Working in the corporate arena, as an employee or consultant, chances are you’ve experienced politics from time to time, and chances are you’ve not always come up with the winning hand in every situation.

I’ve made some observations in this context over the years from when I was a corporate executive, and since as a consultant working within large corporations. Having been on both sides of the fence, here are some lessons I’ve learned that you may find helpful:

Power and Influence: especially at higher levels, you can anticipate some jockeying if resources become constrained for whatever reason. Even if it appears that there is a high level of teamwork and camaraderie, it’s wise to remember that some individuals may have an agenda that conflicts with your own. When that occurs, things start to happen behind the scenes that may not always play out in your favor. For example, sometimes executives are at parity as peers, but the reality is some may be closer to senior management, others may hold more power and influence, and others may be more well-liked. These nuances are often subtle and intangible but be aware they’re in place.

You’re wise to survey the landscape. Get a sense for the individuals involved, meet them, know what drives them, establish strong rapport and ties with them, and do your best to be on good terms with everyone. You want to demonstrate your value to all players and be sure you’re seen as a team player.

Be realistic about loyalty and alliances: don’t be naive and assume that just because you’ve known colleagues and bosses for a long period of time that you’re ‘safe’ and protected. Corporate initiatives often change, and with that the key players, so never assume that a colleague or boss is in a position to help. When things go awry, there’s often a ripple effect that affects others to one degree or another.

Always be professional and discreet: if a change does occur that threatens your role and position, be impeccable in your response because circumstances change but relationships endure. You want to be viewed as a top notch professional and considered for other opportunities by management and your colleagues as things change again. Turns out it really is a small world so even when you are disappointed in the change near-term, you’d be wise to temper your actions and words both verbally and written.

Don’t assume you’re at fault: when it comes to corporate politics, you could be doing great work and be well-liked but if you’re aligned with an initiative that is no longer a priority and getting the brakes applied, you could become collateral damage just by being in the wake of changing tides. So don’t take things personally when you know (and have been told) that your work is solid. At times it can just come down to being in the wrong place at the wrong time.

Prepare for change: even when you have signed an agreement or contract with a company, don’t assume it will be upheld should priorities shift along the way. Fair or not, corporations sometimes must make tough decisions in a fast-paced, changing environment. Be prepared and have a safety net of savings to cushion you if things do change in order to weather the storm.

Bottom line: be alert, astute, wise and professional at all times — and don’t get too relaxed, comfortable or complacent in a corporate environment. Things can and often do change, so do your best to be prepared and mitigate the inconvenience and impact relative to your own situation.

~Kelli

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