How to Navigate Company Politics & Have Hard Conversations at Work

June 20, 2018

(Coming Soon)

Asia Matos Orangio

Startup Growth Consultant & Founder of DemandMaven

Company politics are inevitable in SaaS, just like they are in any company. It’s one of the most common struggles we hear about from the thousands of marketers we’ve spoken with over the years we’ve been running Forget The Funnel: “I can’t get buy-in on my ideas. I can’t seem to establish my seat at the table. I feel like big marketing decisions are made without me.

Sound familiar? If so, this workshop with Asia Matos is what you’ve been looking for. She’s the Founder of DemandMaven, where she helps startups get to their first $100K. Previously, she served as the Head of Marketing at Hull (where we met her), Demand Generation Manager at Terminus and Marketing Manager at #FlipMyFunnel. In her workshop, she shares tried-and-true strategies for working with colleagues more effectively, how to set yourself up for success within a new company, and how to have tough conversations with colleagues with trust and compassion.

Company politics are just one aspect of many we cover in our SaaS Marketing Workshop series. Click through to learn about other aspects of building an effective SaaS marketing department.Here are the highlights from Asia’s workshop:

Acknowledge That Politics Will Happen

No matter how great your company is, there will inevitably be times when politics come into play. It just comes with the territory of working closely with other people.

This doesn’t mean that you’re doing something wrong — in fact, if you’re lucky enough to be at a company with a strong culture, you’ll be able to work through these issues more effectively.

But we need to work through our knee-jerk reaction to the phrase “company politics.” As Asia defines it:

The keyword here is principles. Everyone has their own a set of beliefs about how something should be happening. And then you meet another person who has a certain set of beliefs about how something should be happening, and then boom: politics.Anytime you get a group of people in the room together, you're all going to have different walks of life, different opinions about how things should be happening, and therefore, politics are 100% totally unavoidable."

Accepting that politics will happen isn’t the same as being okay with backstabbing behavior, or not working to fix problems. Rather, acknowledging that politics are inevitable, is to acknowledge the fact that 85% (!) of a person’s financial success is determined by their ability to communicate. In other words, learning how to navigate this stuff really matters.

Remember: Everyone Wants To Feel Important

If you’re looking to solve a problem or communicate more effectively with others in your company, it’s important to remember a rule from How to Win Friends and Influence People (one of Asia’s favorite books): Everyone wants to feel important.

This means that as you go into difficult conversations at work, it’s easier to get the other party on your side by acknowledging their role in the company, and the expertise they bring to that role. This kicks things off on a warm note.

As Asia puts it:

A lot of what you might encounter with politics in the company actually stems from where someone's coming from emotionally. That's totally human and very okay. But because of that, you aren't always gonna be able to debate with pure reason. You're gonna have to think about the emotional side of an issue, as well.”

This doesn’t mean that you should throw logic out entirely when discussing an issue with someone in your company. But you should acknowledge that the other person may oppose an idea on an emotional basis that has nothing to do with what you’re presenting about the idea.

Asia shares an example in which she she had an emotional reaction against a rebranding effort. But as she discussed project with her colleague and heard the logic behind the decision, she realized that she was emotionally attached in a way that wasn’t entirely helpful. We recommend listening to the full workshop to hear the story.

Learn the unwritten rules

Every company has unwritten rules. Sometimes they’re small, like “the person who drank the last sparkling water in the fridge is the person who orders the next case.” Other times, they’re paramount to how major strategic decisions are made.

Think about the examples in this list: What are the unwritten rules regarding these topics at your company?

  • How do projects move forward?
  • How is budget secured in a company?
  • Why are things deprioritized or shot down?
  • Comparatively speaking, what are some other projects in the company that do get pushed further or pushed more quickly than others?
  • How do people pitch these projects and how do things actually get done?

Knowing these rules is essential to getting things done within your company.

In Asia’s words,

One of the ways you can learn the unwritten rules is to study the people who get stuff done. Anytime you're new in a company, one of the best things that I recommend in your 90-Day Plan is to partner up with someone who can show you how they pitch projects and how they do things.”

Identify internal stakeholders

Every decision that takes place in a company has internal stakeholders, who may or may not be apparent. Often this is true in Marketing, since you’re regularly working cross-functionally with Sales, Customer Service, and Product to make sure things get done.

Asia recommends figuring out who those stakeholders are ASAP, since building strong relationships with them is key to moving ahead and making sure things get done in the company.

“Who are the internal stakeholders in your organizations? Who can you actually really get in front of and start creating a very real relationship now instead of waiting until you have to suddenly win everyone's opinion on something, and you're not on the same playing field at all? Don't wait until that happens.”

Focus on unpacking

If (okay, when) a disagreement arises, it’s important to recognize that butting heads doesn’t just happen at random. There are underlying factors you’ll need to suss out.

Asia puts it this way:

“Again, we are not as logical as we think we are. As you start to uncover and unpack [what’s really going on], the emotion will eventually surface. And then at that point you can say, ‘Okay well, it's not this. I am not trying to offend you, or trying to hurt your feelings, or put you down. It's actually this very tactical thing that is super specific to a product or a platform.’ So by unpacking, you can get down to the root of it and then say, that is not at all what the intention is or what we're trying to accomplish. Unpacking is like gold once you can master it.”

Unpacking can also stop major conflicts before they start. If two people are from different departments or professional backgrounds, they may see the same principle very differently. There may not even be a common work language between them (what does a “lead” mean to a marketer vs. a salesperson, for example?). Unpacking helps people find a common purpose and breaks down unclear vocabulary that may hinder communication in the workplace.

There’s no way we could have included every single point that Asia shared in this workshop (including a great section on using the Socratic method in the workplace!). We highly encourage you to listen to the full workshop to learn all of Asia’s techniques for navigating company politics and having the hard conversations at work.

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Asia Matos Orangio

Asia founded her consultancy, DemandMaven, with one goal in mind: to help founders of early-stage SaaS companies & startups build their marketing engine and get their first 100 customers. Asia’s areas of expertise include running paid advertising campaigns, optimizing marketing websites, and creating onboarding flows to attract the right visitors, keep trials coming in, and create insanely happy customers.

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