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I Am NOT Winning At The Office Game

May 11, 2017

We have different names for it: Office Politics, Reindeer Games. Whatever you call it, every business has to deal with it. Sometimes it seems that those who are best at it, do the best in the workplace.

When I worked for Microsoft, I had a manager that I really struggled to connect with. He was a former English teacher and nothing that anyone on his team wrote was ever good enough. We’d get back emails printed out and marked in red pen. That was only the least of his aggravating management practices.

It became obvious that I needed to find another team. The only question was whether I would find something before he decided to fire me. During one particularly tense 1:1 “coaching” meeting, in frustration I said,

You should really be more careful about who you go to lunch with.

What do you mean?

Nothing. Sorry I brought it up.

No, I really want to know. What do you mean I should be more careful?

The manager only occasionally went to lunch with members of his team and whenhet did, it was always with the same woman. And always at her invitation. He was single, she was married, but there was no hint of scandal. It was the fact that the woman wasn’t particularly good at her job, but she consistently was ranked at #1 for the team stack ranking. This was a ranking that was done by the manager and was supposed to be confidential.

At Microsoft the stack rank was important because it was not uncommon for upper management to force a team to cull, or fire those on the bottom of the stack rank. In addition, those ranked higher received bigger bonuses and larger raises, they were also first in line for promotions. Stack rankings were also supposed to be confidential.

Not only did this woman get stack ranked #1, the manager told her she was #1 and she in turn told the rest of us. And not in a nice way.

My manager was genuinely surprised when I told him that he only ever went to lunch with one member of the team. It never occured to him that he was showing favoritism. He was getting played. And my coworker was doing it so well that he never noticed.

Smart, right? I mean, that’s how you play the game isn’t it? Where was the downside?

No, this was not smart. The downside wasn’t with this one clueless manager. The downside is that none of us work in a vacuum. Her team knew that she was not the #1 person on the team. We all could see what was going on and it affected our working relationship with her. We were careful to not share with her too much information about what we were doing. She might take the credit. We were less inclined to help her on a project. She was definitely going to take the credit. Basically, she sucked up to the boss and alienated her entire team. And now, even 20 years later, we remember.

At Microsoft, like many companies, teams shift and get rearranged. And “who you know” becomes important if the person you know happens to also know of a cool opening on a new team. Those relationships are important. And you cannot be successful long term without them. Even today, if she were to apply to work on a team I was connected with, I’d have to say no.

“Winning” at the office politics game can be a losing decision.

Rodney M Bliss is an author, columnist and IT Consultant. His blog updates every weekday. He lives in Pleasant Grove, UT with his lovely wife, thirteen children and grandchildren. 

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(c) 2017 Rodney M Bliss, all rights reserved 

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