You work a lot harder and you're a lot smarter, but why are you not up for promotion?

Vulcan Post  |  SG
Published 2014-11-14 11:25:24

Welcome to the “CEO Series”. Here, we talk about how entrepreneurs learn to become great CEOs, as the greatest technology companies in history, most often than not, are led by people like them.

I hate company politics. However, as an ex-colleague in Fortune 100 in America, I know this is a game that you just cannot escape from.

As you work for a few years, I believe that you will eventually meet some ‘top managers’ that you can’t figure out how they got their job and why the upper management promoted him even though he knows nothing. Because of these people, I started thinking: If I want to get promoted in a big company; does the corporate politic games matter or do skills and capabilities matter more in the corporate world? Eventually, I concluded that the answer is – corporate politics.

Welcome to the illogical and unreasonable ‘Alice in the Corporate Politics Land’.

Image Credit: Howstuffworks
Image Credit: Howstuffworks

I do not define ‘Corporate Politics’ as backstabbing, gossiping or doing something that’s against your principles. For me, dealing with corporate politics is building the foundation for  your career and taking the initiative to get to know and plan your position, image, future and network in your company. If ‘Corporate Politics’ is not an appropriate term to you, you can replace it with ‘Managing Upwards’, ‘Network-Skills’, ‘EQ Management’, and etc., because they are some of the elements in ‘Corporate Politics’.

Being effective in the corporate politics world is not a condition that can be taken lightly. It is an examination that decides whether you stay or you go. Below are some points that support this statement:

  1. Even though you’re not keen towards corporate politics, it does not mean that you can step out from it. People will take advantage of you.

Maybe ignorance is the way you deal with corporate politics or you might not want to create chaos among the co-workers; therefore, you step out of this mess. You might think that it is a waste of time and effort on corporate politic and you prefer to put more efforts in your job.

Image Credit: Automation
Image Credit: Automation

I totally understand on how you feel. But if you give up the game, sooner or later you will become the puppet for the winner of the game. Some of my smart and hardworking friends were not promoted or worse still, they were nominated to be eliminated, but the other less smart or lazier colleagues were not even listed to be eliminated. The reason that leads to this unfair situation is: when these hardworking people scarify their lunch time for a perfect report, their co-workers are enjoying their lunch with the manager.

You might think that getting the report done earlier is more important because networking is not part of your job description. But in fact, these unwritten rules are far more important than the written rules. Perhaps you might not see the results from investing your efforts on corporate politics in short term, yet I bet in ten years time, your colleague will be the one who gets promoted instead of you. Even though getting a promotion might not be your concern, no one is going to help you when you in trouble if you are alone in this competitive world. If you do not wish to be manipulated, it leaves you no choice but to join the corporate politics game because you are part of the game even if you don’t actually want to be.


  1. The top management themselves value corporate politics 

My previous company is a well-known international company in the world. Every year, talents from different areas are selected to be trained at the head quarters for several years. These selected employees enjoy allowances for medical costs, the cost of living, and even the school fees for their children. At first, I couldn’t understand why would the company spend so much for this training which purpose is to develop their soft skills (in other words, this period is to develop networking in the HQ).

After some years of observation, I realized that those big corporate companies tolerate corporate politics and encourage the existence of it. The simplest reason perhaps is: if you cannot handle internal politics then how are you going to face external pressure, encourage new policies, deal with the competitors’ strategy when you are in the management level. Not long ago, I came across the course Change Leadership in Cornell University which teaches how to create alliance and make proactive negotiation. Perhaps in the near future, this class will become a compulsory course for those interested in joining a corporate company.

  1. You can change the game rules only after you’ve won the battle.

As I mentioned before, corporate politics disgust me. When I was a newbie in the company, I thought those who are good at corporate politics are people who are not smart, not hardworking and not capable, and being good at playing corporate politics is their short cut to succeed. In fact, I was too proud to join in the corporate politics game. I graduated second from the Department of Chemical Engineering, I got a scholarship and I was one of the youngest lawyers in the corporate world. I wanted to prove myself and I thought I will get attention someday with my talent and capability (sometimes I blame it on Cinderella that we tend to dream unrealistically about our relationships and career).

Image Credit: CigarInspector
Image Credit: CigarInspector

But within one year, my fantasy was broken. My assessment was just exactly the same as my colleague, the new colleague that just started his third day in the company; who spent the company budget joining events, transferred messy cases to me and while I was busy doing his job, he took all the credit.

This hatred towards corporate politics made me decide to deal with corporate politics, and to be the winner because only the winner has the right to change the rules.

  1. Corporate politics will never grow old

I know what you are thinking. You might probably think that I am slapping my own face, as the previous paragraph encouraged you to deal with office politics and change the rules; but I have a feeling that you probably won’t wish to change the rules once you’ve reached the top. Why? Because in the process of climbing to the top, you will learn that corporate politics has its necessary evil just like what the other leaders think.

If you are really not keen on office politics, maybe the only choice you have would be to create your own business or join a new business!

Are capability and knowledge important? Of course they are important, especially when you are fresh in your career (because you still have not own the key to the game). In addition, you must be excellent in every aspect to earn respect from the co-workers. The message that I am trying to highlight is do not underestimate the influence of corporate politics and the one who deals with office politics will probably get promoted faster than you.

If you encounter a manager who does not fit his position but is good at office politics, learn from him!

This article is originally posted by Business Weekly here. The article is translated from Chinese by Loh Sin Yee. Images were added into the article for visual purposes.

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