Ask An Exec: Winning at the Game of Office Politics

Office politics is a game that can be difficult to win, but if you want to succeed in business, play you must. One person who knows how to handle office politics – in a positive way – is Nina Simosko.

In her position at Nike, Inc., Nina leads the creation and execution of Nike Technology strategy and operations world-wide. In addition, Nina serves on the Advisory Boards of Taulia, Inc., Appcelerator Inc. and K2 Partnering Solutions.

Nina approached me at a time when I was searching desperately (and unsuccessfully) for a guest speaker who’d be willing to tackle the topic of office politics in a webinar. “I love this topic!” she volunteered, adding: “I cannot believe you had trouble getting anyone to jump in on this.”

And love it she does! After the webinar wrapped, many participants still had questions; so Nina, in true rock-star style, blogged answers to all of them. Here are some highlights:

QUESTION: Do you feel you MUST engage in office politics in order to be considered successful? Jane, WA

NINA: Politics are a reality and one must not ignore them or do so at their own peril. I am not a fan of politics, but I have learned that ignoring them can have negative consequences. I believe that we all must understand the nature of the politics within our respective companies and participate to the extent necessary.

QUESTION: Can you comment on our ability to change the game of office politics rather than adapting? Kelly, WA

NINA: Changing the game is very difficult, if not
impossible. However, that said, it may be worth trying in some circumstances. In my own career, I have had to learn the rules of the game in each of the companies that I worked for. However, I was able to create an environment more of my choosing within my team which downplays politics and fosters more open communications.

QUESTION: What advice do you have for taking risks and navigating regarding office politics in the current environment of lay-offs? Michelle, WA

NINA: I think that risk taking is an important factor in one’s success or failure. Calculated risks that are well thought out and appropriately discussed with management are the “right” types of risks to take and when done properly have the support or acknowledgement of superiors. For me, in these difficult times where we are all being forced to do more with less, those that are unwilling to take appropriate risks are not being as creative or innovative as they could be. It is such creativity and innovation which will ultimately help us pull ourselves out of this economic turmoil and I strongly encourage those in my teams to think in these ways….but to be smart about it!

QUESTION: Nina, what are some of the “rules of the game” that you have encountered? Shelley, TX and Kay, CA

NINA: I have encountered issues of being the only woman in the room, being younger than many of my colleagues, etc. but I have always kept my focus on delivering value and results. I believe, based on my experience, that outcomes matter the most. If you can deliver what is needed, gender, age and other things are less important.

QUESTION: At what point do you determine that the politics are not in line with your values and that the organization is not the right one for you? Janet, CA

NINA: This is a subjective decision as each of our values are personal. However, I would not recommend anyone stay in a position where they believe that they would be encouraged or forced to compromise their values or morals. Of course, these economic times may demand that we do all that we must to keep our job and income, but at some point, we all get pushed too far. Fortunately, I have not had such situations occur in my career.

JO: In my experience, women tend to stay longer than they should in a culture that is not a match, or in positions where a manager is putting a lid on their career development. Building relationships and getting to know people better can do a lot to build appreciation of diverse of values and perspectives, so give that a genuine effort for at least a few months.

QUESTION: It seems inauthentic to go around trying to build relationships just for the sake of furthering my career. How do you find time and organically meet with influencers? Christine, TX

NINA: One of the very best ways to connect with people is to offer to assist them in some way. Especially in these challenging economic times, there is no shortage of people who feel overwhelmed and could use some assistance. If you are able to authentically connect with and assist folks with things of importance to them, then they will want to repay the favor and will be available to you when needed. Surely, if it is perceived that you are only reaching out to help yourself, this will not achieve the best outcome. Your efforts to connect with others must be authentic.

Want more? Follow @ninasimosko in Twitter and read her blog, www.ninasimosko.com

Watch “Win at the Game of Office Politics”, available immediately when you register for the Emerging Women Leaders Webinar Series.

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Jo Miller

A leading authority on women’s leadership, Jo Miller is a sought-after, dynamic, and engaging speaker, delivering more than 70 speaking presentations annually to audiences of up to 1,200 women. Her expertise lies in helping women lead, climb, and thrive in their corporate careers. Jo has traveled widely in Europe, North America, Asia Pacific, and the Middle East to deliver keynotes and teach workshops for women’s leadership conferences, women’s professional associations, and Fortune 1000 corporate women’s initiatives. Jo is CEO of leadership development, consulting and research firm Be Leaderly. Learn more about her speaking engagements at www.JoMiller.net and follow @Jo_Miller on Twitter.

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