National Politics vs. Workplace & Employment Politics – Is There Really Any Difference?

October 1, 2008 at 1:54 pm 2 comments

By Matt Barcus
President, Precision Executive Search
Managing Partner, A/E/P Central, LLC, home of

An admitted CNN Junkie (In fact, I am watching it as I type!), and in light of the political headlines which seem to change by the minute, I am inspired to discuss politics.  Not THOSE politics, but rather office and employment politics and how they mirror  the current national political headlines.  Having worked in a true office environment for the first five years of my professional career, and speaking regularly to civil engineering professionals who work in an office environment all day for the past 11 years of my career, I’ve either witnessed or heard most scenarios out there as it relates to office politics in the civil engineering industry.  That being said, I still probably have more questions here than comments, so I would be very curious as to your responses.  Below you will find some recent political headlines and how they might parallel what you see in your office.  Are these parallel’s true?  What is your philosophy? How has your company handled these situations?

John McCain Is Too Old To Be President

John McCain is 72 years old, but he clearly believes that he is healthy enough to lead the nation for the next eight years.  Should John McCain be elected President of the United States? He will be 80 years old if he serves two full terms.  I am sure you have read all the rage as to how 60 is the new 40.  Earlier this year we blogged about how one should never underestimate the gray haired engineer.  What I am seeing in the civil engineering consulting world though, is that this philosophy does not always hold true.  Companies may claim that they are on board with this belief, but when it comes to pulling the trigger and promoting or hiring folks in their sixties, they are very hesitant.  The fact is, that generation is not retiring at 62 or 65, they are working well into their seventies.  Many of these folks are vibrant, internet savvy, and  well experienced with still a lot to offer.  What is preventing you from considering these professionals for serious positions within your organization?  Even better, what success stories do you have where you actually did hire someone with that much experience?

Sarah Palin Does Not Have The Experience

John McCain clearly went out on a limb by selecting Sarah Palin as his running mate for Vice President, and though his campaign may not admit it as such, it was clearly an “out of the box” selection.  Though she has executive experience, it has been only for a short period of time, and there are only three states with a lower population than Alaska.  She has no foreign policy experience and she is extremely conservative.  BUT, she clearly inspired the base of the Republican Party at their convention, she is high energy, she fights government corruption, she brings some new ideas to the table, and she has intrigued a lot of people.  What type of risk does your firm take, if any, in making a strategic hire?  Have you ever hired someone that doesn’t necessarily have all the technical skills you are looking for on paper, but has the energy and the appeal; that when meshed with all the other components of your company generated some great success?  Or maybe you did but they fell flat on their face?  What risks have your firm made in regards to this scenario?  Was it worth it? What did you learn from if it turned out to be a big mistake?

The $700B Dollar Bailout

What I see here is that everyone on Capitol Hill is looking out for their own personal gain and best interests versus what is best for the American citizens.  On a personal level, I’m still undecided as to what they should do as I feel as though the information is lacking, but we are in a crisis here and these elected officials need to put their interests and partisanship aside for the better of the country.  From time to time, this scenario plays out in corporate America, and in turn in your offices.  In a day and age where everyone is trying to keep up with the Jones’ and climb the proverbial corporate ladder, quite often professionals make decisions that work best for them, but not the company.  Frequently this is a fine line.  Maybe someone cuts you off or blindsides you in pursuit of a project that you had the beat on but were approaching differently and swipes it out from under your feet.  Maybe someone is influencing the pool of staff engineers and cad technicians to spend more time on their projects which pulls them away from yours, with complete disregard to your needs.  Or maybe someone on your team takes valuable information that you have shared (aka “stealing”) and takes it to his or her boss, or even worse, to another firm, as leverage to be hired for a bigger and better position.  These people are not able to see the forest through the trees and I am sure you have bumped into one or two of these folks, right?  How did you handle that situation?

Lobbyists & Pork Barrel Spending

Earmarks and Pork Barrel spending have been a contentious point, to some extent, between McCain and Obama.  In a nutshell, lobbyists are hired by organizations to contribute funds and cozy up to lawmakers in order to receive funding for projects that they will benefit from.   The comparison is pretty cut and dry here. Are there folks in your office that are “brown nosing” the executives in order to help elevate their own career, even though they may be stepping out of bounds with their own beliefs in the short term to get them where they want to be long term?

Like it or not, politics effect our lives each and every day.  Whether it is at the national or international level, at the office, or right inside the walls of our own homes.  Every situation is different and calls for a different solution, and often times there is fine line that is drawn.  Just like in government,  in office politics, it is how close you walk to that line, or even how far you step over that line, that determines your standing in the confines of your organization.


Entry filed under: Civil Engineering Issues, Employee Retention, Recruiting, Uncategorized. Tags: , , .

Increase Employee Morale and Benefits Civil Engineering & The Presidential Election

2 Comments Add your own

  • 1. Gordon Glass  |  October 1, 2008 at 4:29 pm

    You have struck a nerve with me. For years I have told folks I am pretty easy going and have few things I will get upset about. But office politics is one of them. A pet peeve, if you will. Maybe it is such a sore spot with me because I am not very good at it.

    I have seen brown nosing and being a squeaky wheel serve effectively for the practitioner. However, it has a deleterious effect on the peripherally involved parties. I have seen it have a lasting effect throughout a small office and set directions that take a while to recover from.

    On the other hand, I wonder what would happen if I was being played. Would I recognize it or would my blind spot be just as big as others. Maybe my blind spot would be even bigger.

    As to the experience factor, I wonder what affect the apparent demand for engineers in developing areas of practice will have. As I understand, the growing demand for engineers is further exacerbated by the onset of baby boomers exiting from the workforce. How much risk is industry willing to take to try to adapt engineers from other areas of practice to fill their needs? It is ironic that we claim we are taught how to think and solve problems, but after we work for awhile we are defined and limited by what we have done. Admittedly, someone with experience in the area of interest can hit the ground running. But at some point, even standing and walking is some progress versus none at all.

  • 2. Josie Summa  |  October 1, 2008 at 4:13 pm

    ACK! Looks like my tags edited my post.

    Here is the real content, sans tags:

    OK I’ll bite. I cant believe I am doing this…

    John McCain Is Too Old To Be President
    When someone has 30-40+ years of experience they expect to be paid for it. At that level of compensation, they are a strategic hire and the hiring company only needs to be assured that the individual’s “horizon” can meet their strategic needs. As for “Acts of God” which may truncate that horizon, well, that can happen to *anyone.* If they are a good cultural fit for the role, they are a contender. (And the primary reason McCain’s age is an issue is b/c Palin is his #2)

    Sarah Palin Does Not Have The Experience
    You’ve got to be able to do the job for which you’re hired. Personality, charm and good looks will not seal any plans I know about. If you can do the job, the charisma will help you in the job in other ways.

    The $700B Dollar Bailout
    I applaud your bringing up this hot potato, but I don’t really like the analogy. When I see this issue in the headlines, I think “corporate profits, socialized losses” (not original – stole that from some NPR commentator). Perhaps the corollary is driving your employees hard because you are short staffed, and then forgetting to compensate them for their sacrifices. Actually, I cant think of a good corollary because engineering and planning firms seem to have significantly more compunction than Wall Street.

    Lobbyists & Pork Barrel Spending
    Building relationships is not only a goal in your client space, but in your own office. Alliances are human nature and those who make the bosses’ jobs easier will be rewarded for doing so. They are your leadership, and you have to adopt their plan — it’s part of your job (which is where the congressional comparison ends, as elected officials are working for *us* not vice versa).


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