Few business activities are more prone to a credibility gap than how executives approach organizational life. A sense of disbelief arises when managers claim to make decisions in rationalistic terms, even though most observers and participants are aware that personalities and politics play a significant, if not dominant, role. Where is the blunder? According to the theory, decisions should be rationalistic and impersonal. Or, in practice, in which business organizations are viewed as political structures?
Organizations, whatever else they are (problem-solving tools, sociotechnical systems, reward systems, and so on), are political structures. This means that organizations function by delegating authority and establishing a framework for exercising power. It is no surprise that individuals who are highly motivated to secure and use management find a comfortable and welcoming environment in business.
Simultaneously, executives are hesitant to acknowledge the role of power in both individual motivation and organizational relationships. Power and politics are, in some ways, dirty words. Some managers retreat into the safety of organizational logic by linking these words to the play of personalities in organizations.
As I will argue in this article, a candid acknowledgment of the importance of personality factors and the sensitive use of people’s strengths and limitations in power distribution decisions can improve the quality of organizational life.
Individuals can wield power through organizations. Organizations exist purely to generate an income surplus over costs by meeting market needs. On the other hand, organizations are political structures that provide opportunities for people to advance their careers and thus serve as platforms for the expression of individual interests and motives. The advancement of one’s career, particularly at the highest managerial and professional levels, is dependent on the accumulation of power as a vehicle for transforming one’s interests into activities that influence others.
Competition and scarcity
A political pyramid emerges when people compete for power in a scarcity-based economy. In other words, people cannot obtain the power they desire simply by asking. Instead, they must participate in decisions about distributing authority within a specific formal organizational structure. Scarcity of power occurs under two conditions:
1. When individuals gain absolute power at the expense of others.
2. Where there is a relative gain—not literally at someone else’s expense—resulting in a relative shift in the distribution of power.
Scarcity and comparison psychology takes over in either case. Humans are prone to making comparisons to bolster their sense of self-esteem. He may compare himself to others and conclude that his total loss or shift in proportional authority shares reflects a loss of power. He may also feel a sense of failure if he compares his position about others to a personal standard. This tendency to compare is deeply ingrained in people, especially because they witness the effects of comparisons early in life in the family, where time and attention, if not love and affection, are given to the most dependent member.
Corporate mergers and acquisitions demonstrate the effects of both types of comparisons. In one union, the president of the acquired company resigned rather than accept the relative rank shift that occurred when he could no longer act as CEO. Two vice presidents contested the position of executive vice president. Because of their competing goals, the expedient of making them equals drove the competition underground, but only for a short time. In his inability to consolidate a workable definition of his responsibilities, the vice president with the weaker power base resigned quickly. His departure resulted in increased power for the remaining vice president and the gradual destruction of “rival camps” that had been covertly associated with the main contenders for power.
Because organizations are pyramids, fewer positions are available as one moves up the hierarchy. This scarcity, combined with inequalities, must undoubtedly be acknowledged. While it is more humane and socially desirable to say that people’s potential is unequal rather than unequal, executive talent is in short supply.
Clients and constituents
Politics in organizations emerge from constituencies, scarcity, and competition. A superior may be content with changes in the allocation of resources and, as a result, power. Still, he represents subordinates who may be dissatisfied with the changes for various reasons. These subordinates validate and back up their boss, and they can also withdraw affirmation and support, isolating the superior and suffering the painful consequences.
While appointments to positions are made from on high, position affirmation is done from on low. The only distinction between party and organizational politics is the nuance of the voting process. Consider:
One division received almost no capital funds for expansion in a large consumer products corporation. In contrast, another division, which had developed a new marketing strategy for products shared by both, expanded dramatically. The head of the static division’s power was significantly diminished, as evidenced by how seriously his subordinates took his influence efforts (e.g., in programs to increase the profit return from existing volume).
Because he couldn’t claim capital funds, he launched one program after another with little support from subordinates. The flow of capital funds in this corporation provided an absolute and relative measure of power gains and losses.
Action and power
Another factor that heightens the competition for power inherent in all political structures is the constant need to use whatever power one possesses. In power transactions, corporations have an implicit “banking” system. The initial “capitalization” that constitutes an individual’s power base is made up of three components:
1. The amount of formal authority vested in his position compared to others.
2. His expertise’s authority, and reputation for competence (a factor weighted by how important the expertise is for the growth areas of the corporation as against the historically stable areas of its business).
3. His personality’s attractiveness to others (a combination of respect for him and liking, although these two sources of attraction are often in conflict). Apart from this we also recommend you to check Sleaze Free Community.