5 Insights on How to Survive Corporate Politics

small business company 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?

3.   Ask your manager

To paint a picture for you of what the route to success within the organization looks like. Be genuinely enthusiastic about learning everything you can in regards to what it will take to succeed in your job.

Your manager is not the only person you can get this picture from. Be creative. Be bold.

4.   Be honest with yourself.

Don’t fool yourself into believing that you can get around structures that have been in place probably since the inception of the company. Look at yourself from the eyes of your superiors rather than from a place of arrogance.

Avoid being impetuous.

5.   Stop believing that corporate politics is a bad thing.

It usually serves a meaningful purpose, even if it is hard to see at first. In other words, embrace the corporate politics of your company/customer and find ways to align yourself with it. It’s hard to embrace something, much less succeed within it, if its connotation opposes your personal value system.

Create your own perspective about it and stop buying into what others are saying.

Unlike Darwin’s theory in which the physical and behavioral changes that make natural selection possible happen at the level of DNA and genes, survival of the fittest in a corporate environment depends on factors that are more within the reach of the average person than they might “see.”

That’s because inherent in the DNA of a human being lies unlimited potential and endless possibilities that stretch beyond the physical and behavioral.

Believe it!

Related articles:

Definitive Steps to Create the Optimal Small Business Growth Team

5 Tips for Creating Motivated Employees

10 Don’ts for Small Business Owners and Entrepreneurs


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