Office politics for JMOs, NCOs and enlisted new hires

by Bradley-Morris, Inc. (BMI) Military-to-Civilian Transition Team

Office politics are a fact of life when you have a group of people who work together, whether it involves peers, managers or subordinates. When military veterans transition to the private or federal sectors, they must be cognizant of the impact office politics can have on their upward mobility and their paycheck.

In many white-collar environments, your progression will depend on factors which include the four Ps – Politics, Performance, Personality and Potential. How these four Ps interrelate and the relative importance of each depends on the culture of the company for which you work.

In general, however, you can start off on the right foot by working hard, staying late and doing all you can to help your supervisor accomplish the department’s goals and objectives. This process will be focused on maximizing your Performance and Personality “Ps”, but also (hopefully) demonstrating your Potential. All JMOs, NCOs and enlisted new hires can benefit from this process.

Stay alert for the Politics "P"

However, during this time, also keep an eye out for indications of the Politics “P”. We know that every organization has a formal power structure of directors, managers and supervisors, but there is also an informal power structure of “decision influencers” who may play a major role in how an organization is managed. New hires have a short window of opportunity to determine the informal power structure of the group.

To obtain this information, you must first uncover who interacts with whom on an informal basis, during and after-hours. Using that initial window of opportunity – 30 to 60 days after you start – you can ask questions of co-workers in a casual way. For example, you could ask what activities your managers and peers are involved in after work and who else is normally a part of those activities. These relationships will provide a clue as to who associates with whom while providing you with opportunities to become involved in outside-of-work bonding. Some examples of these activities include inter-company sports activities (golf / tennis / fitness club) and regular lunch / dinner social groups, among others.

If you wait too long to ask these types of questions, the response may be, “Why do you want to know?” As an employee with excellent performance, you might give the impression of a competitor, and possibly a threat. If that is the case, your peers may have less of an incentive to assist you in finding out about these outside-of-work networking opportunities.

Be aware of decision influencers

Once you know the social alliances, you can use them to your advantage to seed positive information with decision influencers while avoiding making negative comments in their presence. Either way, this information may be passed on to management. As an extreme example, let’s say you are a new hire and make a fairly benign statement to a co-worker regarding a negative impression of your boss' weight/age/clothing. Unbeknownst to you, this co-worker plays a regularly-scheduled round of golf with your boss every week, and they relay your comment to your supervisor. Your career progression might "take a bullet" without you even knowing it. Being aware of the decision influencers will help you avoid shooting your career in the foot.

Find mentors

Conversely, in most blue-collar environments, the four P’s are arranged with Performance having the strongest influence, followed by Potential, Politics and Personality, in that order. Although the line between the white- and blue- collar working environments is often blurred, in most cases the blue-collar environment encompasses unions and hourly paid positions. Longevity is usually rewarded with advancement in the blue-collar environment but politics can still play a major role in career advancement. In targeting the people of whom to ask the aforementioned questions, look for someone who has been around for three to five years. These people will usually have identified the power players by then.

In the white-collar setting, you may want to target more tenured personnel. They will know the power players and will probably be open to sharing the information with you. Hopefully, your supervisor will also help mentor you through this process. However, realize "go-getters" on your peer level may not be as forthcoming because they do not want anyone, including you, to get ahead of them.

The above information is general in nature and is only intended to provide JMOs, NCOs and enlisted new hires with a basic strategy to position yourself in your new organization. Use your eyes and ears to understand the working environment and you will be able to position yourself for success.