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     The Four Keys To Political Success

Be prepared
to use them to further
your long-term goals.
 Source: Research Institute
Personal Report For The Executive
~1977

Edith Head is the grand dame of costume design. Now seventy-one, she has worked on more than a thousand films and, over the years, won eight Oscars. In an industry not noted for stability and permanence, she is indeed a phenomenon.

How has she managed to survive and prosper? Those in the know point to one important factor--her political acumen. She knows whom to see and what to say, and when and where to make her moves. She has kept her long-term goals constantly in mind and used every opening to promote them. She is a real winner in the rewarding but often slippery game of organizational politics.

Most management experts would agree that this is a tremendous asset. All organizations are more or less political with people jockeying for position and power. In fact, every time you push a project or idea that is important to you, you have to marshal allies. Make the wrong moves and you may stand little chance of success. Make the right moves and you are on the way to getting what you want.

The average executive does an adequate job of assessing the right moves--on most occasions. What is it that puts the Edith Heads of this world way above the "average"?

Time And Information/ The first key to outstanding political success is time . You have to take the time to play the game. Head, for example, used to do thumbnail sketch of costumes, then leave it to her staff to take it from there. "That", says a former coworker, "gave her more time than the rest of us for office politics."

To the already-pressured manager, the idea of allotting precious hours for politics may seem outlandish. "But," urges one top chemical company executive, "you have to, somehow, make time. You need to talk, to observe, to get thinking about what is really going on."

But if you are to use that time well you also need to get and assess information . The more you know about organizational procedures, channels of communication, the real centers of power and influence, and above all, people, the more equipped you are to use your time to your own best advantage.

The information you need isn't always easily obtained. It is gathered from reading between the lines of memos and directives, from studying faces, from analyzing actions, from putting bits and pieces together.

Who talks with whom about what? What was the personnel manager doing in the vice president's office? They were discussing the need to terminate a certain number of employees. Now that you know, you can take steps to protect the people who report to you. What did the marketing director mean with that crack, "Some people seem to be more interested in their own goals than in those of the organization"? You hear from a good source that he is grousing to everyone about you open disagreement with one of his pet proposals. So now you know that the crack is meant to you--and you can make the necessary moves to protect yourself.

Timing And Intuition/ It's vital that you recognize the moment when what you say or what you do will stand the best chance of getting you want you want. There is no point, for instance, in beginning a campaign to expand your marketing functions at a time when top executives are deeply concerned because the new prototype failed to meet specifications. Nor are you likely to gain by putting on pressure to get rid of the new employee relations director--to you, an obvious incompetent--when as yet no one else with real clout seems aware of her drawbacks.

When your are not sure that the timing is right, it is usually better to do nothing. "I sit on the fence and bide my time," says an advertising director, "just keeping my thoughts to myself. And, eventually, that right moment arrives."

But how do you recognize that the moment to move has come? By intuition . There are people who knock it, cautioning that it can get you in a lot of trouble if your hunch is wrong. But those who recognize the value of intuition--and use it--say that nine times out of ten that inner voice saying "Now's the time to move in" is worth heeding.

The fact is, of course, that intuition works when it is based on solid evidence that has been coolly and dispassionately appraised. Like Edith Head, expert politicians take the time to play the game and get all the information they need. Thus armed, their intuition tells them--quite properly--when their timing couldn't be better.

Observation: Some people use these four keys to win one objective after another. Yet the never go as far as they want to in their careers. What do they do wrong?

Where they consistently undercut themselves is in winning short-term objectives which don't advance their long-term goals. These long-term goals have to be well-defined. You have to know when to announce them, how and to whom. But many managers make the mistake of going along with fuzzy projections for the future. Then when the moment comes to make their specific goals clear, they waste time trying to formulate them.

What's more, since they are so imprecise--even in their own minds--they do not play politics in ways which consistently work to their long-term advantage. That's the difference between the pro like Head and an skilled political amateur: Using every opportunity and every maneuver to get a step near the place you know you want to go.

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