Monday, February 05, 2007

The Relationship Between Power and Change

Many of the corporate values statements that are supposed to guide large-scale change efforts appear to have been developed without acknowledging the realities of power. The fact is that some individuals are intensely driven by motives such as power and individual achievement, seemingly to the exclusion of almost anything else.
indeed, reward and recognition systems have usually been designed to encourage individual achievement and promote managers who wanted to acquire additional power. These reward systems may have changed in recent years to recognize team accomplishment and encourage employees to become team players. But it would be naive to assume that human nature has suddenly changed. As they have since the beginning of the species, some humans still crave power and, once they have achieved it, want to hold onto it. Consequently, I propose that, for more understanding of power, following principles may be considered:
First Principle - People Who Have Power Usually Do Not Give It Up Voluntarily. Power means control. It bestows prestige and privilege, perks that are far too seductive for most people to relinquish willingly. Managers may give lip service to the principles of empowerment, but the reality is often quite different, making the transition process difficult. Many a department head who tries to change procedures in his or her organization has learned this lesson the hard way. Outwardly, all of the mangers may agree with the reforms, but in reality they often see them as a threat to their way of doing thins. As a result, the reforms may never be implemented.
Another factor also helps to explain the reluctance of many managers to change. They often feel uncomfortable in a new culture because they lack the necessary tools to function 'there' effectively. It's similar to doing business in a country that you've never seen before. The new culture is totally unfamiliar, and you have no model for what is expected of you. Eventually, you may acquire a mode, but even then you still must figure out how to translate it into specific behaviors on you job. In order to be able to successfully do so, you need to practice these behaviors on the job, to rely on your colleagues to do the same thing, to interface with other departments where the change process has not yet started, and finally to depend on the rest of the organization to support your efforts. This tough situation explains why so many mangers are reluctant to embrace the brave new world of corporate change.
Second Principle - Hierarchies Are the Natural Order of Things. As organizations try to flatten out their hierarchies, they need to ask themselves an important questions: What purpose is the hierarchy designed to serve? In their book Re-framing Organizations, Bolman and Deal contrast the organizational structures at McDonald's and at Harvard University. The former is tightly controlled from the top, with a long chain of command that reaches into every restaurant and down to every employee in order to ensure uniformity - a hamburger at one location is to be the same as a hamburger everywhere else. By contrast, Harvard is a far more decentralized organization, with each school largely in control of its own destiny and every professor teaching according to his or her own unique style. People want individuality from the Harvard faculty, but not from McDonald's hamburger flippers.
For each organization, there seems to be an optional degree of command structure. This varies with the purpose of the organization and the amount of alignment required among the employees. Incidentally, hierarchies will always exist because they seem to be a natural organizing principle of life. In fact, organizations that eliminate layers of formal hierarchy usually discover that informal structures emerge to replace them. These may for around natural leaders who may be the mavericks who direct successful skunk works or the corporate heroes who lead the organization to new markets. They attract their own followers who establish hierarchies of their own that exist side by side with the formal organization chart.
Third Principle - In Each Organization There Are Different Types of Power. Inside every organization, power is clothed in various forms and resides in different centers. Successful change often depends on persuading enough powerful people to buy into a transition process. formal power, of course, is described in our company's organization chart, which tells us, the people in authority who are charged with enforcing the rules. While their support is critical, it is only the beginning, because there are many types of informal power that may prove just as important.
These include moral power, which carries the force of sanctions against any employee who violates the values of the culture. Moral power may be exercised by the individuals that we may call believers; they preserve the institution and its hallowed traditions. Since any change effort generally strikes at these traditions, those preachers and their followers may be expected to oppose it unless you can enlist their enthusiastic approval.
Expertise is another kind of power, usually represented by various gurus who can be found in almost any functional area. These are employees who possess outstanding reputations that have won them wide respect throughout the organization, and so their support can be crucial.
Finally, there is coercive power. This is the ultimate authority to hire and fire, to determine corporate strategy and change organizational structures. The leader may need to use coercive power ti initiate the change process, especially if he or she is the only one who seems to recognize the necessity for change. There may simply be no other way for the leader to start the ball rolling than by announcing his or her vision for the organization to the members of the management team. Then the leader must be skilled at reaching out to all of the opinion makers in the organization - those who possess expert power and moral power as well as those who hold positions of authority in the company's formal organization chart.
This process requires the leader to have the ability to persuade others tat he or she is fully committed to the change process, the ability to set an example and undertake actions that seem consistent with the process, and a past record of success which enhances his or her reputation throughout the organization. This is the leader's own moral and expert power. The leader cannot rely on coercive power alone to force change down employees' throats, because resistance will build that can undermine the entire process.

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