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Work Power Struggle Case Study
At the young age of 23, Jim Davis has a promising career at Hereford National Bank. In three months, he has been promoted to Business Development Manager, tasked with developing a new strategy for the bank. His first big initiative of selling bank services through branch managers is at risk due to a twenty-five year veteran’s (Patty Mathews) reluctance to participate. How will Jim leverage his position and personal power to ensure success?
Do Not Overlook the Obvious
Before delving into a power struggle with Patty, Jim needs to have a conversation with Patty to understand her position. First, he clearly does not understand why she refuses to participate. Second, she may have actually been sick. Human resource theorists tend to focus on influence that enhances mutuality and collaboration. The implicit hope is that participation, openness, and collaboration make power a nonissue (CP, Chapter 9). By having a conversation with Patty, two potential avenues will emerge for Jim:
1. He can quickly take action to pacify Patty’s concern and move the project forward, thereby ending the issue, or
2. Realize that Patty is resisting him in a way that can only be resolved through his sources of power.
Assuming # 2 occurs, Jim must first assess his sources of power. Although having the conversation did not resolve the issue, it may shed light on Patty’s needs and source of conflict with Jim.
Sources of Power
Jim holds two significant sources of power as defined in Chapter 9, Power, Conflict, and Coalition:
1. Control of Rewards: Jim has the ability to provide an expense account to Patty, the only concern of hers discussed in the case.
2. Alliances and Networks: Jim is good friends with Patty’s manager, Allen. He also has established a great relationship with Eric Johnson, a bank executive.
Jim needs to focus on the three types of influence skills as defined in Chapter 5, “Gaining and Using Sustainable, Ethical Power and Influence”: (1) Being able to read other people and adapt your message in ways that will help you be understood and supported, (2) using the six universal forms of influences; and (3) developing political savvy.
Jim has avoided politics since starting with Hereford, so political savvy (3) is not necessary available to him. It is something he can begin to develop through this situation. Having a conversation with Patty will enable him to accomplish (1) and from this position begin to focus on his forms of influence (2) to meet his desired goal of full participation of all the branch managers.
Jim has immediate access to four of the six universal forms of influence as described below:
1. Authority: Jim is not in a direct leadership position over Patty, but he is ranked highly in the company and is clearly on a level equivalent of Patty’s boss, Allen. Patty must understand that her evaluations and compensation could be affected by not participating.
2. Social Proof: According to the case, the initial training session went very well. Likely, the team went out for drinks afterwards, establishing camaraderie and support for the new project. Patty would begin to alienate herself amongst her peers if she continues to refuse to participate.
3. Scarcity: Jim has the ability to provide Patty an expense account, something she is very interested in. This is a bargaining chip that Jim has in any negations with Patty to get her on board.
4. Liking: This is completely in Jim’s control. Although Patty is in a different generation, there is no reason why Jim cannot work on creating a positive, amiable relationship with Patty
What Should Jim Do Next?
Before entering into a potential conflict with Patty, Jim can immediately focus on his forms of personal power – expertise, dedication, positive impression making, envelope stretching and confidence (Reardon, 2000). He can woo the remainder of the branch managers with these forms of personal power, building a coalition that supports the new project. This effort in itself may alienate Patty in a way that forces her to support the project. If Jim is not successful in building a coalition, I suggest he offer Patty a limited expense account for her to use with potential clients, empowering her in this new role. The most extreme measure for Jim would be to assert his positional and organizational power over Patty, taking action to force her into compliance or out of the company. This would be the final resort, as it would create a potentially hostile environment.
Power & Influence CP: Chapter 9, Power, Conflict, and Coalition.
Power & Influence CP: Chapter 5, Gaining and Using Sustainable, Ethical Power and Influence.
Reardon, K. 2000. The Secret Handshake. New York: DoubleDay Publishing.
Mainolfi, D. Who’s in Charge, The Jim Davis Case. Babson College, 2000. Harvard Business School Publishing.