The Art of Career Building: Chapter 6 - Organizational Politics

This sixth chapter of Sun Tzu’s The Art of War, adapted for career building by Gary Gagliardi focuses on what you need to know to position yourself within your organization.

When searching for a job or new position, you want the advantage of getting to a good company or a applying for the better position before anyone else does. You also want to avoid moving to companies or new positions where rivals are already entrenched in the best jobs. To have a successful career you have change jobs or get promoted, but don’t try to do it in places where you have rivals.

It’s best if you can get the employer to come to you. This is possible if you let them know that you’re interested. You may have employers calling you or someone in your company court you for a position that you don’t want. You can avoid those positions by making it seem expensive to hire you.

You may want a position with an employer that is completely satisfied. Your job is to make them feel they lack something. Find ways to help them realize that they are missing some key element of growth, profit, savings, or production for which you are fully qualified. This is like a waiter offering you an amazing dessert after a complete meal.

If they are just satisfied, you need to make them hungry for more of what they have. This is like the waiter offering you seconds.

If they are comfortable, make them restless. When an employer reaches a summit, they may become complacent. They may not want to rock the boat. When you recognize this, you have to show them new opportunities or threats and stir their emotions toward growth.

Know that whether you’re eating dinner or running a business, fullness is temporary. Eventually, no matter how satisfied we are, new needs will arise.

At some point, you may want to leave your job or position. When you do, never leave an existing job in a hurry. You want to move to a new job when it is unexpected. You can leave your job and move to a completely different industry but that industry must be hungry for new people.

Whatever new job or position you attempt to win, you must never fail to get the position once you decide to do so. The only way to do this is by going after an employer that really needs your skills. When choosing a new job go after those that are easy to hold onto after winning them. In other words, get hired where it will be difficult to lose your job.

The skill required for winning new positions is to know the needs of the employer. The skill for keeping that job is the ability to give the employer no idea about your weaknesses.

Be your own advisor when dealing with a new job. Be subtle. Avoid taking a political position. Don’t go into your new job with an agenda. Stay cautious and avoid making waves in a new position. Be mysterious and skillfully control your employer’s perceptions of you.

Whatever your job, look for promotions into areas in which your employer needs help and then aggressively fill the job’s responsibilities. Don’t let problems overwhelm you. Get past problems quickly, assume responsibilities quickly, and move up the ranks quickly.

Pick your battles. Don’t get involved in issues that won’t advance your career. You may have rivals that are well entrenched in their positions and you’re not going to overcome them by direct confrontation. Instead, question their performance and put them on the defensive. Avoid confrontations that don’t favor you. To protect your position, divide the responsibilities so that you can easily defend your area and leave nothing for rivals to win by attacking you. Do whatever it takes to discourage rivals from getting involved in your affairs.

Here’s how to handle the political issues that arise on the job. Make others express their ideas before you voice yours and then concentrate your thinking on the gaps in their plans. When you take a position of responsibility, focus on bringing people together. Let your rivals focus on dividing the organization into small competing groups. Then, you can unite a large group against the interest of those smaller groups. Keep the interests of the business on your side and you can easily beat a rival’s small clique. Once you beat them, you can go on to the next rival’s clique. Tackle them one at a time.

The time may come when you choose to oppose a specific idea or project. When you do, you must keep your plans a secret. Your rivals must never know. Encourage your rivals to defend all of their ideas and projects. Once they have spread themselves too thin defending all their everything, you can choose the ideas and projects to attack. When they spread themselves thin defending everywhere, they will be weak everywhere.

Money and support for projects is limited. If people get support for one pet project it comes at the cost of another. If they add people to one group, they will have to take them from another. When they spend more time in one place they have to neglect to spend time in other places. No one has enough resources to do everything. This creates undefended weak points that can be identified and exploited by you.

No matter who your rivals may be, they have weak points so prepare yourself to address them. They also have strong points but will forget about them if they are worried about you.

You must know where your organization needs help and how your actions can help it. Even if the task is difficult, you can make it successful. Don’t let your rivals know which tasks you’re planning or when they start. This prevents them from lining up opposition to you and drawing away support from your project. They won’t be able to stop people from joining and supporting you, either. They also can’t distract you from focusing on your goals. Keep your rivals ignorant even of the tasks that affect them. If they don’t know your plans, how can they oppose you?

When you pick a given task or project, you decide the balance of power. Your rivals may be powerful, but their ignorance disarms them and their influence can’t hurt you. The truth is obvious; you must let yourself be successful. Your opponents can be numerous but you can still control them while avoiding a confrontation.

When you put together your career plan, make sure you know the strengths and weaknesses of your organization. When you plan a task, know what needs to be done and what doesn’t. When you make a proposal, know what ideas will win and which ones will lose. When you face rivals, know when you have support and when you don’t.

Use your experience as your career’s centerpiece. Go into a new organization without an agenda. Avoid being categorized or pigeonholed so your rivals can’t speak against you and even the most senior manager cannot oppose you. Be sure you plan tasks that have broad support within the organization and keep your rivals in the dark. Your rivals should only learn about your responsibilities after your projects are successful. When you are successful, make sure that rivals cannot steal the credit from you. When they change their responsibilities, adjust your plans accordingly.

Remain available within your organization and do whatever job needs to be done. At the same time, avoid creating excessively high expectations. Stick to problems that you can turn into success and let the needs of the organization dictate your actions. Your success only comes from addressing those needs.

You have to avoid rigid ideas about your career path. A successful career can take any shape and if you follow shifts and changes in your organization, you can always succeed.

In each new job or position, be open to a completely new approach. Use the current trends to form your opinions and act quickly. The initial impression you make determines your success.