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.
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.
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