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Four Reasons to Love Corporate Politics

organizational consulting Jan 11, 2017
corporate politics

The last role I held at Walt Disney World before I left to start my own consulting firm was as the senior manager for Operations Integration. My job was to ensure that the senior executives from the theme parks, resorts, lines of business and support organizations worked together effectively and were on the same page, and that large-scale initiatives were implemented effectively across organizational boundaries. When my team and I were brainstorming a logo for our department, we jokingly decided we would design the “O” in Operations Integration to resemble a large bull’s eye, because of the amount of corporate politics we had to manage and mitigate. It felt like a miracle when we got anything accomplished while balancing competing organizational priorities and the ego needs of high-level executives.

I, like most leaders and consultants, began to develop a deep frustration for corporate politics that slowed me down, because it was time-consuming and emotionally draining.

But then I started to see the results of a large-scale initiative that I led to revamp Walt Disney World’s approach to guest service and leadership excellence. The project started out as a request from the senior vice president of Operations and, by the time it was implemented, it had the fingerprints of all the executives in operations and the buy-in of the support organizations. It was owned and received well. And I know for certain that without the contribution of each leader I worked with, the quality of the results would have been less.

I learned in that moment that is wasn't my technical savvy that enable my consulting success. It was my political savvy. Political savvy is what enables me to land work AND deliver it with excellence. If you want to thrive as a consultant, cultivating political savvy is NOT an option, but an essential aspect of your consulting skills. 

  1. Politics is nothing more than an informal, unwritten way of getting things done in an organization. Politics is and will always be a part of an organization, because people are involved. The more people there are, the greater the politics.
  2. Politics provides checks and balances. There are reasons for competing priorities in a company. The slow deliberation found in the finance organization helps to balance the urgency exhibited by the sales organization. The in-depth studies of “people implications” done in human resources helps to balance the need for personnel in operations to get projects done, “now.”
  3. Politics can leverage the unique talents of different leaders so that the whole becomes greater than the sum of its parts. When I consider the guest service project I led, I can point to Jim’s ability to name the project creatively, Beth’s ability to connect the cast and guest experiences, and Joni’s analytical side that gave us the data we needed to make appropriate decisions.
  4. Politics ensures there will be more reflection on a course of action up front, which can save time and dollars down the road. For example, when the creative arm of Disney started to work more closely with the operations team, thousands of dollars were saved that had in the past been spent on correcting mistakes.
  5. Politics is the best way to express and develop the effective use of power in leaders and organizations. Politics reveals power – who has it and who doesn’t, and how power is used. The word “power” itself can conjure up negative connotations. But effective use of power can be….well, powerful.

To effectively land business, you have to know who has the power to both sponsor the work at hand AND sign on the dotted line of your proposal. And those people are not necessarily the ones who physically pick up the phone to call you. Therefore, the first place your political savvy shows up is how to create a relationship with the person tasked with finding you WHILE leveraging that connection to find the buyer.

The second place your political savvy shows up in how you engage with your future client on the best way to position you and your expertise. When you are contracting for work, you want to make sure that you are perceived and set up to be a peer-to-peer strategic partner. Your political and relational savvy comes into play when you take charge of the contracting conversation from wants...to needs.

The third place your political savvy shows up in is how you engage the organization around the work. To effectively implement change and organizational improvement solutions, you need buy-in from the senior team and key stakeholders. To achieve this outcome, you have to understand the true power dynamics and create simultaneous strategies that take into account the people aspects of change, not just the tactics.

Next Step

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