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Political savvy gets you the promotion you deserve

5 min read


In the beginning of my corporate career, I made a conscious effort to avoid office politics. I thought it was a waste of my time and felt that people who engaged in the politics were dirty, manipulative, and underhanded. That is, until I had an experience where I was passed over for a promotion. That rocked my boat! As a result of this experience, I understood for the first time how my avoidance of the workplace dynamics set me up to be blindsided and overlooked.

My comfort level, like many women, was to focus on my work and performance. In fact, according to 2011 research, 77% of women believe their talent and hard work positions them for advancement. Our avoidance of the politics, however, makes us vulnerable because we lack the information about what it takes to get promoted and who makes and influences the decisions. Essentially, we are working in a vacuum with little or no input from key stakeholders on how to move our careers forward.

Political savvy is critical in order to survive and thrive in highly competitive work environments. It involves both the willingness to embrace the politics and the savvy to navigate the reality of your workplace.

What are the top 5 things you need to do to become politically savvy and get the promotion you deserve?

  1. Promote yourself with savvy and authenticity.

In order to promote yourself well, first take the time to understand your value proposition; the unique way you deliver the work for successful business outcomes. Your value proposition gives you confidence to communicate your achievements. It enables you to see the direct relationship between your work and specific business results. Once you understand this relationship, you can position yourself across the organization as someone who can help others achieve their goals for the overall benefit of the business. In doing so, you gain more visibility and credibility for yourself and your team.

  1. Observe the workplace dynamics.

There are three major things to look for when it comes to your workplace: the rules, the power, and the culture. Who has power and influence? How are decisions made? Who are the decision makers? Who influences those decisions? What are the formal rules and the unwritten rules? Which rules are sacred? What does it take to get ahead? What type of behavior is rewarded and what is not?

It takes focus and intention to understand the complexities of your workplace culture. There are constant shifts in power and influence and changes in leadership bring changes in the rules and culture. Keeping abreast of these dynamics helps you align yourself with those who can best help you reach your goals. Observing the workplace gives you the information you need to move your career forward and avoid landmines.

  1. Network strategically

Research supports the fact that networking strategically leads to higher income and bonuses and faster promotions. Start with your career goal. Who do you know and who do you need to know inside and outside the organization to help you reach that goal? Step outside your comfort zone to build connections and relationships with the right people; people who will speak for you and recommend you for promotions and high profile assignments.

Research also shows that the more diverse your network, the more effective it is for your advancement. This requires you to step outside your comfort zone perhaps and reach out to people you may not know but who you believe can help you reach your goal. Seek out connectors who can open doors for you and make introductions on your behalf.

  1. Find a sponsor

As you build a network of allies and champions, identify potential sponsors. Sponsors take action on your behalf and help create new opportunities for you. They promote you and protect you from the politics at play. In fact, when it comes to winning high profile assignments, the intervention of sponsors tends to improve outcomes by 30%. If your company has a formal sponsorship program, find out what the qualifications are for enrollment. If there is no program, you might consult with your boss, colleagues, or Human Resources to identify someone appropriate.

  1. Get a coach

Working with an executive coach helps you overcome both your internal and external barriers to success. A good coach can have a huge impact on your career by providing a clear road map for you to reach your goals. They will assist you in the development of leadership skills, executive presence and political savvy.

Ambitious men and women understand that great performance only qualifies you for the promotion. Political savvy is necessary to achieve and maintain leadership status.

Award-winning entrepreneur and Forbes and Business Insider contributing writer Bonnie Marcus, M.Ed., has real conversations for real women in the workplace today. The president of Women’s Success Coaching, she assists women to navigate the workplace and advance their careers. She is also the author of “The Politics of Promotion: How High-Achieving Women Get Ahead and Stay Ahead.” Visit her website.

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