Without a clear understanding of the way the politics are functioning around you, the best you can do is hope that your own influence attempts will work. Success or failure resides within the vague web of informal agendas and interactions between the powerful people and players.
You may well believe that your success should rely on your brilliant ideas or no-brainer business case — but it doesn’t. The ideas which get implemented are those favoured by the most powerful players — that the numbers do stack up is usually incidental (albeit convenient).
Yet understanding this hidden world is tough, particularly for those who are not yet actors within the political mainstream. Understanding is developed by degrees and this happens naturally over years of experience, or you can focus on it now and accelerate not only your development, but also your results and career. Here’s how…
Assemble a list of the powerful people in your organisation or in whichever group you want to become influential within. Power comes in many forms and is not just about position or status in the organisation.
- Who gets what they want most often?
- Who are the people who most often challenge others?
- Which area or function is growing most quickly?
- Which function is most critical to organisational success?
- Who is talked about most often?
Here are some readings about power which will help you to extend and deepen your search for powerful people…
Now take your time and analyse each of these people in depth. Begin with the most powerful and make sure and involve your friends and colleagues in exploring and analysing too. Not only can this be a fascinating discussion (among trusted friends), but it will also be very helpful to them too.
Explore each individual’s:
- Power. What is it about them which makes them powerful and influential? You need to go beyond the obvious and delve into the patterns of activity around them. What works for them?
- Agenda. What are they trying to achieve? Their goals, interests, concerns, ambitions and worries are what really drive their behaviour. Make sure and think about their professional and also their personal agendas. It may not be openly acknowledged, but revenge, desire and jealousy are all drivers of behaviour!
- Connections. Who do they know and have in their networks? Who do they respect, admire and look to for advice? You might find it useful to consider their career history. Previous working relationships usually continue informally to retirement and beyond. Old school loyalties are highly influential. With knowledge of these connections, you may learn who they may support from their personal friendships rather than their agenda.
- Performance. Political behaviour is significantly influenced by this aspect. If they are doing well, or struggling to survive, the moves they make will vary significantly. It is easy to be ethical when everything is going well! Considering performance may also reveal where the pressures are coming from in the wider organisation, as well as the risk positions they are dealing with.
- Values. This is a wide topic and here what I want you to think about is the general way they approach organisational life. Are they open and helpful or secretive and manipulative? Do they operate with high integrity or delight in the ‘game’ of politics? Self-serving or benevolent? This will help you to work out how they engage in the political arena.
Take your time on the previous step. There is no need to rush; allowing insights to emerge over a period of time will enhance the value you get. But, along the way, you need to begin pulling the threads together to form a bigger picture of how the politics are operating, or rather how the individuals you have been analysing interact with each other.
Here you will begin to see the way they group together and why. Now you are really in to the work of analysing groups, so you may find this article — “Raising Your Game: Influencing Groups” — rather useful.
Here are some additional questions to help you:
- How does organisational strategy shape the politics?
- What external influences are affecting internal rivalry?
- Who’s going to be the next CEO?
- What informal groups are there and how does membership cross formal boundaries?
- Where are the divided loyalties?
- How will things change in the next six months?
It needs to be stressed that this is not a one-off exercise, but rather a continual process of deepening your understanding. Including your team and allies in the exploration is a fine way of filling in the gaps in your knowledge and extending your influence — yes, this is one way to build a base of loyal supporters and your own informal group!