Many studies have examined the affects power and politics have on organizations. In researching The University of Phoenix’s Online Library and current web sites information shows that power and politics dominates the work place and organizations more than any other personal skill. In order to lead one must have power to influence, set and enforce rules. Politics are found in the majority of organizations, therefore it is crucial for employees to recognize the political game in their own organization and decide rather to participate and benefit from the positives of politics or not.
An Examination of Power and Politics in Organizations
Power and politics are dominating forces with in organizations. Organizations are lead by people with power. Power can be awarded by management to a person by title, “legitimate power” which is more formal and recognizable. Many leaders assume power through such things as knowledge, information or seniority. Through research located online and knowledge obtained from personal experiences a comparison was conducted on power and politics in organizations.
The structure of a team is important in determining how the team will perform. Each team member should contribute skills to enhance the team’s overall performance. Individual work habits and leadership styles will determine if the team has the ability to join together and complete their common goals. Teams create environments that bring out the best in each team member. A commitment to effectively communicating information and ideas is a characteristic of an effective team.
That is why the usage of coercion and politics to gain advantage over team members can be very destructive to team dynamics. Coercion is defined by the Oxford English Dictionary is to force one to act or think in a certain manner, to dominate, restrain, or control by force. Often at work or in a group environment one might utilize this form of power to control dominance over the group. This usage of power can often make other team members conform. In a successful team conformity is not a useful tactic. The usage of politics and coercion to gain advantage over team members is a danger to the success of the project. Once team members realize that their input is not wanted more than likely they will withdraw from the process altogether. The USA today states, “offices dynamics often change from the usage of intimidation”. (2004)
For example a team must work together to process information for the desired results. Once a member takes advantage of a situation and use coercion to gain advantage it often leads to disaster. An example of such disaster happened recently within our team. A couple classes ago we had a member that was an extremely dominant person. The person was very smart and well educated but had a problem understanding the syllabus. Everybody in the team would understand the group assignments one way but she would always play devil advocate on the simplest details. She would use coercion to gain advantage over the other team members when we would meet to complete group assignments. The entire team was guilty of just going with the flow, not wanting to cause any problem. She was so convincing we felt she had to be correct! The result was a low grade, because the content was not correct. So the team from that moment on did not allow that dominant personality use politics and power to manipulate the group any more.
Organizational Behavior Ch. 15 pg. 3 defines power through information as; Information power is the access to and/or the control of information. It is one of the most important aspects of legitimacy. In the majority organization the person with the information controls the manner in which the company operates. Expert power is the ability to control through the possession of knowledge, experience, or judgment that the other person does not have but needs. This source of power is often used by subordinates. Judson, P. stated in Worldwide Energy “although there are several directors and managers to organizations the experts of the business actually controls progress.”
In the public works and engineering department there are several directors and managers. Hierarchical authority has put several rules, guide lines and manuals together through information they obtain for employees to follow when completing tasks and goals. Supervisors and employees who actually work in the field have the knowledge and experience; therefore tasks are completed in a different manner than the manuals implement. The knowledge subordinates obtain through actually doing the work gives them more power and control in decision made about the organization.
Politics are in all organizations and employees are affected in some way by politics. As stated in by Schermerhorn, Hunt and Osborn, “any study of power and influence inevitably leads to the subject of “politics.” “For many, this word may conjure up thoughts of illicit deals, favors and special personal relationships.” Although these actions are considered negative by the observer, the organization and the recipients view politics as positive. Organizations use politics to influence employees through promotions and rewards. The City of Houston Public Works and Engineering Department mainly promotes from with in the organization. This is a positive showing by management, because employees feel effort are rewarded.
When you think of power and politics rarely are these images positive or inspiring. Corporate American today has fallen far from the one time logic that rewards are based simply on individual performance. Today more rewards are based on the managements need for power. This ability, power, to have someone else do something in the way you want it done and the precise time you need it done is an overwhelming and influential force. There are several types of ruling powers that are used in today’s businesses. Perhaps, the most preferred by employees is known as the Reward Power. The Reward Power enables a manager to express their appreciation to an individual or group for a job well done by offering the employee or team members a bonus.
Such pleasantries can be in the form of a pay increase, personal praise, or advancement within the company. Unlike the Coercive Reward, probably the most disliked by associates, is a system in which the person in charge uses punishment to rule. Examples of such authority could be the withholding of merit increases, denying a promotion, or even termination. Powers such as these are key elements to leadership success. Unfortunately, they seem to represent the seamy side of management (Schermerhorn, 2003). There are other powers used in organizational structures, such as legitimate, process, informational and representative. These power all vary in pattern, however, none are as contrasting as the Reward versus Coercive Power.
How do these managers gain this power? Some might believe that office politics and networking are major components. The saying “it’s not what you know, but who”, does not stand truer than in today’s corporate environments. An example of “networking” took place a couple of years ago in our department. At the time of this occurrence, Sam was a Financial Administrator for the West Region. He held a reputation for one of the best managed financial divisions. It seems that Sam had built a special friendship with the Sales manager for that region and he would do allow special payments or exceptions for his market without proper documentation to help his numbers increase. These ‘favors’ were soon shared with other salespeople from other markets, and Sam immediately became best of buddies with everyone. A few months later a position for a supervisor was opened and Sam immediately recruited his comrades to assist him in assuring this new position. His use of political power and networking is a prime example of the self absorbed need for dominance in today’s managers.
Ethical Persuasion and Legitimate Power can have a strong impact on teams, management and others alike. First, let’s look at the definition of ethical persuasion and legitimate power. Ethical persuasion is behavior that is morally accepted as “good” and “right” (Schermerhorn, gloss, pg. 6). Legitimate power is the extent to which a manager can use the “right of command” to control other people (Schermerhorn, gloss, pg.12). Ethical Persuasion is very different from legitimate power because when a manger is demanding that you complete a task, the task may not always be ethical. Each one of these behaviors can affect a team in many ways. For example, a management team is assigned a task that involves investigating an employee’s work history to locate any negative infractions or practices in order to terminate the employee. In the investigating process you learn that this person is a single-mother barely able to feed her two children.
However, the company cannot afford to keep her for financial reasons and needs to lay her off. There are five members in the management team that are working on this case and three of them are females, these ladies do not feel that they are displaying ethical behavior and refuse to have anything to do with dismissing this single mother. In reality this woman has done nothing wrong, she was just the last one hired. In the meantime the CEO hears about the moral conflict and he gets very upset with the team members disobedience.
Consequently, the CEO calls a meeting to let the management team know that he is the head of the company and team will do as he says whether they like it or not. If the team do not do as they are told, then they can give the single mother their positions because they will no longer be needed. In this situation the CEO is clearly using legitimate power, which is definitely not ethical; however, it is a job that still has to be done. Therefore, ethical behavior and legitimate power can and will eventually affect a management team. More often than not legitimate power will overrule ethical behavior.
In conclusion research has proven sources of position and personal power, such as expert, information, reward, coercion and legitimate are used by employees to control, persuade and influence people and organizations. Politics are more commonly used by management to control and influence organizational behavior. Both politics and power have positive and negative affects on employees, organizations and communities.
Lindsey, L. B. (2004, July 14) Office Dynamic; Retrieved August 26, 2004 from
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Employee Commitment Pyramid Volume 29. University of Phoenix Custom Edition. Retrieved August 25, 2004, from ProQuest database.
Judson, P. (2004) Advantages of Experts; Worldwide Energy. Vol. 15 Issue 8 p3. abstract retrieved August 28, 2004, from EBSCOhost data base
Schermerhorn, J.R., Hunt, J.G. & Osburn, R.N. (2003) Organizational Behavior
New York: John Wiley & Sons, Inc. Ch. 15 Power and Politics Pg 2-3