Power Dynamics in Organizations


Reema Negi
Sr. Lecturer
NSB School of Business
B-II/1, MCIE, Delhi-Mathura Road, New Delhi-110044

"You can get much farther with a kind word and a gun than you can with a kind word alone."

Power is understood as the ability to influence other people and events. It refers to a capacity that A has to influence the behavior of B, so that B acts in accordance with A's wishes. This definition implies a potential that need not be actualized to be effective and a dependency relationship. Power may exist but not be used. It is, therefore, a capacity or potential. One can have power but not impose it. Probably the most important aspect of power is that it is a function of dependency. The greater B's dependence on A, the greater is A's power in the relationship. Dependence, in turn, is based on alternatives that B perceives and the importance that B places on the alternative(s) that A controls. A person can have power over you only if he or she controls something you desire.

The dynamics of power can be studied from several angels, viz., distribution, dependency, uncertainty, compliance, indicators, power determinants, power consequences, symbols and reputation.

* Distribution:

There is no rational in the distribution of power among organizational members. Some may yield more power than others. Others, the power wielded by one member may be disproportionate to the organizational position he holds. Those in power try to grab more of it. They strongly resist any attempt to weaken the power they wielded. An individual cannot have power at all times and at all places. He may be forced to forgo his power or he may be stripped of it. He resists attempt to weaken his power, in the event of failure, he will try to form coalition.

* Dependency:

As mentioned earlier, power largely depends on dependency relationship. The greater B depends on A, the greater the power of A on B. The greater the dependency of an organization on a limited number of individuals, the greater the power these individuals enjoy. A person who cannot be easily displaced enjoys more power than others whose services can be easily replaced.

* Uncertainty:

Organizations seek to avoid uncertainty as far as possible. People who can absorb uncertainty wield more power. Uncertainty depends on the nature of the organization. In a marketing firm, for instance, sale executives confront uncertainty and naturally wield more power.

* Compliance:

Of all the types of power, people generally comply with legitimate power. People perceive reward and coercive powers as weak for complying with manager's requests.

* Power Indicators:

It is difficult to tell when power is being used. Those who use power usually do not want other to know about it. Indeed, power is most effective when it is not visible. People tend to resist the use of power when they see themselves being influenced in a way that is contrary to their own desires. However, if the attempt to influence appears to be legitimate and rational, we are more willing to comply and subject ourselves to the wishes of others.

Frequently, individuals who are using power fail to recognize what they are doing. They honestly feel they are exerting rational influence that can be justified for legitimate reasons other than their personal wishes. They sincerely think their influence is rational rather than political.

* Determinants of power:

One method of assessing power focuses on the potential to exert influence and consists of measuring how many determinants of power are available to each member. One of the bases of power is expertise; therefore, individuals who possess better knowledge and expertise can exert better influence in situations where their knowledge is important. In assessing the relative power of students who have formed a study group, we find that the student who seems to possess the better knowledge will have greater power.

* Consequences of power:

The distribution of power can be assessed by examining the consequences of a decision making process. Since power is used to influence decisions, those with the greatest power should be the ones who obtain the most favorable decision outcomes.

Typically we assume, that the most powerful people are the ones who can persuade others. Therefore, they would usually be on the winning side of a vote. Sometimes, however, the outcome of a decision is obvious long before it is made, and to avoid being on the losing side, individuals will jump on the bandwagon to become part of the winning team.

* Symbols:

Examining how many symbols of power they possess can assess the power of different individuals. Symbols include such things as titles, office size and location, special parking privileges, special eating facilities, automobiles, airplanes, and office furnishings. Since the executive offices are typically on the top floor of a building, the location of offices on other floors often reflect the relative power of the office holders.

* Reputation:

Another way of assessing power in organizations is to ask members of the organization who possess the greatest power or exerts the greatest influence. This method measures the reputation on organizational members as perceived by others and assumes that people are knowledgeable about power relationships and willing to report what they know. These assumptions are often incorrect, especially when power is effective, because then it is not perceived as an exercise of power. Consequently, the potential activities of the most powerful and influential individuals may be understated or overlooked by both themselves and others.

Finally, the last way of assessing power is to determine which individuals and groups re the most heavily represented on committee and other significant administrative posts. As a group rule, individuals who are invited to participate on significant administrative council acquire greater power for their departments, such as when accountants participate in executive committee meeting or when engineers participate in quality circles. A few years ago the word "power" was not worthy of discussion in the subject of Organizational Behaviour. Not any more. Today it has acquired respectability because of its significant impact on the behavior of people in the organizations. 


* Robbins Stephen P. (2003), Organizational Behavior (Tenth Edition), Prentice Hall of India Private Ltd.

* Aswathappa K. (1991), Organisational Behaviour: Text, Cases and Games, Himalaya Publishing House.

* Singh Yogendra & Pandey Mamta (2004), Organisational Behaviour, A.I.T.B.S. Publishers.

* Fincham Robin & Rhodes Peter (2005), Principles of Organisational Behaviours, Oxford Press.

Reema Negi
Sr. Lecturer
NSB School of Business
B-II/1, MCIE, Delhi-Mathura Road, New Delhi-110044

Source: E-mail August 23, 2008


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