Office Politics: This Is What New Customer Success Leaders Do
If you want to build a successful team and lead others, Office Politics is your key.
Starting a Customer Success Team is not an easy task.
We all heard stories of CS Leaders who built their team from scratch.
But what you may not know is the importance of Office Politics and the internal struggles CS Leaders face while building their Team.
Despite the negative reputation, Office Politics is a necessary skill if you want to be successful and lead others.
What is Office Politics?
Rarely do I come across people who like to talk about Office Politics.
I mean, why would we when its reputation is so negative?
Allow me to stop right here. Office Politics is not about "backstabbing" and pulling people down to advance in our careers. It equally doesn't have to be unfair and negative.
Here is my favorite definition by McKee (2015):
At its core, Office Politics is about how co-workers engage with one another and why.
It is all about the psychology of people, and as such, it exists everywhere and in all companies - yes, even yours.
A lot of the internal challenges we face at work stem from Office Politics, and here is why:
We all want to be successful and thrive in our jobs.
What differentiates one person from another is the path they choose to take to be successful and since they work at the same company, their paths are bound to meet.
If two paths match, they form a win-win situation in which the collaboration promotes both workers' success.
If two paths don't match, they clash and form a win-lose situation where each worker tries to "win" at the expense of the other (Bhavna, 2020).
Office politics helps you turn a win-lose situation into a win-win situation.
What if I told you that you could use Office Politics positively - especially if your path doesn't match the path of your colleague?
Following McKee's definition (2015), if we influence others in a positive way,
we can turn a win-lose situation into a win-win situation, where we not only promote our success but our colleague's success as well.
Building a Customer Success Team requires excellent Office Politics skills.
If you think about your role from the success path perspective,
it's clear that this promotion has helped you advance in your path.
Every successful action or project you complete will be considered a bigger success than your colleagues' actions who remain in the same position.
In addition, your new team might take responsibilities away from others (for example, transferring renewals from Sales to you).
This means that the only way for you to build a successful Customer Success Team with minimum internal drama is by utilizing Office Politics.
Looking back at my achievements as a Customer Success Leader,
four lessons changed the way I conduct myself and helped me build a successful Customer Success Team.
Save yourself time and energy. Implement these lessons now.
#1. Empathy is your key to success.
This is presumably the most significant lesson I've ever learned, but there is a catch:
You can't complete it; you must always learn how to be more empathetic towards others and yourself.
Empathy is the ability to step into someone else's shoes and recognize their feelings and thoughts - without judgment (Bhavna, 2020).
If you work with customers, I'm sure you're aware of the importance of empathy.
That being said, empathy is also important when you interact with your colleagues and managers.
Being empathetic to your colleagues requires you to:
Recognize and understand your colleagues' needs.
When you think before you speak, you have the time to assess your actions and how they might affect your colleagues.
You can take actions that will not only benefit yourself or your team but also make others around you look good and advance on their success path.
#2. Develop an ROI mindset.
Every CS Leader will tell you that you first have to make a case for a CS Team and prove that the value outweighs the cost of:
1. Hiring someone for your previous role.
2. Allocating funds for your new role.
3. Risking failure.
If you think that getting the promotion indicates the end of this agreement - you're wrong.
To win Office Politics and build a successful CS Team, an ROI mindset is necessary.
This mindset comes with two goals (McIntyre, 2005):
Require as little investment as possible, and
Return more benefits than initially expected on the investments you did make.
When you deliver more benefits than costs, you increase the value of yourself and your team, which might alter your leadership's point of view!
Develop an ROI mindset by asking yourself:
"How can I make my company more successful?"
Then, write down all the answers and select the one that requires no budget/investment.
#3. Influence with positive intentions.
Office Politics is neutral - it can be used positively or negatively. It all depends on our intentions.
Managers with good intentions exercise the power of Office Politics to:
Get their job done.
Inspire their colleagues to be better.
Help their colleagues succeed and grow.
Let's take renewals as an example:
Up until now, the Sales Team has handled customers' renewals.
But now, with your new CS Team, renewals will be transferred over to you.
The Sales Team isn't happy about the change and as a result, they put up barriers preventing a smooth transition.
Well, they might be worried about the change and its consequences. I mean, a large chunk of their revenue is being taken away.
By putting ourselves in their shoes, we can come up with solutions that will benefit both teams.
Here's one solution:
Share the benefits that the Sales Reps. will gain from both this change and the CS Team:
More upsells and referrals.
More time to focus on the bigger leads and prospects.
#4. Solution-Centric Approach.
Remember the agreement you made with your company where you promise to bring more benefits than costs?
Well, a cost doesn't have to be monetary. It can also be time and energy.
Trust me, your company knows that building a new team is not an easy task and your manager is aware of the challenges and problems you'll have to solve.
They expect you to come up with solutions before getting them involved.
Imagine the following scenario:
You manage a group of five Customer Success Managers; Four are able to solve most of their challenges and when they get you involved, they first present the challenge and possible solutions.
The last CSM, however, is unable to resolve their challenges. Every day, they reach out to you with a new challenge and no possible solutions.
As a result, you find yourself spending most of your days learning more about their challenges and working with them to find solutions.
Sounds very time-consuming, right?
At a certain point, the cost of this CSM will outweigh the benefits they bring.
Don't make it your story.
Adopt a solution-centric approach where you:
Learn more about the challenge you're facing.
Use your knowledge and creativity to solve the challenge.
If everything fails, reach out to your manager and debrief them about the situation - including possible solutions.
The path to success requires you to develop the skills of office politics. As you gain more power, make sure to utilize it to positively impact the lives of your colleagues.
What is the first office politics lesson you learned?
Bhavna, D. (2020). Checkmate Office Politics. Los Angeles: Sage.
McIntyre, M. G. (2005). Secrets to winning at office politics: How to achieve your goals and increase your influence at work. St. Martin's Griffin.
McKee, A. (2015). Office politics is just influence by another name. Harvard Business Review. Click here to read.