Wednesday, October 3, 2012

GHC! Office Politics for those who don't like Office Politics

Office Politics Session at Grace Hopper - facilitated by Jo Miller, Women's Leadership Coaching Inc.

Jo first suggested that we shift our mindset about office politics. She suggested that  cultivating a network of people who understand you and will collaborate you and understand you in your goals.

Key Mindset Shifts:
  • Work less! Work will expand to fill the time you give it, so....
  • Get out of your in-box! - go do the *things* that position you as an emerging leader
  • Reframe "office politics" as "organizational awareness" - people who navigate well with savy through organizational awareness means being someone who observes the communication and relationships that surround you in your organization: between individuals, and teams, etc.  Women can be especially good at this!
This is where it got really good. 

Jo showed us an org chart. But then we got into the truth of it. Where people are in the org chart doesn't tell us everything we need to know to navigate well. Say goodbye, it doesn't tell us the full story.

Jo then introduced a new concept: the shadow organization. Here's how you map out your shadow organization:

Draw out your 5-10 key people you work with in something like an org chart. Then using multiple colored pens/crayons, notice and mark down the strong relationships, the broken relationships, the paths of influence, and the coalitions. Find the islands of one. How did this come to be? What draws a group together? Then add key influencers, both positive or negative ("halo or horns!") and then the last key idea is "verticals" - people above who help and mentor from an upper level creating a vertical relationship and there is then a group of people "below" them who get promoted, seen, advanced, more often. 

How to gather more information for your shadow organization doc:

  • One crafty woman suggested that one's manager's calendar... might... be... viewable... and you can learn who *their* influencers are.  (I won't tell you who she works for!)
  • Watch who is having coffee with who and what they're talking about.
  • "Never miss a happy hour"
  • Stay present in meetings, don't just watch your laptop, watch *people* when you can.
Notice where the gaps are in your own relationships, in the shadow organization, and work on them. Make notes on where the gaps are and think about what specific actions you can take to build coalitions that will work for you and your goals. Find a colleague who wants to do the same exercise who you have a strong relationship with and share ideas.

Observations and questions from the room of hundreds of women doing this exercise: 

"all my influencers are on one side of the org chart, and all the conflict people are on the other side of the org chart. So do I... even keep trying with the other side?"

"We manage people who want our guidance, who feel that they have a bias against them in the organization, that they did something 10 years ago that they can't shake, and how do people change an image of themselves that has been with them a long time?"

Jo suggested that as women, sometimes we spend too long in a situation that's not positive for us to grow in. Is there fear or misplaced loyalty involved? But you *can* also turn around your persona inside an organization. You can turn around a reputation in as little as two months but it takes incredible focus. Figure out what you want to be *known for. Branding yourself is how it works. In every interaction, demonstrate the new persona.

Xerox person... who was this? "Its not enough to have a bright technical idea... you have to engage the entire human fabric" Ask who collaborated with you on this business plan, how cross-functional was your plan? How robust is the idea?

"Epiphanettes" from reviewing the map with others at our tables:
  • "there might be people missing from my chart who I need to build relationships with who, I didn't think of"
  • "When one is in an IT division inside another organization, building the relationships *outside* the IT division might really increase one's sphere of influence"
  • Its easier to be well connected with your own management than it is to go up another level and have a good relationship with your manager's manager (director, vp...)
  • being a trustworthy person and a good observer will go a long way in solving the shadow map puzzle.

How to rise above and stand out as a leader:

Jo: the senior people in your organization need to know who the rock stars are in their organizations and what your goals are so they can call on you when they need someone solid. Make sure they know who you are and what you do!

Every organization has unwritten unspoken "Rules of the Game". Find them out! What are ways to navigate ethically and effectively within these rules?

Rules people in the room observed:

  • When you know the rules you feel really bound by them, if you know less, sometimes you have more options, actually. Stop asking so many questions!
  • Its mostly a negative experience, but sometimes you only learn the rules by tripping over them.
  • Jo: you need to know what the rules are, but you do not need to do things that break your ethics. The example she gave was that the influential coalition she observed in her team was the smokers, who talked outside while smoking. But she didn't want to be a smoker, so she found another way.
Five ways to generate quick wins in office politics and building organizational awareness:

5. Find the person who is great at navigating in your organization. Take them out for lunch or coffee or have a call, and ask them how they do it. Ask for tips. Lean from them! Share what you know, too. This person navigates well at all levels, and keeps "institutional memory" they can share with you. This is also someone who gets a "quick read" on new people and groups. 

4. Build an influential coalition. This is bigger and easier than it seems! It can be quicker and easier to get great things done from the grass roots. Who are you likeminded with? Who shares your passions and values? Educate them on what you're about, and get onboard to support them in what is important to them. At some point, it will be clear that you can now ask this person or group of people for their support in something really great that you want to do.  What action can you take to build this?

 "Never underestimate the power of the meeting-before-the-meeting." - Iesha O'Deneal, SVP Diversity, Bank of America. Notice where the real decisions are being made. Learn how you can insert yourself into *those conversations.

3. Don't like the unwritten, unspoken rules of the game? Become a game-changer! This is a mid-level career position, where you are now respected in your role. Find the other people who are playing along with rules they don't like. Change things! (great example given of changing "happy hour" so that sometimes its at a relatively early hour - like 4-5:00 on Friday - when working parents can actually attend sometimes!)

2. Manage upward. Leading your leaders is easier than you think. Take your queues from others around you who are doing it. 

Quick tips on managing upward:
  • Think and act like an executive. 
  • Notice the behaviors, thinking style, etc, of the senior people in your organization and mirror their style. Ask them what their goals and hot button issues are. 
  • Notice how they exert influence. 
  • When you need to propose something to them, you can come armed with what they will listen to and get ahead of their needs. 
  • Remember that they are relying on you to be the expert. Don't be deferential. 
  • Always have talking topics in your back pocket in case you get a moment with a senior person to talk.
And for the #1 tip... we had to wait till  after another break (coffee coffee coffee)

1. Jo's top tip for quick wins in office politics is!

Sponsors versus mentors... a sponsor goes beyond the advice level and uses their connections to help them move forward. Senior women are "over mentored and under sponsored" in their organizations. (from an article in Harvard Business Review on "Why Men Get Promoted More than Men")

So the top tip is to enlist senior level sponsors and advocates to help you move up in your career.

Cindy Kent: "A sponsor is someone who will use their internal political and social capital to move your career forward within an organization. They will argue your case with senior management behind closed doors."

Qualities of a good sponsor:

1. Senior leader with influence
2. Well respected, credible person
3. Familiar with your strengths
4. Has a track record for developing talent
5. Provides exposure opportunities for proteges
6. Provides 'air cover' from negative or damaging publicity

Michelle Johnston quote:

have 3-4 advocates *outside your direct management chain* to broaden your reach and find opportunities that might not be apparent to you and also inocculate you against changes.

How to cultivate sponsorships:

1. Outperform! Deliver great work.
2. Don't just work hard, but make your value visible. Step away and network. Take on stretch assignments.
3. Observe the protocols. How does sponsorship work in your organization's culture?
4. Ask who the leaders are who really develop talent... and who are the ones who don't.
5. Network across your organization and beyond your direct management chain and make sure when you get someone senior's ear that you tell them what you do and what you're great at.
6. Look for exposure opportunities to work for or with senior leaders
7. Have clarity about your career goals.
8. Share your career goals with your leaders.

Table Topics:

There were several table topics, including but not limited to "How to navigate office politics in an office of mostly men", "How to manage upward", and my topic of choice "how to navigate office politics in a virtual team".

ISC has about 60 staff in 10+ countries, and all over the US, so the topic of my table, "how to navigate office politics in a virtual team" was especially interesting.

We determined that mostly, every political dynamic that you have in a physically co-located team exists in a virtual team, as well as some additional dynamics. Constant communication is the key, but balancing it with getting enough work done is tough. The critical thing is to take specific efforts to humanize the people behind the voices and typed words. One team represented at our table has a meeting twice a year where each member prepares a short presentation about themselves with photo and things they like to do for fun, etc. This humanizes their team, which meets in person extremely rarely. We agreed that while it is *hard* to reach out above or across teams when working virtually, it is even*more* important than in a physical office. Skip level 1:1s and other such tools are critical.

In addition to the specific issues around office politics, we discussed a few other aspects of virtual team work. We discussed how teams who develop software with scrum might adjust for virtual teams, too, and it occurred to me this might be a useful future Hopper topic (key hint: have more than one standup per day for timezones, and have a shared chat room that the whole team logs into while working).

Jo wrapped up the session by encouraging us to reach out to her anytime, and to continue to work on specific actions toward all the concepts discussed in the workshop. You can see all Jo's excellent slides at:

Grace Hopper is kicked off for 2012!

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