Wednesday, January 25, 2017

How do I play office politics in order to get promoted at my office?

However you want, for as long as you last.
And if you're really good at it, you won't get caught: that's the nature of manipulation. Good luck with it.

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We have a test that we give out to our employees a couple of times a year -- more often if we suspect a problem -- that I originally read about in a book about the Israeli Defense Forces years ago.

It's a major factor in how they select their officers. One thing about the IDF with which I've always been impressed, is how all of their officers begin as enlistees, starting at the very bottom; unlike American and British and Commonwealth forces that automatically put college graduates on an officer track, and just as arbitrarily consider anyone without a four-year degree as unqualified for any more than enlisted service: regardless of eventual experience, achievement or performance. (E-9, Sergeant Major or Master Chief -- which is still quite respectable -- is as high as he can go, unless, of course, he earns a degree while he's in service). As a college dropout who has frequently missed opportunities and experienced stalled career progression over the years for lack of a degree, my own very strong feelings are that there must be a better, more effective, more fair, and less arbitrary way to spot people with talent and potential; and that's what I want very much for any company that I run. If you're my competitor, go right ahead and mindlessly refuse to put anyone other than 'highly qualified' college pukes in your company's key positions. I'll have just the right people, with the precise skills, abilities and talent that I need -- including, perhaps, some of your rejects -- and I'll blow past you so fast that, despite our focus on what really matters, we'll actually regret just a little that we were moving too fast to see the look on your face as we passed you.
Considering the capabilities of that testing system, I'm thinking, if they give it to every guy in the Israeli army, how much of a secret can it be? And wouldn't it be really great to get a copy of that test and adapt it for use in an American workplace? And, it turns out, it's no secret, it's freely available. The only thing noteworthy about the IDF's use of it is that back in the sixties when they discovered it, they picked up on it and ran with it. A few American companies use it as well. It's very open-source: the psychologists who developed it have shared it around even more freely than Myers-Briggs. You can draw up the test yourself in accordance with the prescribed format, administer it, and there's a cheap shareware download that you can use to score it (the scoring algorithm is the only part to which there's any complexity at all).

We administer it over the course of a week or so. I'll catch a relatively new employee (preferably, toward the end of her shift the day before she's scheduled for a few days off), explain it as a 'questionnaire' (to them, that's what it is, not a test, and besides, you'd be surprised how innocuous the questions seem to be), give her a copy and an envelope to put it into and seal it up when she's done -- and assurance that it will be reviewed offsite, I won't see her answers, so she doesn't have to worry about anything she says being held against her. Please make yourself comfortable in the conference room for a few minutes, help yourself to some of the food and sodas we left in there, complete the questionnaire, very candidly and honestly, seal it up in the envelope, give it back to me before you leave. Don't go sharing it around with the others that we gave it to you, and tell me if anyone asks you any questions about it.
Over the next few days, in reverse order of seniority (ideally, I wouldn't want word getting around that we're running this test until most of them have taken it, and at any rate I want those newer people who are not quite as much in tune with the internal politics of the workplace to have already taken it by the time word gets around that the test is being run), we do the same, until all employees have taken the test. Then -- to honor my agreement that I won't see the answers -- I'll have someone outside score the tests, and send the results back to me.
If you score too highly on certain parts of this test, you're going to disappear. Your days working for my company are numbered -- after waiting a decent interval, I'll fire you and throw you out in the street at the next opportunity.

(No one gets fired as a direct result of how this test comes up -- we don't have quite that level of confidence in it; or in our ability to compose it, administer it and interpret the results but just so precisely; and anytime we make a conclusion based on the outcome of the test, we require corroboration in the form of something else that we have seen ourselves, or know based on a trusted source -- but it does occasionally identify people who need to be removed eventually.)

Want to game it or try to cheat on it? Good luck. Your score depends on the answers of your co-workers, not your own answers. The tribe has spoken . . . I don't run my company democratically, I do not encourage line employee involvement on staffing decisions, and indeed I become quite rankled quite quickly at uninvited employee suggestions on such matters -- if you work for us, you don't tell me (or -- in its own way, even worse -- make subtle suggestions) who I should hire and fire, unless you want me getting a crosshair on you.

But there is no place for players of politics, brownnosers, backstabbers, suck-ups, posers, phonies, frauds or other symptomatic psychopaths in my company. If you're one of those, you might con me, I may be a little slow to pick up on it (particularly if I, specifically, am the guy you're trying to con), but your peers will catch it much more quickly. There's an old saying in the Navy: There are lots of ways to impress the skipper. There's only one way to impress a crew.
And that's how the test works. You can dazzle your manager, or even me, but if no one else gets it about you, I'm going to find out quickly and ask myself if I'm being impressed for no good reason. If, for whatever reason, a critical mass of your co-workers dislike you, or hold you in contempt, or feel that you're not doing your job and leaving them to pick up the slack, or mistrust you, or feel that you're always trying to look better than you are or to look good at their expense; then the nicest thing that's going to happen is that you're going to be advancement-ineligible for awhile (until I know the reason why, and that reason is something I'm okay with), and I'm not going to bet the ranch on your longevity with the company or any contributions you might offer to it.
This test is, in addition to being something that works well in identifying management talent and possible candidates for advancement, an absolute dandy on gauging workplace dynamics. (Indeed, that's what it's designed for.)
What does it tell me?
  • Is there someone on my staff who, unnoticed or underappreciated by me, is considered by much of my staff as the 'go-to' person when they need to solve a problem? (For follow-up: Does this benefit the operation, or does this person need to be watched?)
  • Who gets their work done super-efficiently, and reaches out to help others with theirs? Who's always leaving stuff for others to do?
  • If I advance a certain individual into a management or supervisory accountability, will his newly acquired authority be accepted and respected by the others, or resented and perhaps even rejected? (Even if a majority of the staff indicates possible acceptance, a critical mass within the minority who have strong feelings about us advancing you will slow your career progression, if not foreclose it completely. Workplace psychopaths tend to be popular people, but there are always those one or two mine canaries that they somehow manage to cross and to totally alienate along the way, leaving behind strong feelings and nasty grudges in having done so.)
  • Who on my staff is a stickler for following rules? Who are my scofflaws I have to watch? (For follow-up: In either case, is this, on balance, helping this person's performance, or hurting or limiting it?)
  • Is there a clique or in-group formed between certain members of the staff in the hotel to the exclusion of others? Is it active in ways that affect the organization? (For follow-up: If so, I'll move some people around and dismantle it to the extent possible. Management runs the hotel, unsanctioned committees of employees don't. One memorable quote from Ayn Rand's The Fountainhead that has helped me catch on to things in the past: "If people want to organize for wages, hours or practical demands, it's their proper right. But when there's no tangible purpose, you'd better watch closely.") Is there, God forbid, more than one - and perhaps some rivalry or infighting between the two?
  • Who will, when a situation becomes tricky or difficult, get the job done no matter what? Who is bad about letting little things stop him or her from getting the job done?
  • Who thinks outside the box? Who is generally orthodox in their thinking? Who can barely think at all?
  • Is there someone on the staff who is always seeking an advantage for himself or herself over the others -- or even worse, at the expense of others -- or make himself look better than the others? Worst of all, is there someone on the staff that is just plain mistrusted by many of the others; whose presence in the workplace is a source of anxiety for many others, or who too many people feel that they have to watch their back around him, or worry in some way about what she is sooner or later going to do? (For follow-up: prepare a termination notice, even if I have to suck an unemployment insurance claim. Usually when, out of twenty to twenty-five people, one or two people stick out for a good half of the others as someone you can't trust if you turn your back on them for ten seconds, there's a reason.)
  • Is there an ongoing feud between any employees?
  • Who really knows their job, makes it look easy, and gets it done well? Who is in over their head at what we now have them doing and frequently needs help? (For follow-up: How have we been missing it, if we didn't already have some idea before we ran the test?)
  • Is there someone on the staff that has some disproportionate level of authority or influence over a significant number of others, even though he or she is not in a management or supervisory accountability that's actually intended to carry that level of authority or influence? (For follow-up: How did he or she swing it, and why do people defer to this person? Should we consider this person for possible advancement, or should we have gotten them out of here already?)
  • Is there someone on the staff that, despite having worked there awhile, just plain doesn't fit in or is being marginalized by the others? Is a certain individual -- especially someone in a supervisory accountability -- being bypassed or excluded whenever possible? (For follow-up: Why?)
  • Who on my staff can be counted upon to go the extra inch and help and support others in a positive way? Who on my staff is only out for themselves, that you have to watch your back around?
Jenny, I've got your number . . . Hope it all works out for you.

Originally appeared on Quora

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