The consistent theme around creating a high performance environment has been to ensure that each team member is focussed on excellent delivery of their objectives. This, we assume, will lead to career enhancement and fulfilment. What if, actually, what really matters in climbing the greasy pole of greater responsibility and reward is simply working the internal system? This HBR article contains some home truths worth reflecting on.
The reality is that organizations are hierarchies, and social science bears out uncomfortable truths about politics and interpersonal relationships: We make snap judgments of people, based on appearance, that can carry on over time; we favor those who are similar to us; we get promoted or gain valuable information by making our boss feel good and building relationships with influential people; we form perceptions based on appearance, body language, and voice more than the content of the argument; we are more likely to be perceived as competent if we are judiciously critical or show anger (at least, men are). There is strong evidence that work ratings, bonuses, and promotions are weakly correlated to actual performance — performance may even matter less to our success than our political skills and how we are perceived by those who make the decisions.