Organisational politics

Two things happen when you’re too good at office politics:

  1. Your performance drops.
  2. Your co-workers become suspicious because they don’t trust you; as a result, your influence actually diminishes.

Clearly, you don’t want to be an expert politicker. But since politics exist in every organisation, you need to be competent at politicking. Otherwise, you can’t make your best-possible contribution to your organisation and career. Just as bad, you’ll be over-looked and under-appreciated.

Stephen Robbins and Phillip Hunsaker suggest the following tips in their book, Training in Interpersonal Skills:

  • Speak and persuade with benefits to the organisation and conceal any self-interest.
  • Gain control of scarce expertise, knowledge and organisational resources. The more critical to the organisation you seem to be, the more influence you have and the more indispensable you are.
  • Be visible and make sure that powerful people in the organisation are aware of your contribution. Progress reports, attending functions, being active in professional associations and networking are all ways to increase your visibility without being a braggart.
  • Find a mentor and powerful allies to guide you, keep you informed and speak up on your behalf.
  • Support your boss. When your boss is successful, you shine by association. When your boss is on the ‘loser track’, get a new one so you don’t suffer by association.
  • Develop coalitions, networks of like-minded, influential people. The more supporters you have, the greater your influence.
  • Remember that power is effective when it’s in balance. As soon as you use it, especially against someone, it gets out of balance and people seek to even things out. Just as in physics, for every action there is a reaction.

Here are four other tips to help you achieve competence in organisational politics:

  1. Manage your personal brand.
  2. Fit in with and contribute to your organisation’s culture and values.
  3. Stay away from people with poor reputations for performance and personal values.
  4. ‘Let one hand wash the other’ by helping people whenever you can.

Add these political skills to your inventory of management and technical skills to round out your ability to make a difference.

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How to show you really care

Do you want to show team members you really care about them personally, and at the same time, improve the team’s performance? Feedback is the answer. It works most effectively when it’s based on a solid relationship where employees know for sure you care about them personally, and about their success.

Kim Scott, former Google director, faculty member at Apple University, knows a lot about offering feedback – which she calls guidance, much of learned from Sheryl Sandberg.

Helpful feedback needs to be based on genuinely caring about employees. Then you can provide really good information, or as Scott calls it, ‘radical candour’. Caring about employees but not having the guts to provide guidance results in ‘ruinous empathy’. Lack of genuine caring leads to ‘manipulative insincerity’ or ‘obnoxious aggression’, depending on how you provide the feedback.

Scott also points out that you can’t ‘give a damn’ about others if you don’t ‘give a damn’ about yourself. Good advice.

You can read about it and watch her talk here.

5 easy ways to boost your productivity

Wherever you work, adding value and personal productivity are essential. Here are five easy ways to add even more value and be even more productive than you already are – without adding to your workload or your working hours.

  1. Carry a notepad around with you, electronic or otherwise, whichever is quicker and easier for you to work with. Use it to jot down good ideas as they occur, note commitments you make to others or others make to you, questions you need to find answers to for yourself or someone else, and list things to follow up and to add to your To Do list when you get back to your desk. No more evaporated good ideas or promises.
  2. Take 10 minutes at the end of each day to clear and tidy your desk and plan for tomorrow, especially the most important, value-adding task you want to knock off before getting down to mundane matters.
  3. When you have an important decision to make, gather the information you need. Delegate gathering some of it when you need to. Ruminate on the information and think it through as you fall asleep so it incubates and bubbles away in your brain making new connections, unfettered by your conscious interference; three nights is generally enough for your subconscious to give it a good going over. When it’s time to finalise your decision, focus, listen to your subconscious and reach the best decision you can that takes account of all the stakeholders.
  4. Stay hydrated to think more clearly (especially important in hot weather). Drink a big glass of water when you wake up and have a water glass and jug on or near your desk to sip on. Aim for 2 litres a day all up.
  5. Take regular, short refreshing breaks throughout the day. Try to include at least one walk outside in nature if you have a park or tree-lined street nearby to oxygenate your brain and boost your circulation. Take the stairs instead of the lift (yes, that counts as a short break). Look out the window and focus on something distant, preferably something green, like a tree or grass, to give your eyes a break from the screen and reduce the possibility of eye strain, and to relax your brain so it can work better after that mini-break. Park at the far end of the car park so you can plan as you walk to work and review the day as you leave; bonus: you add steps to your daily target of 10,000.

Easy, right? Told you!

How to not lose your job to a computer

Digital disruption seems to be the buzz-word at the moment. Technological leaps are enabling entrepreneurs and innovators to develop new and unexpected business models (think, for example, Airbnb and Uber). The number of jobs at risk of being automated is astounding (up to 5 million by 2030 in Australia alone, according to Australia’s Future Workforce report by the Committee for Economic Development of Australia), while other jobs will soon need job holders who know how to work effectively (interface?) with computers.

Artificial intelligence. Automation. Advanced robotics. Digital technology and the Internet of Things. Redefined business models and jobs. Pretty mind-boggling yet, as the Prime Minister would no doubt say, very exciting.

Research by McKinsey & Company indicates that existing technologies can automate 45% of the work done in the UASA and a further 13% can potentially be automated. Australia’s Future Workforce report estimates that nearly 40% of today’s jobs in Australia are at risk of being automated and turned over to computers; worst hit is predicted to be jobs in regional and rural Australia, where more than 60% of jobs are set to be swallowed by computers.

And it isn’t only the routine jobs and tasks technology is set to swallow up. By adapting current technology, computers can take on many of the more predictable tasks of highly-paid knowledge workers such as executives, financial planners, ‘techies’ and doctors.

Mental processes such as remembering and making decisions, can be transferred to computers, microchips and networks. Richard Samson, writing in The Futurist, calls this automation ‘off-peopling’. Electronic intelligence, he says, already does a lot of the mental work that accountants, administrators, bank tellers, corporate planners, farmers, middle managers, product designers, salespeople, secretaries and soldiers used to do.

But there is still work that we can do and enjoy, provided we hone and use our non-programmable ‘hyper-human’ skills like caring, communicating, creating and taking responsibility. And provided we learn to innovate and create – products, processes, business models – it matters not what, as long as it’s viable, we can put those skills to work in jobs that electronic systems can’t perform now or any time soon.

Since computers don’t get bored and let their attention wander, they’re generally better than us in defined, predictable, repetitive and structured work. But we’re better than computers at hyper-human tasks that involve emotions, imagination, sensory perception and social skills and decisions that need intuition as well as logic and fact. These are prized abilities in some workplaces of today and probably most workplaces of the near future.

Many of these jobs are waiting to be created. You can do that by transforming and upgrading your current job so that it really benefits from your human skills. A good place to start is by letting go of last-century thinking about a job as functional activity, since these are the ones automation is taking over.

Use your skills to build relationships with colleagues, customers and suppliers. Stay alert to what’s going on around you so you can notice problems and fix them, find opportunities and work out ways to make the most of them, and prevent mishaps and mistakes.

Honour your commitments. Innovate new and improved ways of working by making tasks and processes easier, cheaper, faster or safer to do, or result in greater reliability or improved quality. Small adjustments here, little tweaks there, all add up to making you an invaluable employee.

Learn to work collaboratively in virtual teams, especially virtual project teams. Or build your skills so you’re indespensible to a process-based team (rather than a functional team).

You can also learn to work in tandem with computers (called ‘augmented intelligence’). Instead of being replaced by a computer, you’re supported by a computer in your analytic, creative and decision-making efforts. The computer supplies the raw data, options and conclusions and you do what the computer can’t – use good judgement to make the final decision. To do that, you need the thinking and judging skills to filter a deluge of information.

Okay, now that you’ve waded your way through the backlog of post-Christmas administration, what is the most important step you can take in the next five days to protect your job and your career from digital disruption and advanced robotics?

(This is longer than usual but hey, it’s important – it’s your future.)