The dark art of politics – do you need values or a brand to win battles?

Some people believe that if you are evil then you have no values and that you will be good at office politics, but that if you are good then you will have strong values and be really bad at office politics.

I believe that regardless of whether you are good or evil, you will be really stressed if you do not know your values and you will be really bad at office politics if you do not understand and manage your personal brand.

Your values matter

Your values are part of who you are – they guide your thinking around how you (and others) should behave. Acting in accordance with your values will lead to being happy, while acting against your values will create significant stress.  This is related to my last article, where I claim that you will get stressed if there is a disconnect between:

  • What you want to do;
  • What you think you should do; and
  • What you believe you are required to do as part of your job.

This is important, because when you enter a senior IT role you should be making a difference beyond just writing documents and waiting for people to decide whether you get funding.  A large part of you impact at work will be based on how well you can influence others, present compelling arguments and get results rather than waffle from steering committees.

As soon as you get asked to implement a decision you disagree with, or have to sit through a long and meaningly conversation in a boring steering committee you might find that your values are compromised (or at least tested).

Hopefully you will not be asked to do anything illegal or really bad, but you will be asked to make a lot of judgement calls.  You might get asked to reword a risk you are highlighting so you don’t scare people. You might even be asked to propose an option to a client that you know won’t work.

If you are not clear on your values, you will feel uncomfortable but not really be sure when you should cross a line (by arguing with a boss, keeping quiet when you know something or even just decide whether to respond to an email). But if you are clear, then you will find that you can act without thinking most of the time.  And when something is difficult you will know why.

Your brand matters too

Your brand is also part of who you are – it is the version of you that others see. Unless you are invisible, then people will see you and form opinions about you. These opinions will then impact the way others treat you and the credibility you will have when trying to have an impact at work (or anywhere).

You can probably improve your brand a bit by becoming really good looking and paying people to create fake blogs and Facebook pages about you, stating that you are really awesome. You may not believe me, but I did find a service where you tell someone what image you want in Facebook and they arrange for fake friends and messages to create that image for you.  But this will only have a superficial impact at work because it turns out that people don’t really care if you are awesome or boring.

The brand you have at work is based more on word of mouth.  You might have an awesome resume on linked in, but people will be more likely to hire you if a friend says you are a good developer. So even before you meet someone you have a certain reputation or brand.

Cool, you think:

“I will just bribe some friends to say I am awesome and my reputation will spread quickly. That is probably cheaper than buying fake comments on Facebook anyway. ”

This might work OK in the short term, but there is more bad news to come. People might hire you based solely on the opinion of someone they trust, but once you start to interact with people at work your previous reputation can become a stereotype.

People will think of you as “the really good IT guy” but not think to include you in the meeting about whether you should use an outside consultant to deliver a project or whether to buy a new IT tool, because they “know” you would probably want to recommend the existing internal team and tool.  So they will sign a huge contract and then come and talk to you about helping on their project, when you could have saved them all of that money by telling them what they paid for will not solve the problem they have.

So much for all the bad news, you might have already encountered these challenges.  IF not then go and find any old IT guy and ask him about working with “the business”.  Or ask any CFO what it is like dealing with IT guys. They will tell you horror stories of how hard all the politics is and how you can’t make a difference so you are doomed.

The good news is that they are right – if you believe them. But you can actually make a big difference if we go one step further.

As you interact with people at work, your old reputation becomes less important to them.  What becomes more important to them is the interactions  they have with you.

What really makes them listen to you, share the truth with you and stop playing games to work around you is their expectation of what difference you will make if they include you.  This is the real brand you will have – The expectations people have about whether you will make a difference.  And these expectations are generally based on whether you made a difference last time.

If you are seen as a horrible roadblock then this is a negative brand. If they don’t even think about you, or don’t think you will make any difference, then this is a weak brand.

If they know where you can make a difference, and believe that you will make a positive difference to them when you get involved then this is a strong positive brand.

A positive brand will be very powerful – People will involve you in the right discussions and allow you to have an impact without too much effort on your part if they believe in your brand. And just as importantly, if they are clear on your brand (where you can make a difference) then they will not bother to drag you into situations where you will not care and not be able to contribute.

So a positive brand gives you power to win at (even avoid) all the politics and knowing your values helps you feel positive and make good decisions.

Creating a brand starts with values

But how do you get a powerful brand and how does this relate to your values?

Your brand is based primarily on whether people believe you will make a positive difference – and this belief is pretty much determined by whether you seemed to have a positive impact in the past. This depends on the opportunities you had to use your strengths, the commitment you had and many other things.

If you accept that a positive brand is a powerful tool, then I will write some more articles on how to create one.

But you need to know one thing up front – your brand will be a lot more powerful if it is based on who you really are.  Otherwise you will need to constantly fake it and this is where the values come into it again.

If you are faking a brand (ie having to act differently to your natural instincts and values) then this will be a cause of constant stress.  This stress will impact your brand AND since you are faking it people will notice inconsistencies over time that will lead to more issues.

So you need your brand to align to your strengths and to your values. Which means you need to know what your values are.

My next article on brands will cover a simple approach to thinking about your values in enough detail to work for you brand.  Then I can go through some simple steps to help you focus on what it actually means to create a personal brand and how you can use that to get positive results from “office politics” rather than just stressful experiences.

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