Organisational Change Management Volume 2

Power

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"...definition of power...the ability to affect the behaviour of other people..."

Jerry Useem, 2003

If you put 2 people together in a room, it has been found that the less powerful one seeks more eye contact while listening

"See, I'm taking in everything you say, Boss"

and less eye contact while speaking

"I'm expressing my thoughts but am not a threat to you"

The more powerful one tends to smile less, sits in weirder positions and does more "steepling"(touching one's fingers together in a raised position so that the other person has to look through the other's hands)

There are 4 laws of power

1. Power, like gravity, cannot be observed directly - only its effects can

2. Absolute power, although it may corrupt absolutely, does not exist in organisations. Instead, everyone exerts power over someone else, ie it is a 2 way street with bosses and staff having power over each other

3. Power flows from a variety of sources, eg barrel of a gun (Mao), behaviour of the masses (Starbucks), power of the disrupter (Napster), power of the "chokeholder"(exacts tribute from all who pass through his/her gates), power of influence (can be indirect such as that of role models)

4. Power is a creative act that achieves the apparent impossible, such as Dell making money out of the computer business, LBJ leading the US Senate, etc. Need to compare apples with apples but it is more a game of rock-scissors-paper with rock smashing paper, scissors cutting paper and paper covering rock - Which object is the best to have?

Remember:

"...power is not something that is acquired, seized or shared, something that one holds on to or allows to slip away. Power is exercised through innumerable points in the interplay of non-egalitarian and mobile relations..."

Michel Foucault as quoted by Amanda Sinclair, 2007

Since the late '70s (John Kotter et al, 1979), power has been treated as a management contingency or a tool that managers need to calculate

- how much power they have

- how much now they need to execute change

Depending upon the above considerations, managers need to adapt strategies accordingly. Furthermore, different approaches to power to suit various circumstances were developed to minimize resistance, ie power was developed as a tool to enhance managerial control.

. To understand power, there needs to be an understanding of how it works in groups, organisations and societies. Most power is structurally determined, ie it can flow from a privileged position based on social status, access to education, wealth, etc.

Remember:

"... few people enjoy the benefit of being treated on the basis of ability or merit alone...... there is mixed evidence about how much leaders influence organisational fortunes...... yet the power of this is frequently overestimated. The popularity of leadership is part of a wider economic and cultural context in which heroic leadership functions as a panacea, most likely to prevent than foster diverse, valuable, adaptive, collaborative leadership work..."

Amanda Sinclair, 2007

. Margaret Wheatley (1996) states that organisational power is purely relational, and healthy relationships reflect a healthy work place. Look beyond the terms of tasks, functions, span of control and hierarchies to more fundamental issues and ask the following questions:

- Do people know how to listen and speak to each other?

- Do people have free access to one another throughout the organisation?

- Are they trusted with information?

- Do organisational values bring them together or keep them apart?

- Is collaboration truly honoured?

- Can people speak truthfully to one another?

. As power is like energy, it needs to flow through the organisation. It is hard for it to be bounded or designated to certain functions or levels. What gives power its energy is the nature of the relationship. When power is shared in such workplace designs as participative management and self-managed teams, it is positive and manifests itself as significant increases in productivity and personal satisfaction. On the other hand, using coercion and competition, with a disregard for people and their abilities, generates situations in which power becomes a problem, not a capacity. People use their creativity to work against these situations.

As power is the capacity generated by our relationships, we need to be attending to the quality of these relationships.

(sources: Jerry Useem, 2003; Margaret Wheatley, 1996; Amanda Sinclair, 2007; John Kotter, 1979)

 

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