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Leadership Skills: Organizational Savvy (Part 2 of 3)



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Keeping our head down and working harder is not always the answer to growing in your career. At a recent corporate leadership development forum I lead, we discussed the need to broaden our skill set and awareness – to become ‘organizationally savvy.’ We need to be aware of the operating principles of success within our particular organization, and actively work to succeed within them.

This is an issue for many people – and I would hypothesize women in particular – when they are more junior in their career. What made me start to care was understanding how this impacts how I take care of my family. Not being organizationally savvy frequently means you’ll be less valuable, visible and paid. This means fewer resources to take care of yourself and those you love. Ah hah! Time to wake up! Culture, politics and perception matter.

In the first article in this series we talked about building the foundational skills that your job requires. Accountants, for example, need to understand account reconciliation, journal entries, bank reconciliation, balance sheet reconciliation, and preparation of month end financial statements. These are the basic competencies they need to do the job. They are frequently not enough, however, to have a full and rewarding career.

One area I know women struggle with is getting credit for what they do. Too often they flick off compliments like lint and denigrate their contribution in the process. Not wanting to brag, they can’t get up the gumption to say a simple ‘thank you’ without fear of offending someone. Say that thank you. Present your work as your work. Talk about how much you learned and how rewarding it was to get it done. How can your boss know about your contribution if you don’t tell her? No one else will.

Write down what you are doing so you’ll remember it in informal discussion throughout the year and at performance appraisal time. Create status reports and meet regularly with your manager, especially if they aren’t required or you would rather not. I did not like talking with a manager and only did when a catastrophe was imminent. So the only impression she had of me was of disaster! I should have been updating her and passing along good news. The meek, in this case, will not inherit the earth. Instead, they are passed over for key projects and promotions, and the resultant career stagnation or deflation – and lower pay raises - accumulates over time.

This is very likely to happen if accountability is not clear. Push for clarity regarding who is responsible for what when. Ask the follow on questions to get it understood between all parties what each is to do and when it is due. Then it is evident and irrefutable what your contribution is. In the leadership development forum one person used status reporting to ensure her manager and team were aware of her contribution and theirs in a very matter of fact way.

You must find your own words. We all know people who over-report their contribution, and I am not recommending that route. Actively work to find the words that feel good to you. Write them down. Rehearse them. Use them. They never leap to my lips automatically. I have had to train myself, and you may, too.

I recently attended a presentation by Gail Evans, author of Play Like A Man, Win Like A Woman, and She Wins, I Win. She pointed out that when women introduce themselves, they denigrate what they do. For example, I met the CFO of a very major telecommunications firm. She introduced herself as “being in finance.” She ran it! How do you present yourself when introduced? Take credit for your work, including your title. Find and practice those words that jibe with your style without giving away your efforts to others’ benefit.

Another element of being organizationally savvy is understanding the organization itself: the people, their roles and the relationships and communication between them. Do you proactively and strategically cultivate the right network? Sounds a bit mercenary and manipulative to some. But having relationships in place – people that you have added value to and trust you – makes you more productive and your world a smaller and warmer place. Ensure that in your circle you have those that have the inside track to company happenings so you aren’t blindsided. Include those that have the ability to influence the organization and ask them what they care about. Expand your network beyond your team and manager. Why limit your horizons?

What are other elements of organizational savvy? In the final article in this series we’ll discuss communication and perception management.

Key learnings:
  • Make sure responsibilities and accountability is clearly established

  • Take credit for your work and when introduced, and do so in a personally and culturally appropriate way

  • Understand and build strong relationships with the right people

Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3


What have you learned? What can you share? Send me an email at: mcook@ageos1.com