Corporate acquisitions and mergers illustrate the effects of both types of comparisons. In the case of one merger, the president of the acquired company resigned rather than accept the relative displacement in rank which occurred when he no longer could act as a chief executive officer. Two vice presidents vied for the position of executive vice president.
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Because of their conflicting ambitions, the expedient of making them equals drove the competition underground, but not for long. The vice president with the weaker power base soon resigned in the face of his inability to consolidate a workable definition of his responsibilities. The fact that organizations are pyramids produces a scarcity of positions the higher one moves in the hierarchy. This scarcity, coupled with inequalities, certainly needs to be recognized. While it may be humane and socially desirable to say that people are different rather than unequal in their potential, nevertheless executive talent is in short supply.
The end result should be to move the more able people into the top positions and to accord them the pay, responsibility, and authority to match their potential. On the other side, the strong desires of equally able people for the few top positions available means that someone will either have to face the realization of unfulfilled ambition or have to shift his interest to another organization. Besides the conditions of scarcity and competition, politics in organizations grows out of the existence of constituencies.
A superior may be content himself with shifts in the allocation of resources and consequently power, but he represents subordinates who, for their own reasons, may be unhappy with the changes. These subordinates affirm and support their boss. They can also withdraw affirmation and support, and consequently isolate the superior with all the painful consequences this entails.
While appointments to positions come from above, affirmation of position comes from below. The only difference between party and organizational politics is in the subtlety of the voting procedure. He initiated one program after another with little support from subordinates because he could not make a claim for capital funds.
The flow of capital funds in this corporation provided a measure of power gains and losses in both an absolute and a relative sense. Still another factor which heightens the competition for power that is characteristic of all political structures is the incessant need to use whatever power one possesses. The authority vested in his expertise and reputation for competence a factor weighted by how important the expertise is for the growth areas of the corporation as against the historically stable areas of its business.
The attractiveness of his personality to others a combination of respect for him as well as liking, although these two sources of attraction are often in conflict. This capitalization of power reflects the total esteem with which others regard the individual. By a process which is still not too clear, the individual internalizes all of the sources of power capital in a manner parallel to the way he develops a sense of self-esteem.
The individual knows he has power, assesses it realistically, and is willing to risk his personal esteem to influence others. A critical element here is the risk in the uses of power. The individual must perform and get results.
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If he fails to do either, an attrition occurs in his power base in direct proportion to the doubts other people entertained in their earlier appraisals of him. What occurs here is an erosion of confidence which ultimately leads the individual to doubt himself and undermines the psychological work which led him in the first place to internalize authority as a prelude to action.
While, as I have suggested, the psychological work that an individual goes through to consolidate his esteem capital is a crucial aspect of power relations, I shall have to reserve careful examination of this problem until a later date. The objective now is to examine from a political framework the problems of organizational life. What distinguishes alterations in the authority structure from other types of organizational change is their direct confrontation with the political character of corporate life. Such confrontations are real manipulations of power as compared with the indirect approaches which play on ideologies and attitudes.
In the first case, the potency and reality of shifts in authority have an instantaneous effect on what people do, how they interact, and how they think about themselves. In the second case, the shifts in attitude are often based on the willingness of people to respond the way authority figures want them to; ordinarily, however, these shifts in attitude are but temporary expressions of compliance.
One of the most common errors executives make is to confuse compliance with commitment. If compliance occurs out of indifference, then one can predict little difficulty in translating the intent of directives into actual implementation.
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Commitment, on the other hand, represents a strong motivation on the part of an individual to adopt or resist the intent of a directive. If the individual commits himself to a change, then he will use his ingenuity to interpret and implement the change in such a way as to assure its success. If he decides to fight or block the change, the individual may act as if he complies but reserve other times and places to negate the effects of directives. For example:. In one instance, a division head agreed to accept a highly regarded executive from another division to meet a serious manpower shortage in his organization.
When the time came to effect the transfer, however, this division general manager refused, with some justification, on the grounds that bringing someone in from outside would demoralize his staff. Needless to say, the existence of these loyalties was the major problem to be faced in carrying out organizational planning. Compliance as a tactic to avoid changes and commitment as an expression of strong motivation in dealing with organizational problems are in turn related to how individuals define their interests. In the power relations among executives, the so-called areas of common interest are usually reserved for the banalities of human relationships.
The more significant areas of attention usually force conflicts of interest, especially competition for power, to the surface. Organizations demand, on the one hand, cooperative endeavor and commitment to common purposes. The realities of experience in organizations, on the other hand, show that conflicts of interest exist among people who ultimately share a common fate and are supposed to work together.
What makes business more political and less ideological and rationalistic is the overriding importance of conflicts of interest. If an individual or group is told that his job scope is reduced in either absolute or proportional terms for the good of the corporation, he faces a conflict. Should he acquiesce for the idea of common good or fight in the service of his self-interest? Any rational man will fight how constructively depends on the absence of neurotic conflicts and on ego strength. His willingness to fight increases as he comes to realize the intangible nature of what people think is good for the organization.
And, in point of fact, his willingness may serve the interests of corporate purpose by highlighting issues and stimulating careful thinking before the reaching of final decisions. Conflicts of interest in the competition for resources are easily recognized, as for example, in capital budgeting or in allocating money for research and development. But these conflicts can be subjected to bargaining procedures which all parties to the competition validate by their participation. The secondary effects of bargaining do involve organizational and power issues. However, the fact that these power issues follow debate on economic problems rather than lead it creates a manifest content which can be objectified much more readily than in areas where the primary considerations are the distributions of authority.
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In such cases, which include developing a new formal organization structure, management succession, promotions, corporate mergers, and entry of new executives, the conflicts of interest are severe and direct simply because there are no objective measures of right or wrong courses of action. The critical question which has to be answered in specific actions is: Who gets power and position? This involves particular people with their strengths and weaknesses and a specific historical context in which actions are understood in symbolic as well as rational terms.
To illustrate:. The fact that Knudsen subsequently was discharged from the presidency of Ford an event I shall discuss later in this article suggests that personalities and the politics of corporations are less aberrations and more conditions of life in large organizations.
But just as General Motors wants to maintain an image, many executives prefer to ignore what this illustration suggests: that organizations are political structures which feed on the psychology of comparison. To know something about the psychology of comparison takes us into the theory of self-esteem in both its conscious manifestations and its unconscious origins.
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Besides possibly enlightening us in general and giving a more realistic picture of people and organizations, there are some practical benefits in such knowledge. These benefits include:. Organizational life within a political frame is a series of contradictions. It is an exercise in rationality, but its energy comes from the ideas in the minds of power figures the content of which, as well as their origins, are only dimly perceived. It deals with sources of authority and their distribution; yet it depends in the first place on the existence of a balance of power in the hands of an individual who initiates actions and gets results.
It has many rituals associated with it, such as participation, democratization, and the sharing of power; yet the real outcome is the consolidation of power around a central figure to whom other individuals make emotional attachments. The formal organization structure implements a coalition among key executives. The forms differ, and the psychological significance of various coalitions also differs.
But no organization can function without a consolidation of power in the relationship of a central figure with his select group. The coalition need not exist between the chief executive and his immediate subordinates or staff. It may indeed bypass the second level as in the case of Presidents of the United States who do not build confident relationships within their cabinets, but instead rely on members of the executive staff or on selected individuals outside the formal apparatus.
The failure to establish a coalition within the executive structure of an organization can result in severe problems, such as paralysis in the form of inability to make decisions and to evaluate performance, and in-fighting and overt rivalry within the executive group.
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