Have you seen the popular new television show-of-the-moment, Mad Men? This multiple-award winning cable program depicts life in an ad agency on New York’s Madison Avenue in the early 1960s. Aside from the era-appropriate smoking and drinking (even in early-morning meetings), the absence of anything more technologically advanced than the new Selectric typewriters all the secretaries are using, and the seriously retro wardrobe, this program is current and relevant, especially in terms of office politics, bad hires and how the two can combine to create a tsunami of hurt for the workplace.
All throughout the first season, viewers have seen trouble brewing for our hero, Don Draper, around whom the show centers. The trouble is an overly-ambitious underling, Pete, who clearly is after Don’s job. When a promotion is up for grabs, Pete tries to use underhanded methods to convince Don into giving the new job to him. Instead, Don hires an affable, seemingly successful outsider, Duck. The viewers are happy — the scheming, ambitious Pete got knocked down a few pegs, Don made the right decision by hiring Duck, and all is right with the world.
Oh, if only poor Don Draper had used pre-employment testing.
As the second season of the series dawns, we see the fruits of this incredibly bad hire. Instead of the affable team player he appeared to be in interviews, Duck has turned out to be a horrid, ambitious climber who will do anything, including alienating Don’s best clients, to get ahead. Pete, meanwhile, has hitched his wagon to Duck’s rising star, creating an evil empire that Don must now work against.
The most enthusiastic-sounding people in interviews can turn into the most overly-ambitious, claw-to-the-top employees, making life tough on everyone in their swath. The fix for it, of course, is to test applicants for certain personality traits, including ambition. Some ambition is great. If they’re off the charts? You might want to look twice, if you want to keep your own job. Stop that problem before it starts.
But what if you haven’t? What if you’re in poor Don Draper’s situation? Here are a few suggestions for making the sometimes murky world of office politics work for you.
Brush up on your listening skills.
There’s nothing more important in the workplace than listening. Listen to your superiors and your underlings, and get a good foundation for where each is coming from. Understanding a person’s perspective is critical in knowing how to make the right decisions.
This is an underrated skill in our society. Ask your co-workers, bosses and mentors opinions on workplace matters, new initiatives in your department, the promotion in sales and the layoff in marketing. That’s the only way you’ll get to know how they feel. It’s a great way to informally take the pulse, so to speak, of people around you.
Be honest about your ambition.
If you’d like to move up in the ranks in your workplace, let your superiors know it, and then work toward achieving that goal through accomplishment and effort. If you have an underling who would like to move up, help in any way you can. Not only is it good for your underling, it’s good for you.
Give credit where it’s due.
Make sure your underlings know you appreciate their efforts and for goodness sake, don’t take credit for them. Let your people know that you’re their best advocate for advancement.
Ask for feedback.
360-degree feedback is important on so many levels, but none moreso that within the realm of office politics. If people know you truly want their opinions, you have created friends and colleagues, not adversaries, even if those opinions are not what you wanted to hear.
Bottom line: Office politics are here to stay. Reduce the drama in your workplace by making the right hires the first time.