Sources of corporate politics include: religious beliefs, ethnicity, race, class, profession and the list goes on. It is important to recognise the type of politics in play. Because of its fluidity, a survival strategy is needed. Even where it favours you because you belong to a certain group, you must recognise and live above it.

Leadership and corporate values have significant influence on the nature of politics prevalent in organisations. It also varies between small and big organisations. In small organisations, the founder of the business has a lot of influence on the organisation’s politics and in big organisations, it is largely influenced by the “boys and girls clubs” referred to in some organisations as the “untouchables”. Those who belong to these clubs enjoy special privileges and are protected by their members.

You recognise it when whatever you do is not good enough and others that belong to the club do less and get recognition. Club members are the ones that get special recognitions despite being mediocre. They never go wrong, are rewarded with official perks, always on top during appraisals and get the highest pay raises and bonuses. They are the ones that get bonuses irrespective of their performance and they make other feel inferior.

In some small businesses, it can be very damaging and it will be useful to do a research to see how many small businesses have failed due to the founders putting politics above corporate interest. In an interview, a founder of a very successful business when asked about the success of his business said he placed merit over race and ethnicity. When he recruited people, he did not care about their ethnicity. A family business that put family ties above merit will likely not survive and there are examples all around.

Government owned organisations are worse. Whilst it is difficult to ignore politics in government owned organisations, it is important to balance it with merit. It is a difficult environment for professionals to operate successfully. Government owned organisations that have been able to balance politics with professionalism have been very successful which is why it is important for developing countries to balance merit and politics in the interest of public good.

To survive corporate politics, as a general principle, you should be professional in everything you do even when you are favoured by corporate politics because when the tide changes direction, you will only survive on the basis of your professionalism and performance. Make yourself indispensable. It worked for me and might just work for you too. I avoided corporate politics in my career, believed in working hard and relied on merit even when I was favoured.

If you are cut up in corporate politics and cannot find a way out, you might want to talk to a career coach.

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