Sunday, August 29, 2010


Behavioural scientists such as David McClelland contend that one of the basic human needs is the need for power. There are two “faces” to power. One face is termed “socialised” power and is scored in the Thematic Apperception Test (TAT) as “plans, self-doubts, mixed outcomes and concern for others”, while the second face is “personalised “ power, in which expressions of power for the sake of personal aggrandisement become paramount. 2
Organisational politics involves intentional acts of influence to enhance or protect the self interest of individuals or groups.1 An emphasis on self-interest distinguishes this form of social influence. Political behaviour becomes a negative force when self-interest erode organisational interests.6 Political maneuvering is triggered primarily by uncertainty.
Five common sources of uncertainty within organisation are:
  • unclear objectives; vague performance measures,
  • ill defined decision processes,
  • strong individual or group competition, and
  • any type of change.

Politics in Organisation Change
Regarding the latter source of uncertainty; any type of change; organisation development specialist Anthony Raia9 noted,”Whatever we attempt to change, the political sub-system becomes active". Vested interests are almost always at stake and the distribution of power is challenged. An exchange system in equilibrium represents the status quo. Efforts to change the status quo involve political action, both on the part of those who wish to change it and those who seek to maintain it.7 Margulies and Raia7 suggested that the ability to understand and to act effectively in the political arena of organisational life is essential for the success of organisational change efforts.
“Change will not occur in an organisation unless power is exercise by somebody”.5 Power is either formal or informal. Its formal in terms of position or role in the organisation or its informal in terms of the chips you have collected, the information you can access or your adeptness at politics.5 When people get together in groups, power will be exerted. People want to carve out a niche from which to exert influence, to earn rewards, and to advance their careers.3

Power and Politics
When employees in organisations convert their power into action, we describe them as being engaged in politics. Those with good political skills have the ability to use their bases of power effectively.8 Robbins and Judge10 wrote about “legitimate political behaviour” which refers to normal everyday politics and “illegitimate political behaviours” that violate the implied rules of the game. An individuals’ investment in the organisation, perceived alternatives, and expectations of success will influence the degree to which they will pursue illegitimate means of political action.4
The more a person has invested in the organisation in terms of expectations of increased future benefits, the more that person has to lose if forced out and less likely he or she to use illegitimate means. The more alternative job opportunities an individual has-due to favourable job market or the possession of scarce skills or knowledge, a prominent reputation, or influential contacts outside the organisation-the more likely that individual is to risk illegitimate political actions.10

Next topic: Conflict Management during Organisation be continued
  1. Allen, RW, Madison, DL, Porter, LW, Renwick, PA & Mayes, BT 1979,’Organizational Politics: Tactics and Characteristics of its Actors’, California Management Review, pp. 77
  2. Chusmir, LH 1986,’Personalised versus Socialised Power Needs among Working Women and Men’, Human Relations, February, pp. 149
  3. Culbert, SA & McDonough, JJ 1980, The Invisible War:Pursuing Self-Interest at Work, Wiley, New York
  4. Farrell, D & Petersen, JC 1982,’Patterns of Political Behavior in Organizations’, Academy of Management Review, July, pp. 405
  5. Hurley, PG 1983,’Q. What in the name of OD do we do? A. Change’, Training & Development Journal, Apr, vol. 37, issue 4, pp. 42
  6. Kreitner, R & Kinicki, A 2008, Organizational Behavior: Eight Edition, McGraw-Hill, Irwin.
  7. Margulies, N & Raia, AP 1984,’The Politics of Organization Development’, Training & Development Journal, vol. 38, issue 8, pp. 20-23
  8. Mintzberg, H 1983, Power In and Around Organizations, Prentice Hall, NJ
  9. Raia, A 1985,’Power, Politics and the Human Resource Professional’, Human Resource Planning,no. 4, pp. 503
  10. Robbins, SP & Judge, TA 2009, Organizational Behaviour:13th Edition, Pearson Prentice Hall, New Jersey.
Power and politics issues during organisation change, written by, Christopher Lim

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