Office Politics – fours steps to ramp up your political capital

Office Politics – fours steps to ramp up your political capital

Sponsorship involves putting your own political capital at risk, so they are going to help that person succeed.  Women get promoted; they don’t get sponsored  Women know they are on their own if they get promoted.
– Beth Brooke

The terms ‘political capital’ and ‘corporate politics’ seems to bring fear and loathing to many.

How many of us have heard our colleagues say ‘I just want to get on with the job and don’t want to be part of any of the politics’?

Unfortunately, past experiences of those building power bases or kingdoms with little regard to others have left many of us with a negative connotation of the theory and practice.

Let’s break it down.

Political Capital is the invisible currency that politicians or leaders utilise or ‘spend’.  Built up of trust, goodwill and influence, individuals can accumulate through experience, seniority and past leadership actions.

Office Politics are activities, attitudes or behaviours that are used to get or keep power or an advantage within a business or company.

Whilst the definitions make it all sound a little unscrupulous, avoiding ‘politics’ means that you, your team, and your cause will bear the brunt of those with a competing agenda.

None of us can escape politics as it’s happening on a daily basis all around us.  We even learn it early as a child.

Ever answered your child with a “Go ask your (insert mother or father)”?  This is the divide and conquer method, which children learn early to get what they want.

The first step in the office politics process is to determine your level of political capital.

According to Kellogg professor William Ocasio, there are seven distinct forms of political capital which you can use when navigating corporate politics.

The second step is about the cause and your intent.

Clearly articulate the cause that you’re supporting and be able to espouse the pros and cons in commercial terms.  You also need to understand your own intent.  Some questions to ask yourself are:

  • Why am I passionate about this?
  • Will it help others and why?
  • What will I get out of this?

The third step is to map out your organisation and network in respect to political power.  I recommend printing out a copy of the org chart for your company or making a chart of your professional network and then answering these questions, marking up your chart accordingly.

  • Who are the influencers in your organisation or network?
  • Who are the connectors?  (Those who automatically connect or recommend people within their networks).
  • Who has a level of authority (perhaps from a title or their personality) and how much do they exercise this authority?
  • Identify those individuals who are sponsors and mentors.
  • Are there individuals you or others would consider to be the brains behind everything?

You also need to understand the informal network as a lot of business or decisions are made through this process.  People’s actions and behaviours are the best way to identify this.  Consider:

  • Are their individuals who come together regularly and have formed groups or friendships?
  • What about interpersonal conflicts?  Those who can’t stand to be in the same room as others or will always argue the differing point no matter what.
  • Are the relationships based on friendship, respect, manipulation or other commonalities?
  • Does influence flow both ways or only one way?

If you’re a project manager or have done project management before, then the two steps above would sound familiar as it’s an information stakeholder management process.

Once you have considered the above and marked out your chart, your next step is to build and consolidate relationships and networks.

  • Cultivate diverse networks.  Good networks include individuals from different industries, seniority, influence levels and locations.
  • Build relationships based on mutual trust, respect and look for common areas of interest.
  • Remember to be friendly and courteous with everyone.  Being part of a clique can backfire on your career aspirations, especially as leadership can often change quickly in organisations.

Having access to a diverse network allows you to hear and see different opinions and information whilst being able to lobby for you, your team and your causes.

There is considerable change occurring across organisations due to technology, demographic change and with organisations adhering to the six monthly financial cycle which limits long term change and the need for full time employees.

What is your level of political capital and influence?  Don’t limit your earning or aspirational opportunities by not having the enough political capital.




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