There are a number of things in life often labeled "necessary evils." Examples include in-laws, trips to the dentist, cleaning out the garage, meeting your teenage daughter's new boyfriend, etc.

In the business world, office politics fit the category of "necessary evils." Some people thrive in playing office politics; many do not. However, politics have been part of business life for a long time and aren't going away any time soon. If a manager is interested in succeeding, learning how to play the game should be on the list of musts.

What Are Office Politics?

Defining office politics is a good start - or rather, recognizing what office politics is not.

Office politics is not the normal disagreements and squabbles that inevitably arise when groups of people must interact in relatively close quarters over a period of time. It isn't about the guy in the cubicle across the aisle who plays his radio too loud, the woman who insists on telling you about her date last night, or the man who takes 15 coffee breaks every day. Nor is it about merely "sucking up to the boss," agreeing with everyone, or retreating into a shell and not offering any input into decision-making.

Office politics is about knowing who the "power brokers" are, knowing management styles, reading and dealing with business personalities, and navigating the minefield in an office to get things done.

Executives and managers have favorites - favorite employees, ideas, and ways of dealing with peers and subordinates. Office politics involves learning how to deal with these favorites and how to use them to one's advantage without merely becoming a kowtowing sycophant.

Navigating Politics is a Challenging Process

Learning how to navigate office politics is challenging. It involves as much understanding of personalities and management styles as it does dealing with specific events.

Office politics usually surrounds issues of authority - who calls the shots, who has the final word on items ranging from policy to hiring to promotion. Learning and understanding how the "higher-ups" in an organization manage and what types of personalities they have will help a fleet manager use office politics to his or her best advantage.

This can be easier said than done. Sometimes senior managers can have big egos, and subordinates become intimidated, lay low, and go along. However, this tactic can easily backfire since one of the most important assets a manager can have is confidence, backed with information and data.


Where Does the Fleet Manager Begin?

In navigating the minefield of office politics, first observe, watch, listen, and read what superiors say, how they operate, and the type of personalities that must be dealt with. How does management make decisions, how do they announce them, where do their interests lie, and most importantly, how do those interests intersect with your own?

For example, vehicles, cars in particular, tend to be a very personal issue, and there is no shortage of opinion on what models the company should use, how often they should be replaced, and how they should be equipped. Senior managers often interject their own opinions in running the fleet, sometimes in conflict with the carefully researched opinions of a fleet manager. A fleet manager can easily feel caught in the middle, as higher-ups battle for policy control. A simple decision can make enemies.

Dealing with this problem begins by knowing who the stakeholders are in the fleet process and including all of them in decisions. At the very least, keep all stakeholders informed (be very careful about asking for input - you may get more than you bargained for) as the process plays itself out, then keep them all informed of the final decision.

To do this successfully, however, a fleet manager must have all the facts in order and present them in a simple, easy to understand, and thorough manner. While vehicles can be a personal matter to all involved, the fleet is relatively low on the radar screen of the VP of manufacturing or the director of finance.

These employees don't have the time, nor the inclination, to wade through reams of information. Use graphs, trends, and keep it "big picture."

The political conflict that can arise when the process creates "winners" and "losers" (e.g., the head of customer service wanted a bigger, better equipped truck than the treasurer) can be dampened if they've both been included in the process from day one.

Alliances are Key

A successful manager must ally him or herself with people who can help them, both in the job and in a career path.

Begin with "the boss" - your direct supervisor. Like it or not, he or she is the one person who can do a manager the most good, or harm.

Be careful not to side with any other player, but don't be afraid to disagree. Don't patronize; have the facts on your side when making a point.

Use your supervisor as a mentor, if it makes sense (not all managers are cut out for the task). Having your direct supervisor on your side when decisions must be made is a good first step.

Other alliances make sense as well. Senior managers, though they have as much a personal take on vehicles as anyone, don't have time to get "into the weeds." Use that to your advantage.

By keeping senior management in the big picture loop all along, they'll work with you when the time comes to sell a policy.

Other stakeholders who may not be in the fleet department's direct report line are needed as well. Ask the VP of sales if you can ride with one of his or her team on a regular basis. Learn the job, and you'll be appreciated.

Not Office Politics

As important as knowing what office politics is, knowing what it is not will keep you out of trouble. Office gossip, that "water cooler" conversation that takes place in hushed tones, isn't office politics - it's childish. It is none of your, nor anyone else's, business what any employee does with his or her personal time, who they're dating, or who got in trouble with the boss. Stay away.

Petty squabbles, such as whose desk or cubicle is bigger, who came in late yesterday, or who isn't pulling his or her weight on the job are not your business either, unless it involves direct reports or has some effect on your own performance.

On the other side of the coin, be very careful when the office is celebrating a holiday, or at a company function, particularly when alcohol is involved. Don't drink (you will have to drive home), even if others are. It only takes a couple of beers or mixed drinks to loosen tongues as well as inhibitions. Enjoy, but remember your responsibilities.

Hate it, but Deal with it

Some people thrive when dealing with office politics - others, not so much. You may hate having to deal with that senior executive with the huge ego who believes he knows more than you do about your job. But the fact is, with him on your side, you can get a great deal more accomplished than you can if you butt heads.

Like that root canal, you may hate it, but you have to deal with it, and how you do will go a long way toward determining your own success.