The term “corporate politics” conjures up images of sycophantic, self-serving behavior like boot-licking and backstabbing. However, to some IT professionals’ chagrin, we work with humans as much as computers. Dismissing humans is dismissing part of the job.
The best way to “play” corporate politics is solve big problems by doing things you enjoy and excel at.
“Big problems” means problems faced not just by your team but by your boss’s boss, your boss’s boss’s boss and so on. If you don’t know what they are, ask (easier than it sounds). Otherwise, attend all hands meetings, read industry literature or look at your leaders’ social network posts, particularly internal ones.
This is not just for those wanting promotions into management. Individual contributors still want better benefits and higher profile or challenging projects. These come easiest to those known to be providing value and not the strict meritocracy some IT professionals think they work in.
Start by solving small problems as side projects. Choose something impacting more than your own team and minimize others’ extra work. Build up to bigger problems once you have demonstrated ability and credibility.
You need not be the leader. Assisting others making an effort can be just as effective. You can own part of it or bask in the halo effect. If not, recognize those that are. This creates a culture of recognition that may recognize you in the future.
While some IT professionals solve big problems everyday, communicating and evangelizing their work “feels” wrong. This what salespeople do, not IT professionals. Many also think their work is not interesting.
Being successful requires people knowing what you do. This may be as simple as a short elevator chat, a brown bag talk or a post on the corporate social network. It also helps get early feedback and build a like-minded team. Others will be interested if you are working on the right things.
What about the potentially less savory aspects of corporate politics like work social events, sharing common interests with management, supporting corporate charities and so on? These are as much an art as a science. Focus on common goals and building trust, internally and externally. People like to deal with people at their level and contact builds familiarity.
However, this is no substitute for solving big problems. If you are delivering value, interactions with senior decision makers and IT professionals with similar goals should occur naturally. Build on that.
Be aware that problems change over time. Problems get solved by others. The market changes. Competitors come and go. Understanding organizational goals is an ongoing process.
Also realize decision makers are human. They make mistakes. They want to emphasize their achievements and not their failures, just like software developers’ fundamental attribute error bias for their own code and against others’.
However, if your organization makes decisions regularly on “political” grounds, leave. Culture is rarely changed from the ground up and many organizations are looking for good IT staff.
Ignoring the worse case scenario and IT professionals’ bias against self evangelism, the biggest problem with “corporate politics” is actually its name. The concepts behind “agile” and “technical debt” came into common usage once the correct metaphor was found. Corporate politics needs rebranding from something avoided to a tool that IT professionals use to advance themselves. It badly needs a dose of optimism and open mindedness.
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