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How to navigate corporate office politics: A consultant’s perspective

I want to preface this post by saying, I sucked at office politics when I was on the client side.

Worse yet, I had absolutely no interest in it. 

I didn’t want the corner office.

I didn’t necessarily want more responsibility (read: a bigger team).

I just didn’t want to play the game.

That said, I have 20 years of “observing” office politics–and, as such, have learned a lot about what to do, and what NOT to do.

Office Politics

As a consultant, I often-times use this knowledge to my advantage. It helps to understand how to work a room in a big meeting (even if I’m not the one “working it”). It helps to know why my client can’t make the project move forward–because “Jerry” in marketing is stone-walling her through her boss.

So I get it. I don’t like it. But, I get it.

And I thought I’d share some of my observations (from a consultant’s view), on how you can navigate the complex world of office politics:

Rule #1: When it doubt, keep your head down and just crank out good work on deadline

When things get hairy. When people start getting itchy. When it seems like things are so bad, someone might get fired, just put your head down and focus on the task at hand. Resist the urge to “grease the wheels”. Resist the urge to gossip. Resist the urge to bad mouth your cube mate. Just do your work. And do it well. 

Rule #2: Let your colleagues gossip. You should focus on listening.

One lesson I learned the hard way. During my tenure at one former employer, I was usually quick to jump into the gossip fray. It was easy. It was fun. But damn, it was dirty. And looking back, that wasn’t fun at all. Or productive. What did I learn? That people are always going to gossip. And that’s fine. But that doesn’t mean YOU have to gossip. When your work friends are gossiping, listen. Don’t talk. Don’t join the party. Don’t even comment. Just listen. Half the time, your work friends just want to get stuff off their chest anyway. This way, you’re being a good “work friend”, you’re not participating in the evil gossip machine, and you’re probably learning a few interesting things about your colleagues along the way :) Best of all, you won’t feel guilty 24 hours later.

Rule #3: Learn how to merchandise results–effectively.

Make no mistake about it–this is a BIG part of any job. Whether you’re an AAE, or a VP of marketing, merchandising the results of your work is a big deal in the workplace. If done well, it means: 1) More budget for projects down the road, 2) More people on your team, 3) More recognition from your boss and your boss’ boss, and 4) More money for YOU in the form of raises and job offers in the years ahead. But, merchandising results is an art form–not a science. You have to read your boss. You have to know how to share the results. You have to know WHEN to share the results. Getting a feel for how this works is one of the biggest hidden skills no one talks about. And I’m not sure why.

Rule #4: Follow the Golden Rule. Always.

I’m constantly amazed at how some managers and leaders treat those around them. Both their peers–and those who report to them. They usually don’t treat their managers too poorly–for obvious reasons. But, everyone else? Not so great. If you really do follow the Golden Rule in your work life, you will be playing office politics the right way in my book. The leaders I’ve admired over the years have been those who have done exactly that. They have been fair with direct reports. Sympathetic with peers. And just as even-keeled with managers as with those who report to them. Those are the kind of people 99.9% of the workforce wants to work for. That’s good office politics. 

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7 trends impacting every blogger at #mnblogcon

On Saturday, I had the opportunity to speak at the sixth annual Minnesota Blogger Conference–an event I helped start with Missy Berggren years ago. Nowadays, Jen Jamar and Mykl Roventine run it, and they are doing a WONDERFUL job. After my limited experience at the event on Saturday, I just can’t say enough good things about what they’ve done with that event.

But, I digress.

I talked about trends impacting bloggers. Specifically, 7 trends impacting almost every blogger at #mnblogcon.

MN Blog Con 2015

In case you missed it, here’s a sneak peek–along with the deck at the tail end.

#1: Avoid the “content shock”

Credit to Mark Schaefer for the term. I talked about how bloggers need to get back to basics, and providing their unique perspective around whatever topic they’re writing about. So many people are using listicles–and I highlighted that with a screen shot of my Feedly account (take a peek below). My argument: When everyone is zigging–try zagging. And get back to why you started blogging–because you had something to say.


#2: RSS=dead. E-newsletters=alive and well.

RSS never really took off like bloggers hoped it would. But, now, I think we can all safely say it is officially over. And, instead of just adding the standard “subscribe to this blog via email” widget to your blog, I argue you should consider starting an e-newsletter. See the deck for a few solid reasons why.

#3: Content syndication=new readers!

Everyone wants new readers, right? But acquiring them is usually a different story. Content syndication is one of those strategies that I’ve felt has always flown under the radar. LinkedIn Publishing, re-posting to Medium and finding industry sties who will run your posts–these are all great ways to re-purpose your posts to reach new audiences.

#4: The rise of DIY tools

The big discussion here–do you use DIY tools and potentially take a hit on the look and feel of your blog (but, not pay extra for help), or do you enlist the help of a professional designer to create a blog, and visuals, that appear a bit more polished? That’s the discussion right now–I fear we may be leaning too far toward the DIY side right now.

#5: Social sharing ain’t what it used to be

Here’s the part where I told everyone to take social counters off their blogs. After all, weren’t they always just an ego-trip anyway? As social behaviors have changed, dark social continues to grow, and more people spend more time on chat apps, social sharing is losing steam. Take a peek at some of the popular blogs in your industry–chances are they may have already taken down their social share buttons.

#6: Blogs are starting to look a lot less like, well, blogs.

Remember what blogs looked like in 2008? I do. They looked like a Blogger blog. Remember Blogger? LOL. Nowadays, blogs are starting to look like this blog (Jungles in Paris, a popular travel blog).

Blog Design 1

Blogs are starting to look more like the new simplified web. Big visuals. Headlines. Minimal navigation. That’s where blogs are heading from a design POV.

#7: The blog comment may officially be dead.

Copyblogger was way ahead of the curve when the popular blog killed its comments a couple years ago. I bet we’ll see many more kill their blog comment sections, too, in the months ahead. You watch.


Want the full deck? Take a peek.


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Talking Points Podcast: An interview with Children’s Hospitals & Clinics’ Jen Swanson

In this episode of the Talking Points Podcast, Kevin and I sat down with Jen Swanson, director of digital marketing at Children’s Hospitals and Clinics (one of our families very favorite local hospitals–they’ve taken VERY good care of our kids in the past). On the show, Jen talks about her varied background, her role in helping shape women’s leadership locally and nationally, and why she’s so bullish on LinkedIn Publishing.

Hope you’ll take a listen.


SHOW NOTES – November 12, 2015

Jen Swanson


Children’s Hospitals and Clinics of Minnesota




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12 pieces of advice I would give my team (if I had one)

One of the biggest drawbacks of working for yourself is the complete and utter lack of a team.

I work by myself at my home office most days. I love it. But, it is a fairly lonely existence. You have to make an effort to get out and see people (hence my involvement in MIMA, and the other projects I help lead–#SoloPR meet-ups, corporate mastermind group, etc.).

Recently, I started working with one client where I have the opportunity to actually work with a small team. It’s really just 2-3 people, but for me, it’s a chance to: 1) Work with an actual team of humans, and 2) Work with younger people, a chance I don’t get very often.

Arik at Event


It’s been invigorating. In fact, I kinda forgot how much I enjoy working with teams.

As this work moves along, I’ve been thinking about the advice I give to the team. Largely, they don’t need a lot of advice. I try to add value by directing, coaching and providing ideas. But, these younger people are smart. Much smarter than I was when I was their age.

Then again, everyone can use some advice once in a while, right? I love the little kernels of advice I pick up from friends and colleagues in the industry. Even though they may not give it to me directly :)

So, I thought I’d share 12 pieces of advice I’d give to my team–if I had one. It’s been fun to think about lately.

#1: Measure everything.

And provide context. Providing charts and graphs in that client recap is one thing. Providing context is something entirely different. Make sure when you’re spitting numbers and results back to a client/boss, you’re always providing context. Comparable data. YOY numbers. Whatever. Context, context, context.

#2: Hang with people smarter than you.

One of my favorites. I actually like to say “I never want to be the smartest person in the room.” Which, to be honest, is pretty easy for me :) In all seriousness, if you surround yourself with people smarter than you, I can almost guarantee you will be a successful PR/marketing counselor. Heck, I WILL guarantee it.

#3: Own it. Always own it.

I have to give credit to my wife for this one. It’s kinda her saying. But, I like it. You screw up? Own it. You miss a deadline on a big project? Own it. You let down a teammate at a client trade show? Own it. The point is not hard here: If you make a mistake, own up to it. Accept it. Say you’re sorry. And move the hell on.

#4: Don’t listen to me.

OK, I do want you to listen to me. But, not always. You see, I’m not always right. I know that. You know that. And, I want you to think for yourself. I want you to push me. I want you to think creatively. So, don’t always listen to me.

#5: Never “I can’t.” Instead, “I’ll find a way…”

One of my favorite mantras. In fact, I was recently floored when my daughter spit this back at me when we were completing our Halloween costumes. I don’t want to hear you say “I can’t”. I want to hear: “I’ll find a way.”

#6: Be confident. Just not too confident.

It’s a fine line. Walk it carefully.

#7: Leave something for the rest of us.

Yeah, I’m talking to you Millennials! You’re smart. You’re ambitious. You’re going to run the world sooner than we all might think. Just make sure you leave something for us Xers. In all seriousness, I’m not kidding. No matter what happens, you will need your teammates. Make sure you take time to highlight THEM once in a while.

#8: You are NOT irreplaceable.

No one is. Everyone forgets this–including me. You are special–but you’re not that special, honey.

#9: Relationships and results. Nothing else matters.

Focus on those two things and I can almost guarantee you’ll be successful in this business. In fact, I WILL guarantee it! :)

#10: Don’t just network when you need something.

The cardinal sin of probably 75% of the workforce. I’ve seen this way too often in my career. On the flip side, the people who look at networking differently (ongoing focus on giving vs. always taking) manage to continually climb the ladder. Coincidence? I think not.

#11: Listen. Then listen some more. Then listen some more. THEN talk.

As a consultant, you feel like you need to talk all the time. Don’t. Over the years, I’ve learned the best consultants I know are the ones who are adept listeners. Better yet, they’re fantastic at listening for insights or nuggets and transforming those insights into actions and ideas. Huge skill to develop.

#12: Ignore and avoid work bullies.

Some people will say you have to learn to deal with difficult personalities. Don’t believe them. You don’t have to. Ever.

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The employee tech experience: The chasm between personal and professional tools grows

Five to six years ago, one of the big conversations you heard a lot about was around how many companies were blocking Facebook at work.

There was outrage.

There was pillaging.

There was plundering.

Det mobila kontoret

And then, companies got smarter (well, most companies, at least), and they started opening up social media usage at work.

Today, there’s more talk about employee advocacy on social networks than there is around companies shutting down social networks at work.

But, technology at work is still a challenge.

And, I might argue, based on what I’ve seen and heard recently, it’s a bigger challenge than any of us probably want to admit.

Because corporate IT departments are still making it very tough for marketing folks to do their jobs well.

What am I talking about?

There’s a big disconnect between the tools and technology people use in their PERSONAL lives–and the tools and technology people are using AT WORK.

For example, on a personal level, people are using tools like:

  • Google Drive and Google Docs to collaborate on documents between people and companies
  • Dropbox to share documents, photos and videos between people and companies
  • Gmail to email friends, family and other colleagues throughout the day
  • Slack to help chat and collaborate with disparate teams and employees (we use this on the MIMA board–it’s outstanding).

Meanwhile, when some people go to work, they’re using tools like Lotus Notes. Yeah, I wish I were kidding.

Many corporate employees are being told tools like Google Docs are off limits.

That they can’t use Dropbox–find another way.

That Gmail, of all things, cannot be used at work.

And, that they’d prefer if they used the corporate intranet instead of tools like Slack (which is picking up all kinds of momentum lately; note: We started using this on the MIMA board a few months ago–great tool).

Why is this a big deal?

Because employees work with all sort of tools in their personal lives that are efficient and useful.

Then, they go to work and they are sometimes forced to play by an entirely different set of rules.

I know companies have security concerns. I know there are other technical challenges. But, the bottom line is that this puts a ton of egg on the face of companies that are instituting and implementing these dated policies.

It’s relatively fine for now. But, as Millennials mature (who generally are more tech-adept than their Gen Y and X colleagues), they’re going to expect more from employers. I’m sure they already expect more.

And this is definitely impacting the employee experience–you don’t think this is affecting the way people think about certain companies and organizations? You don’t think that has a lasting impact on recruiting and retention?

I’m sure companies will come around. I know it’ll take time (just like social did). But, for now, I know it’s also frustrating for a lot of big corporate employees.

What do you think–especially my corporate friends? Is this as big of a problem as I’m painting it to be?


photo credit: The mobile Office / Det mobila kontoret via photopin (license)


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