It’s my turn now. My turn to talk politics. Product Politics that is. I’m not that crazy to start a government politics discussion here. That isn’t what this blog is about. It is about products – from the marketing to development to management and everything before and after. So I was fortunate enough recently to co-present a session at the Seattle Product Camp with Jim Holland on “Politics in the Product World.” Jim has written on this in a few of his blog posts, and now it’s my turn.
First, a little background. Jim and I have never worked together. We have developed a working relationship virtually, and have become resources for each other in the product world we share. However, we do this by coming at our relationship from different levels. As my bio states, I’ve never held the VP title or had a seat at “the table”, but Jim has. We’ve both talked with enough product professionals over our careers to understand the challenges that “politics” present. We thought that with our differing views, it would be an interesting topic to present.
To me, politics is the negative term used for organizational dynamics. I recognize that every company, every business, every team has its share of challenges and personalities which require navigating. But, just as bureaucratic is the term to use when process goes awry, politics is the term I use when the organizational communication and direction falls aside.
In Jim’s post on the recap, he does a great job capturing the warning signs that product professionals saw in their organizations. This list includes, among other items: “I see the empire builders working on their agenda and not what’s important.” “There’s visible favoritism that impact decisions.” “People hoard information on a consistent basis and won’t provide key data for decisions.” “It’s evident that there is a fear of turf wars.” “A lot of conversations and decisions happen through back channels.”
From the practitioner’s view, that is the one who is not in the leadership seat, it comes down to trust: trust in the leadership, the vision, and the ability to execute.
Keeping it in perspective may be a challenge. You feel that you’re not the one who has any control; that you are just a “pawn” in the game being played around you and you don’t have a turn. But, keeping the situations in the right perspective is exactly what you must do to avoid destructive behaviour – usually your own.
As a practitioner, recognize that politics and organizational dynamics are and will be visible in EVERY company. If you are scared of your leadership, you have a problem. Your leadership has to be involved and actively communicating with all levels of the org. As a contributor, you need to support the effort of the leadership then take action, not just words. And, non-verbal action counts. Lots!
But, besides listening more carefully, and supporting the actions, there are other actions you can take as a practitioner. First, remember your priorities – be able to explain the value in the plan to achieve, metrics and results. Next, find a “supporter” on the same level, a peer to the one blocking you, to act as a mentor through the process you are having troubles navigating. And, don’t make assumptions about who is your supporter.
To navigate effectively – Don’t whine! Keep away from making it about people. It may be, but don’t be the person in the organization to make that be known. That is not your role.
Above all, to be effective, and avoid getting dragged into the games that are happening around you, the negative games and actions, remember why you were hired. What is your distinctive competence? What do you bring to the team, to the company that is unique? (For more on this, read the previous post here.)
Looking in from the outside, as a practitioner, you cannot help but be exposed to the negative dynamics that are happening around you, the politics. But, you can control how you respond. That in fact may be the only thing you can control. Own your priorities, own your distinctive competence, own your accountability and you will come through the situation fine