During my career I’ve worked in an assortment of companies of different sizes, with a variety of organizational structures, in multiple industries.
Each of them had a unique culture and a set of unwritten rules and power structures that the most effective leaders were able to navigate with proficiency. Honing those skills can take years, but there are a number of manageable steps you can take to start or continue to build your organizational savvy.
Grow Your Understanding of Your Company’s Politics
If you have been promoted within your company, then you probably have some level of savvy in terms of navigating organizational politics. Without realizing that you were doing it, you’ve probably begun to understand the power dynamics of your company. To most effectively grow those skills requires awareness and focus on what is truly driving decision-making at your organization. A few suggestions to help you build your own organizational awareness are as follows:
- Look for patterns in decision-making at the top levels of your company or organization
- Get interested in and stay aware of what is happening across the organization beyond your own department
- Ask questions to understand the needs and challenges for your peers and colleagues
- Observe the culture of your organization and its influence on how decisions get made
- Listen to others to hear and fully understand what they are saying
Each company or organization makes decisions in different ways. Some are driven primarily by data, some by experience, some by how key stakeholders will react, and some by entirely different forces. In each case there are power structures, organizational dynamics and uses of influence and political capital that ultimately influence key decisions. In order to effectively navigate those waters, you must first understand the dynamics at play. The better you understand what is happening behind the scenes, the more effective you can be at navigating those political structures.
Leverage What You’ve Learned
Once you have developed a level of understanding of what is driving decisions at your organization, there are a number of tactics you can employ to build your savvy at navigating company politics, growing your own political capital, influencing decision-making, and ultimately growing your career. A few suggestions are as follows:
- Learn from co-workers who are able to get things done through influence
- Build relationships and help others succeed
- Strive for win-win solutions at work
- Help your boss accomplish his or her goals
As you engage these techniques your understanding of company politics will grow, as will your ability to effectively navigate them. Effectively using these tools takes practice and experience. As you try them out, be sure to note which approaches worked best and learn from those that were less effective. The ability to effectively navigate company politics is valuable at any level in an organization, but it becomes more critical the closer to the top you get. So, get started, stick with it, and learn from both your successes and failures along the way.
By Bryan L. Olson, CHCO, Columbia Care