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Think Tank

How to Master the Art of Office Politics

What's the Big Idea?

Man is by nature a political animal, said Aristotle. In other words, we are a creature whose nature it is to live and toil in a polis. In our contemporary context, we are a creature who must negotiate a complex network of relationships that is the twenty-first century workplace. Harvard Business School Professor Linda Hill studies organizations as inherently political entities, and she argues that our success is determined by how well we manage the political dynamics associated with all organizational life.

It's not easy today, says Hill, "because the global economy is very unforgiving. I meet people all the time that have two and three bosses, for example. And the number of peers that are dependent on can be just phenomenal, particularly in these global companies."

A good strategy for success, Hill advises, is to think about who you depend on to get your job done: "And then you have to ask yourself, 'Have I built the right relationships with those people? Do they really trust me? Do we have mutual expectations? Can I influence them? Can they influence me?"  If the answers are no to those questions, says Hill, "then you have not built the right kind of relationships."

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What's the Significance?

What does it mean to manage relationships? "We also have different styles," Hill points out.  She describes herself as an introvert: "I will tell you, if I go to a conference, my instinct is to go right upstairs and hide, because I do not like to be down in crowds. But when I was the head of our unit or our department, I knew that I had to go to our professional meetings, and I had to get myself downstairs."

Managing and cultivating relationships often requires us to be social when we don't want to. So come up with a networking style that fits who you are, says Hill. Managing networks also takes time, but according to Hill, it is time that is always well spent: "If you’re not spending time on that, then your team cannot be successful no matter how wonderful the culture of that team and how much time you sort of worked to get that right, because your team won’t have the right resources to get done what it needs to get done."

Hill also argues for networking outside our immediate circle of peers and bosses, and building "mutual influence" with people outside the organization "over whom you don’t have formal authority, but who in fact you need to do things for you in order for you to be successful, or for your team to be successful."

 

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