How to Survive Corporate Politics

small business company politics

5 insights small business owners need to know to keep the pulse on internal politics.


“Survival of the fittest” is a phrase that originated when Charles Darwin wrote on his theory of natural selection.

The phrase was actually coined by Herbert Spencer after reading Darwin’s “On the Origin of Species.” Basically, the theory is that nature will consistently ensure the survival of a species through the “natural selection” if its strongest specimens.

Only those individual members of a species that exhibit the highest level of ability to survive environmental elements will live long enough to reproduce, passing along DNA to their offspring, and thus allowing for the continual evolution of their species.

Of course “survival” implies a battlefield in which some will make it out alive and others won’t.

Corporate politics is one such battlefield.

Sitting through hundreds of interviews with professionals at all levels and in a myriad of industries, it has become obvious to me that for many professionals that do not survive their jobs, the reason for their demise can often be attributed to their lack of ability to understand, and win inside their employer’s corporate politics.

Even more pervasive, corporate politics impacts business owners and entrepreneurs. Not “getting” the corporate politics of your customer can result in losing their business, even if what you have to offer is something they really want and need.

So what is corporate politics and why is it important?

According to Wikipedia, it refers to “the use of power and social networking within an organization to achieve changes that benefit the organization or individuals within it. Influence by individuals may serve personal interests without regard to their effect on the organization itself.”

The phrase has a negative connotation because when you hear it you automatically assume that the people that are exercising corporate politics are abusing their power and making decisions that are not in the best interest of the company or the individuals within it, but most likely for the benefit of a very few - those that are in power and seeking to amass more of it - for their personal gain. It’s important because it exists and because knowing how to survive it is critical to your success.

We can probably all agree that corporate politics appears to be unavoidable.

Some people seem to naturally and quickly understand the corporate politics of an organization, while others struggle until they either get it or they don’t. And when they don’t, what is often predictable is the termination of employment or the loss of a customer. It doesn’t have to be that way.

Following are 5 tips to help you survive corporate politics, regardless of whether you totally understand it or not, so you can fight the battle and remain alive and well:

1.   If a future employer tells you in an interview,

“we don’t have corporate politics here,” don’t believe them!

Assume that all companies have a structure in which certain behaviors are rewarded and others are punished.

That is corporate politics in a nutshell. Armed with this assumption, ask the questions that are relevant to understanding what this structure is. For example, “What are the personality traits of the individuals in your organization that have succeeded beyond your expectations?”

You can also ask the opposite question, “What are some of the personality traits of individuals within your organization that have failed in this role?”

2.   Be curious; ask a lot of questions.

Your inquiries into understanding the political structure of your future employer must not end with the interview process.

Once employed, your questions become even more important. You must become a keen observer of everyone around you.

For example, notice how people behave, and then connect the dots with how much attention they receive from superiors.

Is that attention negative or positive?

Next- Tips 3-5 to help you survive corporate politics


About the author

Lily Z. Winsaft

As CEO and Founder of Aldebaran Associates, Ms. Winsaft focused her 25 years of corporate and entrepreneurial experience to create a company dedicated to addressing the hiring and training challenges facing corporations and professionals in the 21st Century. The firm provides highly selective recruiting services for fortune 500 companies in the consumer goods, advertising, marketing, legal, accounting, information technology and non-profit sectors. Given her notoriety in the Hispanic community and among international organizations, her firm plays a major role in boosting organizational diversity and in the placement of candidates at companies transacting business in Latin America or selling products and services to the U.S. Hispanic consumer segment.