Schmoozing Your Way Up the Corporate Ladder

Pity S. He did everything to land a position on the development team at a big electronics company. He was one of the first to respond to the notice on the company's Internet site that there was an opening on the team; he consulted with a knowledgeable friend before writing the resume he sent to the company's management; and prior to the screening interview, he culled important details about the company and its achievements from newspaper archives.

At the interview itself, S. radiated self-confidence and answered the questions intelligently. He also gained some extra points by adding a few comments that displayed his knowledge of the company's activities.

A week after the interview, S. was informed that he had been hired, at a salary slightly higher than his predecessor in the same position who had been promoted within the company.

Three years went by. S. felt that all in all, he had fulfilled his employer's expectations, but was far from enjoying job satisfaction. S. was more or less stuck with the same tasks, which he repeated once a week or once a month. He suddenly realized that he had actually been left behind in the company structure. Two other team members who had been hired after him had already been promoted to more senior positions. Occasionally, S. had the sneaking suspicion that his talents were not really being recognized, and that this put him at risk of being laid off if the company hit a financial crisis.

"It is not enough to be an energetic, dedicated worker who adequately fulfills his duties," says Edna Barak, an expert in careers and structural changes within organizations.

Barak notes that an employee who seeks promotion or even wants to survive in an organization that is downsizing must do more than is required of him. "More" means knowing how to stand out and market oneself within the organization. In short, the worker has to blend with the organization's politics.

"Organizational politics starts at a young age, even in preschool," says Barak. "Last Friday, my granddaughter celebrated her birthday at preschool. When all the children were seated, the teacher asked the children what they wanted to wish my granddaughter on her birthday. At first, 20 children raised their hands and one child was chosen. Another child, a quiet, somewhat introverted little girl, raised her hand shyly and hesitantly. The teacher asked four more times for children who wanted to say something, and other children who raised their hands were given a turn. Even after this part of the party was over, more children continued to raise their hands, but not this child. She had realized that she had no rights at preschool and deserved less recognition than her classmates."

Barak explained that preschool is the first stage in an individual's life during which he is supposed to become aware of his rights and learn that if he raises his hand to wish his friend a happy birthday, he should be allowed to do so. This awareness is carried over from preschool to the workplace.

"An organization is built like a pyramid, with very few people at the top, while the bottom part contains many people," says Barak. "The executives of an organization are looking for deputies from among the workers in the lower echelons, people who can help maintain the positions of those higher up. The executives will choose the person most likely to succeed as a vice-president. Whom will they choose? The person whom they see as the most outstanding; the person who instills confidence in them that everything will be all right under his stewardship.

"This person will not necessarily be the best worker from among the candidates," continues Barak," but rather the one who best impresses the boss that by making him his deputy, he [the boss] will be able to sleep peacefully and devote his energies to his own ambitions of promoting the company."

Most workers do not try to "sell" themselves to their supervisors or colleagues, and tend to steer clear of politics within the organization.

"I don't want to become sullied by it," they say. "I don't know how to be obsequious; there is no reason for me to work at polishing my image in the eyes of the management," say others.

Barak says that the few workers who do what deters their colleagues and are willing to nurture relations with the manager and give him a feeling of "You can count on me" belong to the group of employees that has the best chances of advancing. This, of course, as long as they are also good workers. A worker who wants to sell himself in the organization has to have something to sell.

"Not everyone who makes a good impression on his colleagues and the management will get promoted," says Barak, "but rather only the ones who also prove their professional qualifications."

Any employee who wants to advance basically has to work on two levels. First, he has to do his job well; and second, he has to enter organizational politics, which means knowing how to gain his boss's confidence.

Koby Yisraeli, the owner of Tandem, a marketing and sales consulting firm, says that today almost every employee is a salesperson.

"The pharmacist at the drugstore no longer simply dispenses the drug written on the doctor's prescription," says Yisraeli, "but will try to sell the customer additional products. It's the same in banking. Every worker, even the teller, is actually a salesperson who tries to sell the banks range of products."

Yisraeli explains that employees who have learned how to sell their company's products can extend their skills to selling themselves.

"The days when a worker could say, `If I do a good job, everyone will know about it,' have passed," says Yisraeli. "Anyone who excels at his job but is afraid to make waves and does not market himself will be left behind."

This is even more applicable with respect to middle and senior management, which is more vulnerable to organizational shake-ups. Such employees can make others aware of their achievements either via meetings with colleagues or with the help of publicists, who will make sure their name appears in the printed and electronic media.

"Most managers involved in operations, manufacturing or finances are unaware of self marketing," says Yisraeli, "while marketing and sales managers are usually good at this, as they have innate marketing skills."