The HR Lady Speaketh: Navigating the Corridors of Power Part 1

Written By

Namita Kutty

The HR Lady Speaketh: Navigating the Corridors of Power Part 1 Loading

The term ‘Human Resources’ often conjures up images of professionals with Machiavellian plans. Honestly, we’re not all that evil, it’s just that the realities of corporate working sometimes are a bit more complex than they appear. Here’s introducing a series of corporate home truths straight from the horse’s mouth. From a seasoned HR professional with over a decade of experience at top notch firms, this series will equip you with tips and tricks to get ahead in the sometimes convoluted rat race. Understand how to navigate tricky politics, how ratings are given, key promotions wrangled and much more! Stay tuned, because this HR lady is going to spill quite a few secrets… starting with how to navigate the corridors of power!

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A two-part series on navigating the Corporate Jungle, Part 1 is the foundation and explores the basics of building a strong base and identity for oneself. Part 2 delves deeper and looks into leveraging your strengths and moving forward in your career.

Office politics is often tricky. More so, if you are a woman and even more so if you are a woman who knows her mind! It’s a jungle out there. A hot blooded lioness making her mark may soon be brought to naught as will a sedate, well-mannered dove, while a heady cocktail of a calculating lady panther with the sensitivity of a rhino may do just great!

Jokes apart, the fact remains that there are many stereotypes about working women. You are expected to be docile, agreeable and nice. And yet, we all know that nice people don’t always finish first. So, you try and be confident and outspoken and, uh oh, you’re labelled aggressive! If you’re a smart networker, you’re labeled manipulative. A man on the other hand is more likely to be called a go-getter or a smart player!

To quote Michelle Obama, “You should never view your challenges as a disadvantage. Instead, it’s important for you to understand that your experience facing and overcoming adversity is actually one of your biggest advantages. Unlike so many other young people, you have already developed the resilience and the maturity that you need to pick yourself up and dust yourself off and keep moving through the pain, keep moving forward.” Yup, you go girl, through all those office politics!

First, let’s focus on the hygiene factors; i.e. ensuring that the building blocks for the foundation for getting noticed are in place: Credibility, Reliability and Integrity.

  1. Credibility: How well do you know your subject matter? Do you absolutely rock it in your area? Not yet? No fear! Take an extra course, shadow a subject matter expert, put up your hand for that tough project nobody wants! It will be heaps of learning. Sure, it’s long hours, but then you’re on way to building your rep as the go-to person. The next time that awesome opportunity that you’ve hankered for comes along, your name will be on the top of the list.
  1. Reliability: In the immortal words of Rajani, “Naan oru dhadavai sonna nooru dhadavai sonna madhiri.” (If I say it once, I’ve said it a hundred times). Are you a woman of your word? Are you bang on with your commitments, on time, every time? And no, Indian Standard Time with its extreme flexibility is not accounted for.
  1. Integrity: You know what they say about integrity, right? “If you have integrity, nothing else matters. If you don’t have integrity, nothing else matters”. Do your colleagues and leaders trust you to do the right thing even when nobody is looking? Enough said.

Once you’ve cleared those basic levels, you’re on your way. Research shows that less than 5% of the top-most layer of executives comprises women! As Po the Panda finds out in Kung Fu Panda, there is no secret ingredient, there’s just you. Let’s get cracking on the meaty stuff now. A deep-dive into some of the key factors that can help you get ahead. North Star, Personal Branding, Having an opinion, Networking, Sponsor, Prepare & Plan, and Ask:

  1. North-Star What do you want?: Think about where you want to be in the next 5 years. It could be two levels above, a hefty pay raise, that international assignment you’ve coveted. Be specific. Eg: By Dec 2017, I want to be a Project Manager at my company. That’s your North-Star and everything you do should be aligned to getting closer to it. The next project or assignment that you take up, the way you behave at work, ask yourself how will it get you closer to your North-Star? I once had a smart, outspoken colleague called Kyra. She would call a spade a spade and would weigh in on even the most critical decisions. The catch was that Kyra was the junior most in a team where all her colleagues had at least a decade of experience! This in a company where the norm was decision making by seniors and execution by juniors. Kyra had a vision though. She wanted to be a VP in the next 6 years, and so Kyra behaved like a senior leader in the team. The truly amazing part was that people gradually started taking her inputs at their face value and treating her like the leader she wanted to be. Kyra started behaving as per her aspiration and not just where she was today. Kyra moved up real fast and the last I heard she is a VP at the head office in NY.
  2. Personal Brand Why should anyone come to you?: Who are you? What is your superstar quality and what do you promise? Eg: Are you a subject matter expert / go-to person in a crisis / someone who can get stuff done / brilliant in data crunching and analytics…? Your leaders will come to you with plum opportunities because of who you stand for and it’s your job to make sure they know it! Apple is perhaps best known as a ‘Computers’ company. But I’m guessing you would prefer to buy an iPod or an iPhone from Apple and not a similar product from Dell or HP! Why not? Apple stands for innovation and their products are cool and funky, you say. You assume that everything out of the Apple stables will be so! Similarly, what can people expect every single time they come to you? Where do you absolutely shine my friend?

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Watch this space next week for more tools to get ahead in the workplace! Feel free to ask The HR Lady, Namita, any HR-related questions in the comments section, or suggestions for HR-related topics you would like to read about.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Mommy of a pint-sized dictator (read toddler). Wife of a super busy entrepreneur who's also an incredibly hands-on daddy (never mind all her whingeing!). Lover of books, yoga; and fitness enthusiast (read: the long journey back to pre-natal petiteness) and member of the top secret 'New Mommy Club'. Namita in her previous avatar was a senior HR professional for over a decade in top IT, Banking and Retail MNCs. She prided herself on her people management abilities and effective conflict resolution. All of which comes to naught as she's totally owned by a toddler at negotiations.

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