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I have a contract with my current employer for over than one year now and might soon become a regular, as my boss told me. My boss explained to me that I should be prepared on many things when I am regularized, including politics.

What does politics mean in a corporate environment? I am really not aware of the corporate stuff since this is my first job. I was thinking that it was about some business logic that favors powerful people inside the company since I'm a software developer, our team is kinda small. But I'm not sure.

  • its called "passing" the failed and "failing" the passed one. Do not do politics, otherwise people will lose faith in education and work and technology. And also you will turn in a bad human being whom every body calls ahole and people will avoid being close to you or trust you. It will become a habbit and even your family will avoid you one day. – daa Jun 6 '15 at 20:47
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Your boss is likely referring to certain corporate cultural norms of the organization that are related to aspects of the people who are in charge.

This is best answered with an example: For instance, let's say you're working for a family business. The owner if the business may have his/her children, or other relatives, working there in the organization. As a non-relative, you may find that certain family members don't necessarily have to follow the same rules you do, or that the criteria for evaluating employees is not quite so objective. In such a situation, due to "political" reasons, you may be unable to complain to your boss about your boss's son, for instance, who may get away with less work or more perks without necessarily having more skills or organizational knowledge.

This same example could be applicable to employees who have been at the company longer than you have. In some corporate cultures, such employees may be afforded certain advantages that are unreachable to you as a new employee.

Wikipedia does a great job of defining Workplace Politics:

Workplace politics, sometimes referred to as office politics or organizational politics is "the use of one's individual or assigned power within an employing organization for the purpose of obtaining advantages beyond one's legitimate authority. Those advantages may include access to tangible assets, or intangible benefits such as status or pseudo-authority that influences the behavior of others. Both individuals and groups may engage in Office Politics." [1] Office politics has also been described as "simply how power gets worked out on a practical, day-to-day basis."[2]

The Wikipedia article goes on to say how workplace politics can help create an informal organizational hierarchy. This informal hierarchy could be a deciding factor when it comes to promotions. A manager may be more likely to promote a candidate who has built trust and understands the corporate culture than to promote someone who doesn't understand the political landscape.

Workplace politics aren't a bad thing in general, but it can become a bad thing when manipulation tactics are introduced. In some cases, the politics may work against you. In the example where many employees are family of the owners, there may be some favoritism or more personal issues that may affect your workplace experience negatively.

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    I was once taught, in a management-training course, that even making (and particularly stating) the decision that "I don't do politics," is being political. Everything you do that is intended to affect another's view of you is, in a sense. – pdr Oct 3 '12 at 10:04
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    The most harmful thing you can do to your career is to avoid workplace politics. You are in the game whether you want to be or not, to refuse to play is to make sure you lose. – HLGEM Feb 14 '14 at 20:47
  • @HGLEM - I removed that last statement from my answer, after having thought through this in more detail. There's a difference between good politics and bad politics, and I was lumping them all into the "bad" category. – jmort253 Feb 15 '14 at 1:25
  • people who play politics leave alone in their family. Nobody loves them not even their family members because it becomes habbit and family members cant take it. So its better to lose in office than at home. – daa Jun 6 '15 at 20:52
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Workplace politics is a very human phenomenom that tends to arise in organizations with at least one degree of separation between an authoratative decision or goal, and the worker.

In your typical chain of command in the US military, the President is the ultimate decision maker, however there are many layers of management between the president and the soldier. At the point where any one of these ranked officers decides to use his power or influence for an agenda in a way that does not reasonably benefit the direct orders or goals of the President, then this is politics.

In the corporate software development world, the CEO ultimately makes the high level decisions and goals, and the development team writes the software, however directors and middle management may have their own agendas that do not reasonably fall in line with the overall goals or decisions of the CEO. There is a degree of separation, and the whole reason their exists a chain of command is because the CEO would quickly find it unmanageable to manage the development team as well as other aspects of the business.

Politics need not be malicious, some of it can be harmless, like perhaps a director is having a friendly competition with another director over which team has better performance. This isn't a direct goal laid out by the CEO, but ultimately it can be concluded that a little internal competition between departments would overall improve quality.

Examples of malicious politics at play are:

  • A middle manager assigning research tasks to developers to gather information for a side business

  • A QA lead that pushes for decisions to go through her because she wants to be relevant to the organization, regardless of how this impacts the timeline of the project.

  • A sales person actively subverting the Agile development process to sneak some new features in because he promised the customer over the phone these features would be delivered but forgot to call attention to it during sprint planning.

  • A director engaged in illegal activities instructing the legal department to start shredding files.

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    Second and third examples, yes. The first is embezzlement. The last is purging records, which can be totally benign or highly illegal, depending on various factors, but rarely political. – pdr Oct 3 '12 at 13:13
  • @pdr I take it then that your definition of workplace politics ends at illegal activities? I can accept that, in my personal opinion though I just see illegal activities as a more extreme case of politics gone awry. – maple_shaft Oct 3 '12 at 13:28
  • Politics may, in extreme cases, lead to illegal activities. But the illegal activities themselves are not trying to position you within the company, they're trying to position you outside jail. Although there is a fuzzy line; I know people who have taken the legal fall for others and gained a political advantage, for example. – pdr Oct 3 '12 at 13:46
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Politics means the same in a workplace context as a government context. It is activities you do solely for the purpose of acquiring, retaining, or exercising power. In a technical job like software development, a political decision is one that doesn't consider the technical merits of each solution. It's when the person who has been there the longest gets to decide, or the person who argues the loudest. It's a decision made solely to make someone look good, or someone else look bad.

In other words, it's not enough to be the smartest guy in the room, with the best answer. You also have to know how to work within the system of how decisions are made. You have to know when to work behind the scenes and when to go public. You have to know who to approach first. You have to know who to invite and who not to invite to a meeting. It's something a lot of technically-minded people struggle with.

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Corporate politics typically have something to do with people attempting to advance their careers. This sometimes goes against the interests of the company as a whole, against principes of fairness, and is generally speaking something you usually don't want to be a part of. In my experience it has always been detrimental to the product and the code base.

Here is a recent real-life example:

There exists a large multi-national bank that has software developing centres all over the world. Sometimes these centres work collaboratively on projects, other times they are given one product to focus on. Because of the way promotions work, it is in every manager's interest to make their particular shop look good relative to others.

Sometimes there are overly ambitious but poorly performing managers/teams. They focus on making everyone else look bad at all costs possible to secure their employment and promotions, which bleeds into daily operation. For example if two developers are working on the same product from different teams, and there is a problem, they will engage in lengthy blame-game rather than constructive work.

Sometimes there will be subtle attempts at subverting teams/developers. For example, let's say you are inheriting a code base from someone and they intentionally leave out some critical details during the knoweldge transfer. Alternatively they can chose to monopolize on the knowledge to make themselves look indisposable, and hint that you can not do the job that they used to do.

Ultimately, if you do nothing about it, these kind of people will dig trenches around you and make you look bad before senior management (which is distant enough from the process to not know whether your actual work is good or not). Perception is everything in this kind of an environment, and sadly sometimes you have to play this game to survive.

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    "Corporate politics typically have something to do with people attempting to advance their careers at all costs possible." I would strike 'at all costs possible' to improve this answer. Most people in an orgainization will attempt to advance their careers by making efforts to make friends in other parts of the organization. People will attempt to gain visibility with the management and peers in social setting, such as playing golf, or if in a youthful startup, Minecraft. This is just how humans are, and it's not always a Bad Thing. – Jim In Texas Oct 3 '12 at 20:12
  • @JimInTexas In retrpospect, I agree. Answer changed. It sounds bitter enough as it is :). – MrFox Oct 3 '12 at 20:36
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Politics at work are what gets things done in organizations. The larger the organization the more politics happen, but they are there even in small firms (and sometimes more corrosively there at the small places). Ignoring them or pretending to be above them is a bad career move.

Yes some people play the game just for themselves and are dishonest in what they do. These people are the people who get credit for what others did and who will stab you in the back in a heartbeat. The best way to keep the bad people from succeeding though is to play the political game yourself. People can't take undeserved credit for what management already knows you did, for instance.

But if you have good ideas and want them adopted by the organization, if you want to get promoted to the next level, if you want to protect yourself and your reputation, you need to play the game. Technical people hate to be told this, but it is true. No one can afford not to be part of the political game at work. It makes you more effective.

So what types of actions are political?

First and probably most important is building alliances with other people. That way when you have an idea, you aren't a lone voice in the wilderness that everyone is free to ignore.

So make friends and do favors for people. Support others when they make suggestions that you think are good (or at least not harmful). Help out people who are in other fields not just your own. Help out people who are senior to you in the organization. If there are social events, attend them. Publicly give credit to others when they do something good (I write up a lot of awards and almost always tell the boss of some one who did something good that helped me). Volunteer for special projects and cross-functional groups.

If you are a developer and the users of your software are in the business you work for, then talk to them. Find out what is the biggest pain point they have with your software and fix it.

Next is protect yourself from credit grabbers and promote your own work. Make sure that your boss and his boss know when you have accomplished something. If someone gives you a compliment on something you did, ask them to tell your boss. If you get an email thanking you for a good job, forward it to your boss.

Support your boss whether you like him or not and whether you agree with him or not. Do things like timesheets in a timely manner (Bosses much prefer people they don't have to bug about doing tedious, but necessary tasks).

Do not let your boss be blindsided by a problem. Let him know if you are going to miss a deadline or if a client or user is going to be upset about something or if the last push to prod went wrong. If he might hear about the problem from somoen above him, you had better make certain he heard about it from you first. Make yourself and your boss look good, by giving him potential solutions when the inevitable problems come up.

It's OK to disagree technically on a issue before a decision has been made, but once it has, then do what you were asked to do without complaining and try your best to make it work.

When you do disagree, it is not enough just to argue (that gets you labeled as a troublemaker which is never good for your career). Present real, formal analyses of the issue (decision analysis, cost-benefit analysis, risk analysis - all these techniques should be something you know how to do and actually do when you want to finfluence a decision).

If you know a decision point is coming up on something and you have an idea for how you want the decision to go, line up your supporters beforehand, by talking to them about what you think is a good idea and get them to both critique your presentationa and support you when the presentaiton is actually made.

Now there are going to be some people who are in the political game and are succeeding without being qualified. These are people like the friends of the company owner, the CFO's nephew who recently graduated, the CEO's girlfriend, your boss's wife. If you can make friends with these people, it will help you int he long run. But I recognize that some of those people are so awful you can't make friends, so in that case at least try not to make enemies. You will never succeed in opposing these people, so don't try. It if is really horrible, then move on to a different organization. I've seen far more of these people at small privately-owned companies.

  • Good Answer but what your advise seems to me is that be a bad guy to protect from a bad guy. – Ali786 Jun 10 '15 at 6:40
  • @ali786, there is nothing in what I wrote that tells you to be a bad guy, Playing the political game does not automatically make you a bad guy. It is the one of the main parts of what makes someone successful, so if you are good at your job, you are being a bad guy by not playing since the bad guys will win. A good person and capable employee who is skilled at politics can beat out a snake who only has politics going for him. But a snake will win over the guy who refuses to play at all almost 100% of the time. – HLGEM Jun 10 '15 at 13:13
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Politics is the struggle for resources (including power and "glory") whenever more than one human is involved. In another thread on programmers, I posted a list of books that I thought young/new programmers might need to know, and in particular, the section "dealing with other people" is where you may want to focus, since a number of books dealt with office politics.

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Office or corporate politics is something you have to be very aware of (unfortunately!). They are a by-product of people working with each and other but usually for their own goals - ego is a big driving force in the corporate world and its politics.

Some individuals deliberately play a political game i.e. they see other workers (either peers or subordinates) as game pieces that they push in certain directions by either manipulating their emotions or motivations to achieve what they want. Sometimes this can be positive because it may motivate certain individuals to get work done, and drive good quality work. But it can also leave people feeling inferior and/or helpless. Usually individuals playing these types of political games in a corporate environment are very intelligent but may not be the nicest of people. Unfortunately the ones who are good at these types of politics usually have power in their company.

The ones who are not so good at this usually don't have so much power but see themselves as "game players", get wound up easily There will be days when you feel like you are still in the school playground. These types may cause you the most frustration but the key with all office politics is to rise above them and see through them. This will allow you to observe what's happening objectively. Taking this approach will also allow you to focus on your work. If you're delivering good quality work, take on board criticism and continually improve you're likely to get respect and trust from your colleagues and senior managers.

Now it's easy for me to say all this having got to a point where I am able to rise above game players and the like. Focus on becoming self-aware and trying to understand people's motivations (e.g. greed, fear, love of their job, personal issues) for getting involved in politics - this will help you contain your emotions when you have to deal with them. It has a lot to do with relationships and egos - it's impossible for so many people to work together for their own goals and not clash.

That said it's not all negative - it's usually just a few who play political games. The majority don't but it's still really important to be aware of how you handle people at work, and how tensions can arise. This is another more subtle form of politics that can sometimes be more stressful because it usually involves close co-workers. I certainly spent 6 months in my first job very paranoid about how I was being perceived by co-workers (but maybe that's just me!).

These are just thoughts based on my experience so take them or leave them, but my advice would be to make sure you're aware of how you react to people you work with and try to understand the emotions and motivations of others. What you then do with that is up to you but hopefully it will help you navigate through some of the political situations you might find yourself in at work.

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