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Power & Politics in Today’s Business
This may be the toughest of all areas within corporate life, dealing with power and politics. It can make or break a career, cause many sleepless nights, and often has very little to do with the actual job employee thought he was paid to do. Some companies are better or worse than others in the amount of political activity required in the job. In some companies, playing corporate politics is the only job you have time for. In the military, it is only marginally important. Usually, the larger the company, the more part the politics play in your ability to perform.
In order to be successful in the corporate world, people need power. The types of power available are formal power and informal power. Formal power is most easily recognized in our society: generals and presidents have formal position power. Informal power is less well understood, however, it is far stronger than formal power over the long term. The power of respect gained as a result of what we know and what we can do. It is important to consider the personality type of the target of influence when selecting a power strategy. In order to influence someone, several strategies may be used involvement, negotiation, direction, and enlistment. Building a Professional Network Outside used to be a less important issue than it is today, with mergers, acquisitions, down sizing and major companies restructuring almost daily. Many very successful and highly competent people have found themselves out of work due to the economy, industry changes, corporate politics or just plain bad luck. The true value of a professional network is combining people from with and individual work today, those worked with in the past, and those that work with in community or professional groups may be the difference between finding a new position quickly and facing financial disaster. Corporate politics also provides fresh ideas, new insights into daily challenges, different perspectives to use in old situations and a way to broaden your talents, skills and interests in a fun way. The outside network is often ‘safety net’ and support system of people who care about the employee, and have interests at heart. They aren’t usually after the job, or concerned about the politics of the company, so are willing to provide advice without political bias. They usually have nothing to lose take their advice. It is very importance that individuals spent time and energy building a professional network.
According to our reading, power is defined as the ability to get someone to do something you want done or the ability to make things happen the way you want them to. Also describes leadership as a key power mechanism to make things happen. There are many ways you can get people to accomplish a task or different jobs. In every organization has to be someone in charge or in a power position. We found that in a power position we have six important aspects and those are; reward, coercive, legitimate, process, information, and representative. Each of these aspects contributes to the leadership style and varies according to the skills of the manager. Personal power is in the people regardless what position they hold. The three bases of personal power are expertise, rational persuasion, and reference. These are important bases in order to succeed in building and maintaining high levels of both position power and personal power. When building position power, managers should be able to demonstrate others that their work units are highly relevant to organizational goals and are able to respond to urgent people’s needs. Managers should keep their employees well inform and filter information down to the lowest level. An example of this is the military system, in which information is passing from the top individuals in charge to the lowest soldier performing the task in the field. Managers should delegate activities to subordinates. Personal power comes from personal character rather than the position the hold in the organization. There are three personal characteristics; expertise, political savvy, and likeability. The process by which a manager help employees acquire and use the power needed to make a decision affecting themselves and their work is call empowerment. When talking about politics is the management of influence to obtain ends not sanctioned by the organization or to obtain ends non-sanctioned influence means. This meaning that they are seeking their own goals or use ways that are not authorized by the organization. Managers should increase their visibility by exposing themselves to the employees and maximizing the contact with their superiors. This will give them the opportunity to gain recognition for a task or job performed. Employees as well will appreciate the manager or supervisor who gets involve with their working environment and empowers them by including them in the decision making process. By acquiring recognition the chances for the acquisition of power and influence will also increase.
It can be assumed that power and politics are a necessary evil in every organization. The ultimate aim of a manager is to get his ideas implemented and for that he/she often needs to tactfully use the art of power, politics and influence. According to Hitchner’s article about Jeffrey Pfeffer’s book Managing with Power: Politics and Influence in Organizations; there are three main stages to effectively wield power: getting power, using power, and keeping power. Before managers get to the stages they must understand the sources of power more specifically according to Hitchner (1992) “who has the power and where” (¶ 9); this source of power can be if the manager is part of the upper echelon of the company or its board of directors, control over the wages, the location of the division at the corporate headquarters, location of the division within the corporate compound, who reads the division, reports? Does it get to the upper echelon?, how many of its members form part of important panels within the company, and how much of the company’s resources does the division control. The first stage, the acquirement of power is mainly due to three factors: first the individual or divisions’ control over the company’s wealth and property this is often referred to as the (Hitchner, 1992) “the golden rule – whoever has the gold, rules” (¶ 11); second the connections an individual or division may have with people in power, is not what you know, but who you know, Pfeffer discourages the making of deals and compromising as something too temporary that will ultimately hurt more than help the goals that were set and instead encourages coalition building to get your way even if others try to stand in the way; and third to the formal authority conferred by his/her position in the company, having said that it is not automatic the manager must show a degree of proficiency and self-confidence to earn the respect of its subordinates and the inherent power that comes with it. Once a person has acquired power then the second stage come into play, the use of power. The effective use of power can be achieved in several ways; three of the most relevant ones are proper framing, proper timing, and proper procedures. Hitchner (1992) states that proper framing is “presenting an idea or decision so that is seen in the most favorable light” (¶ 18) in essence is how you package your message taking into consideration the audience, the chances it has of getting approved, and any competition you might have and how to make yours look better than the others; another aspect is proper timing, as the say goes timing is everything, this couldn’t be more true in the business world, many of the same factors of framing come into consideration when considering timing and if you are not sensitive to your surroundings an otherwise excellent idea might end up in an obscure drawer simply because the timing wasn’t right for presentation; finally proper procedure, follow a structured method for the decision making process and involve the stakeholders to the extent possible, this will make the process smother and greatly increase the chances of a favorable decision. The third and trickier stage is keeping power. One of the most important tools an executive must have in order to keep his/her power is flexibility towards change, even if this means changing the status quo, managers must continually adapt to the new realities in their organizations. The most common mistake an executive that fear losing power makes is trying to stave off change and continue business as usual; paradoxically this very behavior virtually guarantees the eventual loss of it. As Hitchner (1992) puts it “but no efforts can stave off indefinitely the truism that power held by any member of any organization will someday be lost” (¶ 23) and for this Pfeffer recommends integrating this inevitable fact into the culture of the organization by publishing policies to that effect or make it part of the normal behavior of the organization to name a few, this will ease the transition and ultimately help both the individual and the organization. In my experience in the Army politics often take the form of people using their influence because of a connection they might have or be perceived they have with a person in power to get his/her policies implemented. This is especially true in DC were connections take on a whole new meaning and people use them to advance their agendas.
Power and politics are a reality in today’s business organizations, and the more organizations grow the more power and politics play a key role in the conduct of business or as Raffaele (1985) would interpret one of the book’s editor’s views “the second editor sees power as the result of organizations becoming more complex. He notes that as people move from task centered jobs to administrative roles, removed from the central purpose of the organization, they entered into a subculture that is primarily personal goal-directed”. Gary Raffaele in his review of the book by A. Kakabadse and C. Parker: Power, Politics, and Organization: A Behavioral Science View explains that most organizational development researchers and scholars tended to ignore or flat out hide the central role power and politics play in organizations and try to dismiss it as a mere subset of the process of influence. In summary ignoring the existence of power and politics in organizations is not going to make it go away and this processes do serve a function in the successful completion of the decision making process, in addition recognizing the sources and properly utilizing power in terms of personally wielding it or empowering your subordinates can result in a very efficient and well run organization.
Schermerhorn, J.R., Hunt, J.G., & Osborn, R.N. (2005). Organizational Behavior,
chap. 12. New Jersey: John Wiley & Sons, Inc.
Hitchner, E. (1992, winter). Managing with Power: Politics and Influence in
Organizations. National Productivity Review, p1-7.
Raffaele, G.T. (1985, spring). Power, Politics, and Organization: A Behavioral Science
View. Personnel Psychology, p199-203.