Politics Trumps Performance in Getting Ahead on the Job, Workers Say

Don Tennant

As you strive to advance in your organization, what do you find is a bigger factor in your success: your job performance or the politics of who you know?
According to a recent survey by Right Management, a global provider of talent and career management services, way too many workers are finding that it’s who they know that drives their promotions. Right Management surveyed more than 500 employees throughout North America between the middle of May and the middle of June, and asked this question: In your opinion, what does it take to get ahead in your organization? Here are the responses:

  • Who you know: 44 percent
  • Job performance: 39 percent
  • Tenure in current position: 4 percent
  • Don’t know, as it’s never been made clear: 13 percent

Monica Morrow, Right Management’s senior vice president of career management, was troubled by those numbers:

Workplace cynicism sure runs deep when merely one-in-three thinks it is merit that opens up opportunities or influences advancement. It’s unfortunate so many workers think politics drives promotion. And it’s certainly wrong, too, since organizations are doing more to identify promising talent and shape their development.

The fact that so many of the respondents claimed there are no clear criteria for advancement should be of major concern to top management, Morrow said:

If we add together the politics people and the puzzled group we get [nearly] 60 percent who aren’t plugged in to what ought to be open and fair development options. No wonder employers so often find their people so unsatisfied or disengaged from their work.

Morrow offered some advice to employees who may feel out of the development loop:

  • Identify your strengths. Seek out your manager for constructive career discussions. Carefully assess your strengths; your strengths are where skills and interests intersect.
  • Tie strengths to business needs. Clarify how your strengths tie to the priorities of your organization. Where are opportunities for adding value or closing gaps in contribution?
  • Continue to grow and learn. Look for growth opportunities, such as volunteering for a special project or suggesting a new idea to your manager. Apply these to help your manager address priorities and drive organizational success.

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