Answer the following questions about Power and politics in an organization:
1. In your opinion, how do reward power and coercive power compare in gaining compliance in an organization? Explain.
2. In your opinion, which of the five sources of organizational power - legitimate, reward, expert, referent, or information - is the easiest to live with as an employee? Explain.
3. Which of the five sources of power do you believe is generally the most effective in an organization? Explain. Are there circumstances in which this type of power might be rendered ineffective?
4. How does trust influence the use of power?
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The theoretical slant of the question means that there can be many different approaches taken in answering it. For every answer, there can multiple approaches that seek to explore different aspects of the question. What is presented here is more of a theoretical exploration to the nature of power and politics within an organization.
The effectiveness of reward power and coercive power will depend on the particular situation in which they are applied. Coercive power can be defined as "as the ability to control others through fear of punishment or loss of valued outcome" while reward power strives to create incentives towards emulating institutional norms. Some employees might consider reward power to be "a stupid reward, while other might strive to achieve it." In both paradigms, one sees valuable aspects in gaining compliance within an organization. Certainly, all organizations benefit when individuals are motivated to replicate institutional beliefs and ideas. In this regard, reward power has merit in gaining compliance because it incentivizes employees replicating institutional message and structure. Whatever the reward might be, compliance is assured when linking performance and attitude with institutional message or norms.
At the same time, it is unrealistic for organizations to presume that all employees will "buy in." Part of the reality within any organization is understanding that there will be issues of non- compliance. No amount of incentives or rewards can address it, and thus power has to be coercive. It is important for organizations to not grow excessively dependent on one type of power. Organizations do not benefit when it can only exert power from one position. The most successful organizations recognize the ability to generate the most amount of compliance in specific situations. Being able to skillfully use both paradigms enables organizations to find greater success because of adaptability to a particular situation.
From an employee standpoint, little creates more resentment than the perception of institutional unfairness. When employees perceive that the power structure is intrinsically unfair in how it distributes power, credibility is lost, resentment increases, and a sense of alienation can take hold between the employees and organization. It is for this reason that I would suggest that expert power is the easiest to live with as an employee. In my mind, expert power is the closest element to merit based advancement in an organization. If the "expert" in a particular aspect of an organization's structure is rewarded, employees might be able to "live with it" because advancement is directly tied to content knowledge. Advancement from an expert base of power enables the individual to see that their work is rewarded and that the performance of critical tasks is validated by the organization. Expert power can be seen as "livable" because it moves the organization closer to a meritocratic paradigm, something that enhances employee effort.
It is with this in mind that I think that expert power is the most effective in an organization. Expert power affirms that individuals take an active role in the organization's goals and ideals: "Possession of expert power is normally a stepping stone to other sources of power such as legitimate power." This is logical because an employee would want positions of power to be occupied by knowledgeable individuals of the organization's purpose. For example, James E. Burke was the CEO of Johnson and Johnson company in the late 1970s and 1980s. Burke was a "lifer" at the organization, having worked in different capacities in the organization for over four decades. Thus, when Burke helped to make the decision to pull all Tylenol drugs from the market in the wake of the cyanide poisoning scandal in 1982, the organization recognized his leadership. His decision was made in light of the organization's message to "serve the public first and foremost." As someone who had been in the organization and occupied roles in it as an "expert," he enjoyed a position of power that enabled his message to resonate with both employees and the public.
There are times when such a position might be deemed as ineffective if the priorities of the organization change. For example, if an organization deems profitability and marketability should be the guiding calculus for decision making, it might hire people who demonstrate a penchant for success in this realm. Experts are seen as secondary to those who can generate greater profitability. The type of power that the organization validates and authenticates is dependent on what institutional message seeks to be reinforced and validated. It is from this vantage point where the source of power can be seen as effective.
In the final analysis, though, the issue of trust underscores the use of power. All forms of power can only be effectively transmitted and used if individuals feel a certain level of trust with those making such decisions. The more trust that individuals who wield power have with members of an organization, the greater their decisions will resonate. Credibility that enables greater power to be wielded and respected is dependent on the trust that is built within organization and individuals within it. This is where those in the position of power must focus their efforts. Building good will and trust with those who will be directly impacted by their decisions and actions of power is vital to the sustenance to any and all organizations.
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