Does your company have undercurrents?
It can be hard to imagine that your company has undercurrents, especially since, as I say, they are not well recognized by even the most astute office politicians.
To identify if your company does, answer the following questions:
- Who is influential/who gets listened to?
- The person with the best argument, however expressed
- The one whose words fit the latest strategy
- Whoever shouts loudest or longest?
- Who gets promoted? The one who:
- Has the right skills and aptitudes
- Is one of our kind
- Plays golf /racket ball or drinks with the right people?
- How is dissent handled?
- Acknowledged even from nut cases. Debated
- Politely listened to and then ignored
- Shouted down
- Listened to only from well-respected people
- Which is true of your company?
- I can say the unpopular without being ridiculed or punished
- It’s better to have an iffy decision than piss people off by insisting on the right one
- I avoid telling my boss how things really are
Unless you have picked the first option for every question, you have undercurrents. And frankly, if you didn’t, I’d have trouble believing you. All organizations have them, some tow more than others, some are more underground, but they all have them. (But just in case, if you really do work in a perfect place, let me know. I’ll apply.)
Why should you care?
On your present job. Undercurrents can materially affect how and whether you advance in your career. For example, the unspoken rule (undercurrent) at work may be to influence by being the power behind the throne. You however yell and rant at people about your ideas. You won’t understand why you’re left out of important meetings or why less talented colleagues’ ideas are accepted. Your ability to advance is in no small measure dependent on how well you can manage these undercurrents. This blog is intended to help you do that.
In the future. But important though success is, you should also pay attention because the long-term effects of undercurrents can affect how you feel about yourself and work.
A surprising number of people are disappointed and even bitter as their work lives comes to an end. They count the days, not to an exciting new life, but to the end of a jail sentence. Researchers have noted this. An unexpectedly large number of impressive executives lack a sense of professional satisfaction. “As they [the executives] age, they may find something is missing in their lives and realize they are holding back from being the person they want to be.”
Undercurrents cause discontent
I ‘m sure there are many reasons for this discontent, but I would argue that one of them is being towed under by the hidden undercurrents.
Many people are so caught up in getting ahead, they believe they have to do whatever it takes. For example, when it’s not acceptable to say what you think—either because of the company or your particular boss—most people shut down. They assume they must avoid at all costs the sanctions imposed for not going along. They don’t count the toll years of putting up, shutting up, and holding on is taking. They bend so much they no longer recognize their shape.
Even more importantly, they don’t ever consider that sometimes the cost of speaking up is worth paying. Because they are unaware of the undercurrents, they can’t make that choice. If you want to look back on a satisfying career, you need to understand undercurrents.
 Kaplan, Robert S., Reaching Your Potential, Harvard Business Review OnPoint, December 2008, p.114-120
 George, Bill, Peter Sims, Rodw N. McLean, and Diana Mayer, Discovering your Authentic Leadership, Harvard Business Review OnPoint, December 2008, p.15-23