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Surviving - and thriving - in a Darwinist workplace: be visibly valuable, and know the value of office politics.

Takeovers. Executive ousters. Downsizing. Layoffs. Mergers. Restructuring. Re-engineering. It all makes for a workplace environment in which Darwin's theory of survival of the fittest aptly applies.

How can you make sure you're one of the "fittest"? Let's identify the critical survival tools:

1. Know your skills. Consider the following tale: It seems a homeowner with a plumbing problem waited weeks for an appointment. The day arrived, the plumber fixed the problem in less than an hour and presented the homeowner with a bill for $200. The irate homeowner complained that the cost of fixing the plumbing was more than she would expect to pay a brain surgeon. The plumber quickly agreed and said that he had been a brain surgeon, but decided to shift his skills to a more lucrative career!

Most of us tend to identify ourselves by job title, not by job skills, as the fictional brain surgeon did. We need to dissect the various elements of the jobs and experiences we have had to identify the skill sets contained. For example, do you have good skills in writing, presenting, negotiating, managing? Have your friends, family and coworkers assist you in identifying marketable skills. Be able to clearly articulate your skills and interests in terms of how they could transfer into other areas of the business enterprise.

2. Be visible. Don't assume your terrific track record will speak for itself. To climb the corporate ladder, you must devise as aggressive a strategy internally as you would in an external job search. Get known by top executives by looking for formal and informal ways to enhance your visibility. Keep abreast of new business developments and look for ways to use your skills to make these ventures successful.

Document your successes for your manager, especially those contributing directly to the bottom line. Getting to the top of any organization still requires bottom line accountability. Describe your accomplishments in results that can be measured in dollars and cents. Depending on your relationship with your boss and the organizational culture, consider copying memos outlining your successes to your boss's superior.

3. Learn the value of office politics. Companies promote people who have a knack for anticipating the needs of the boss, for being creative, innovative and self-promoting. They never miss a chance to be in the limelight.

Andrew J. DuBrin, a well-known business author, defines office politics as "informal ways of gaining professional advantage other than through hard work, talent and luck."

The internal competition in a cut-throat environment with limited advancement opportunities spawns a sea of back-stabbers. Don't confuse office politics with back-stabbing--back-stabbing is never a long-term success strategy. Yet not preparing yourself for the inevitability of this tactic may place you unexpectedly in the land of the unemployed.

The best way to defend yourself against unscrupulous back-stabbers is by maintaining a positive work record, managing your work relationships and confronting known back-stabbers. Being a politically savvy organizational "toady" does result in advancement.

4. Be a jack of all trades. The more hats you wear, the more valuable you are. This flexibility opens doors to numerous organizational opportunities.

Forget the old rules of success--every career move must be upward, promotions come within two years, success means job security to retirement, etc. The new rules of success are that lateral transfers are better than no movement, broadening your skill base positions you for a wider range of job functions and ensures quicker transferability in the event of organization retrenchment, and the "cradle to the grave" employment contract no longer exists.

These strategies can help you move up the organizational ladder. Yet as more and more career rungs are being removed and the climb gets steeper, the question many employees are asking is, "What defines career success?" Is it movement up the ladder or is it job satisfaction at your current rung? Downsizing, restructuring and mergers not only limit promotion opportunities but have created longer work weeks. The days of the 40-hour work week are reminiscent of Ozzie and Harriet.

Now is the time to create a blueprint for your career. What price are you willing to pay for upward mobility? And how big a role are you willing to let organizational Darwinism play in your life? Trisha A. Svehla is president of Svehla Consultants Inc. in Downers Grove, Ill., specialists in human resources consulting. She has more than 20 years of experience as a hands-on practitioner in all aspects of human resources, and holds a master's degree in management from Northwestern University. Svehla is a frequent keynote speaker and trainer at national and regional business and association conferences.
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Author:Svehla, Trisha A.
Publication:Food Processing
Date:Mar 1, 1994
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