Behind the traditional “Four P’s” of marketing lies a well-known but rarely discussed cousin—the fifth P. This one stands for politics. Inter-company politics is as much a part of today’s fast-paced, global business economy as it was back in the days of buggy whip production. As a marketer, it is your job to drive your idea home, convince others of its benefits, and attain buy-in. Generally, this endeavor involves some degree of internal politicking.
Here are six principles to guide you through the game.
Surround Yourself with the Best
Stephen Covey, author of The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, described a concept called “interdependence.” The concept is best explained as a blend of independence and dependence that few people achieve, wherein an independent person comes to the realization that true success comes from the ability to work with other successful, independent individuals who can fill in each other’s deficiencies and protect each other’s reputations from outside influences to achieve a higher level of success—significantly more success than any individual effort.
Most intelligent, individual contributors who are not a part of an interdependence group face a feeling of isolation and insecurity. Their past successes may have made others “look bad” in comparison, and now they step carefully onto the high wire by themselves, perhaps without a net, wary that less talented individuals are always looking for them to misstep.
For those who understand “interdependence,” life can be much easier. By surrounding themselves with key individuals from various departments and constructing effective teams that have focus, direction, energy, and respect from senior management, these talented individuals can develop and deploy many successful solutions.
Start Low and Slow
If you are new to an organization, be careful of the desire to rise too quickly. Take time to find out who the players are, who the “wannabes” are, who owns which sandbox, and what kind of boss you have. The last one is extremely important.
If your boss is someone who hides from confrontation and follows the majority, chances are they won’t have your back if you get into a situation. I have known bosses who have lost their spines walking down the hallway to meetings with senior management. Although you may feel justified in going into battle on an issue, if your general tucks tail and retreats, you’re left on the field all alone.
Pre-Sell for Success
Never attempt to sell a big concept to a group right
away. A presentation to senior management should come along far after a lot of one-on-one pre-selling has
been completed. The term “pre-selling” may sound manipulative, but what you are actually doing is presenting your idea to each senior manager individually to uncover any potential issues. This gives you an opportunity to report back to management on how you would address each issue before you bring the initiative to the group. Also, use the one-on-one time to ask them about their thoughts on how to bring other senior managers onboard.
Make sure to settle all objections prior to the larger meeting. The purpose of your presentation to management is to allow them to see that everyone is in agreement with moving forward and all issues have been vetted and addressed.
“P” Also Stands for President
If your concept requires a large amount of capital, it will most likely reach the president of your company. Depending on the size of your company, you may be pitching the president yourself or preparing your boss to pitch your idea on your behalf.
Whatever the case may be, it is your responsibility to pre-sell the president’s cabinet on your idea, because he or she will look to them for opinions and advice. There may be advisors outside of the senior management cabinet, and it wouldn’t hurt to meet with them about the idea as well.
Fantastic market research, production metrics, beautiful marketing pieces, and a stellar presentation won’t stand-up to the criticism of the president’s advisors. Find out who they are and win them over first.
The Price of Honesty
The adage, “If you can’t say something nice, don’t say anything at all,” was meant for business. Don’t say anything you don’t want to be shared with others and possibly presented out of context. People love gossip and juicy soundbites in an otherwise boring office environment. Don’t be the one feeding their appetite.
It doesn’t matter how much you enjoy their company, laugh at their jokes, or empathize with their family issues—trust no one with your negative feelings about other work colleagues or the business itself.
Anything can slip, even from the purest little sheep in the company, and people take criticism very seriously. If people are discussing a coworker negatively, keep on walking. Don’t join in the rant on how the company is unfair. Rise above the desire to contribute. Short-term rants can turn into long-term career damage.
Dealing with the Ostracized
This is a difficult area to discuss. People get internally “blacklisted” all the time, which usually leads to their voluntary or involuntary departure.
I’ve witnessed the fallout after these ostracized people leave. Remaining employees take advantage of the opportunity to dump all their business garbage onto the individuals who are no longer there to defend themselves. Many times, these former employees become scapegoats for poorly-executed projects they weren’t actually involved in.
You may feel tempted (and rightly so) to avoid guilt by association by keeping some distance from these corporate lepers. But when you come across these individuals (and you will) show them some compassion. You may be in the same boat someday.
Office politics may be necessary in some circumstances, but too much game-playing can really detract from personal productivity. The best bet is to determine
as quickly as possible the degree of politics you have to play in order to accomplish your goals. Then draw a line in the sand, and try not to cross it.