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Introduction

Change
is a term which can be perceived in many ways (Barbaroux, 2011). To some,
organisational change is a visionary bringing about a new method of the same
task; to others, it is a necessary upgrade to how business is conducted or how
an organisation functions. Some people expect and look forward to regular
intervals of change whereas some people may consider it as an unnecessary
development (Burke, 2011). Nonetheless, change has always been an integral part
of any organisation (Cameron, 2008). This concept must be for one, fully
appreciated to understand the intricacies of change management; especially in
cohesion with the power and politics of it. The question statement above
resonates perfectly with how organisations function in today’s world. Because
there is such a high rate of supply and demand, in partnership with constant
innovation and new techniques, change is inevitable (Van de Ven & Sun,
2011). In addition to this, there is growing competition and thus, in order to
stand out, one must use all means necessary to achieve the desired target
(Lawrence, 2015), even if it means using politics to have the competitive
advantage. This particular essay explores the role of using politics and power
to manage change as well as its benefits.

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Understanding Power and
its Sources

Inspiring
and managing change is usually a top-level task; one of the key roles a leader
or manager plays. Generally, such an influential person uses the most
facilitating tool; power. Power is the capacity or potential to influence
(Northouse, 2013). People have power when they
have the ability to affect others’ beliefs, attitudes and courses of action. It
is an extremely useful resource to effect change on the people or the
environment. In an organisation, there are two major kinds of power: position
power and personal power. According to Northouse (2013), position power refers
to the power derived from status in a formal organisational system, and it is
the influence capacity a leader derives from having higher status that their
followers. On the other hand, personal power is the
influence capacity a leader derives from being seen by their followers as
likable and knowledgeable. These two types of power have further subsets
they can rise in. Originally coined by French & Raven (1959), these are
known as bases or sources of power; there are five essential types. Referent
power is based on the followers’ identification and liking for the change maker
or leader. Expert power is based on the followers’ perceptions of the leader’s
competence. Legitimate power is associated with having status or formal job
authority. Reward power is derived from having the capacity to provide rewards
to others. Finally, coercive power is derived from having the capacity to
penalize or punish others (French & Raven, 1959; French & Raven, 2008; Northouse,
2013). There are many approaches to how power is used in an organisation.
Whilst not most address power directly, the Power-Coercive approach assumes
that power is used in some forms and change is the result when either the
perceived need for change is low or there is an urgent need for change.

It
is essential to understand these concepts because power plays a major role in
how change is managed. From aforementioned definitions, it can be inferred that
every source of power is likely to cause a difference in behaviour from the
employees, even if no change takes place. Applying this notion to change
management, it could be suggested that having power might not always lead to
change. Some forms of power might cause a resistance to change or opposing the
views of a change maker (i.e. leader; Vaara & Tiernari, 2011). On the other
hand, challenging the previous notion, research in the past decade has suggested
that there is a strong relationship between a particular source of power from a
leader or manager and employee motivation and performance, coupled alongside
job satisfaction (Bradshaw, 1998). In addition to this, covert forms of power may
cease to be unrecognisable due to the subtlety in which they are embedded in
the manner employees view themselves in the roles they play within the
organisation. Thus, over a period of time, power obedience might become
unquestionable and a natural part of the organisational culture (Foucault,
1977). This notion is further supported by other studies exploring the area of
disciplinary power, which have provided insight into organisational principles
that may be blindly followed as a part of social and economic behaviour (Hardy
& Clegg, 1999). To elaborate on this further, this concept can be compared
to a relationship that a parent and child share. Since the parent holds power
over the child and subjects him/her to covert forms of power by establishing
do’s and don’ts, and a clear set of behavioural guidelines that have, if
violated, disciplinary consequences. Therefore, much like the social and
economic behaviour followed by employees in organisations, the child too learns
to follow rules without questioning, perhaps because, it is set by the parent,
who is undoubtedly, in a superior position of authority.

The “Side Effects” of Organisational
Politics

Organisational
politics on the other hand, is a somewhat more fluid to concept to grasp. According
to Gotsis and Kortezi (2011), organisational politics is a search of self-interest
of individuals in the organisation without consideration to their effect on the
efforts of the organisation to achieve its objectives. Over the decades, the
need to stand out and have the biggest competitive advantage has also surged an
increase in organisational politics. On the contrary, it can sometimes be extremely
difficult to justify reasons behind such politics, but it can be done. It can
be suggested that not all politics have a personal motive behind it; perhaps it
is not always about personal gain (Vigoda-Gadot & Talmud, 2010).

Since
power essentially refers to the constant shift of control to various people, groups,
or organisations (Lawrence, 2015), that cannot be removed, politics is often
referred to power in action, which uses a range of techniques and tactics (Buchanan
& Badham, 2008). In such situations, people or groups tend to exercise this
power in both covert and overt ways, which might be difficult to comprehend, and
may also be disliked by colleagues and the rest of the organisation. The
politics that arise from this “game” of control and power can be considered to
be extremely complex and negatively viewed, perhaps because of the lack of
knowledge about the need for politics (Miller et al, 2008). Although
researchers have suggested that organisational politics are responsible for a
variety of harmful work consequences, including higher stress and lower worker
satisfaction (Kacmar & Baron, 1999), recent research has also provided
insight that this is not always the case, and many times, politics is used as a
means for an overall organisational benefit.

Arguably,
one of the biggest contributors for the lack of research, is the absence of a
generic understanding of organisational politics. Popular but biased
perceptions, could have reduced one’s general understanding of politics, often being viewed negatively and considered to be one
of the drawbacks of a structured organisation. However, organisational politics
can be viewed as a double-edged sword. There are both pros and cons; ultimately
it renders down to how an individual or group of employees use it to their
benefit, without jeopardising the organisation’s overall financial and cultural
well-being. This concept is an essential social influence process that can be
either be functional or dysfunctional to employees and the organisations (Allen
et al, 1972). It can be argued that much of the perceptions formed about
organisational politics is due to preconceived notions. For instance, some research
suggests that politics as a general concept or activity is primarily based
around the individual (Vredenburgh & Shea Van-Fossen, 2010). However,
Vigoda-Gadot & Drory (2006), argue that organisational politics can also be
viewed as a group phenomenon where they are formed as a creation of agendas or
goals shared by like-minded individuals. The same research study also mentions
the impact group politics vs individual politics can have on any change waiting
to happen. Interestingly, this conceptual contribution could suggest a
difference in magnitude or longevity of the approaching change. Research has further
suggested that a great extent of politicking is an innate part of human nature,
and in accordance to Charles Darwin’s theory of evolution, politicking can be
considered as an inherent behavioural tendency which distinguishes individuals
that are better adapted to the organisational environment and culture, in comparison
to those who are not (Vredenburgh & Shea Van-Fossen, 2010). Moreover,
studies suggest that this predisposition to politics can be more visible in
organisations where: the overall objective is unclear, the resources to growth
and development are limited, and the leaders’ change management skills are poor
and are not able to keep up to the speed of the adapting environment and
consumer demands (Gotsis & Kortsezi, 2010). Whilst this approach provides
insight into the makings of politics, the question remains unanswered: if
politics is viewed so negatively, why is it still an integral part of an
organisation?

As
mentioned previously, organisational politics can be viewed negatively which
can involve behaviour that is convenient to the personal agenda of the
person(s) involved, or positively, as a social function that is essential for
organisations to function and survive in the competitive economic market
(Othman, 2008). Positive politics is a result of a well-crafted amalgamation of
shared goals and stimulating collaboration (Drory & Vigoda-Gadot, 2010). It
is essential to understand that organisational politics does not always have to
be about the manipulation of power and trust, and hidden agendas. Meticulously
described in a study conducted by Rosen et al (in Vigoda-Gadot & Drory,
2006), and as supported by Vrendenburgh & Shea Van-Fossen (2010), the
person-based interactionist approach suggests that much of politicking is based
on personality, some personalities or personality types, may view
organisational politics more positively or beneficial to the workplace than
others. To combine this approach with the concept of change management, it
could be assumed that a positive perception of politics may be an important
factor to facilitate effective change. Arguably, the effect of enforcing
positive influence behaviours can directly be on the workplace environment
(Drory & Vigoda-Gadot, 2010; Gotsis & Kortsezi, 2010), which could
perhaps, lead to employees having more faith in their co-workers and leaders
alike, ultimately allowing more room for improved change and development.

Power and Politics in Action

As
Paul Lawrence (2015) mentioned in his book, Power
and Politics, these concepts are at the very crux of any change agenda. Traditional
approaches to change are based on an assumption that organisational change is
mainly driven by positional power. However, one of the possible limitations to
such approaches is that it does not take into account the politics required to
attain the power to implement and execute effective change. Change management,
thus, can be understood as pursuing power via political means (Van de Ven &
Poole, 1995). To do this, people use various strategies and tactics to achieve
what they want. Some of these tactics include: persuasion, linking agendas, joint
problem solving, and, sometimes, even to the extent of pressurising colleagues
or exploiting external influence (Buchanan, 2007). In conjunction with these
political strategies, some power tactics include image building, networking,
and rule manipulation (Buchanan & Badham, 1999). It is interesting to note
the overlap between the two types of tactics, which further supports the
aforementioned research on the relationship between politics and power. In
transforming societies, managerial power and politics are grounded in and
emergent from simultaneously existing historical and contemporary contextual
circumstances (Soulsby & Clark, 2013). To elaborate, much of organisational
politics and power, despite being viewed positively or negatively, is deeply
rooted in almost every organisational culture, and thus, due to a long established
hierarchical system and expected obedience, these concepts, much like the
concept of power obedience, are no longer overtly questioned (Focault, 1977), because
they have been accepted as part of the organisational culture; one of the added
“features of the package”. From aforementioned research, it can be assumed that
politics, good or bad, plays a major role in change and how it is managed. However,
in order for change to happen, sometimes, the change agent may need to use
politics to make the task easier, more beneficial or make the transition
smoother (Soulsby & Clark, 2013), and for this to take place, a certain
leverage of status or authority is usually necessary. Thus, it is likely that
power and politics play vital roles to any change process and management.

Perhaps,
one of the better lenses through which to appreciate the importance of these
concepts, is through Niccolo Machiavelli’s The
Prince, written around 1513. His work paved a critical path for
understanding power and modern politics (Cunha et al, 2013), and indeed today,
a Machiavellian perspective of organisational culture is widely known and
valued, because it follows practical strategies that effectively allow change
makers and leaders to maintain the workplace environment. Machiavelli’s work is
vital in addressing the pertinent question: are politics and power needed to
manage change? In his work, Machiavelli discussed how governments actually
work, rather than presenting an ideal framework of how they should work. This
is important, because he suggested harsh realities about failed leadership and the
misuse of power (Machiavelli, 1961; Cunha et al, 2013). To put this into
perspective in relevance to the modern world, much of the change implemented by
modern leaders can either be ineffective, or dismissed by negative politics. Thus,
change management becomes dirty and complex (Cunha et al, 2013). From this
approach, it can be suggested that the use of power and politics is necessary
to bring about new change or manage an existing execution of change, regardless
of whether it is considered good and effective, or not. As a further response
to the aforementioned question, without a person in authority (power), using
tactics and strategies to establish a goal or agenda (politics), change is
difficult. However, the limitation to this approach is that whilst many of
Machiavelli’s ideas are still relevant to the modern world, his work is centred
around 15th century Italy, where the economic and environmental
state of the country was extremely poor, and it could be assumed that some of
his solutions were extreme, albeit appropriate, to the circumstances. Thus, his
work can merely be a rough guide to enable leaders and change makers, but it
cannot be completely relied upon.

Pfeffer
(2010) argued that power can be and is often essential to do both good and bad
things, but especially good, because a higher status or level of authority is
usually required to bring about change that can be used to attain shared goals
(Cunha et al, 2013). However, it is also argued that having a positive agenda
and being in a position of power may sometimes not be enough to manage change;
it is also important to be realistic and acknowledge the existence of both
sides of politics, along with the people who may misuse their power for their
personal benefits. Machiavelli observed that change strategizing is done within
the context of existing power relations and thus, being oblivious to the power
dynamics may negatively impact the change agenda, or the management of change
(Cunha et al, 2013; Machiavelli, 1961). Research also suggests that this
obliviousness may reduce the motivation of the drivers/enablers of
organisational change, which might ultimately lower the overall commitment of
the employees (McGuire & Hutchings, 2006). However, a limitation to both
concepts, is the negative implications of Machiavelli’s ideas; not only have organisations
in the past taken and abused the ideas put forward, but the concepts themselves
emphasise certain viewpoints that may be perceived as too extreme and can be
harmful to the workplace environment.

Conclusion

Through
the aforementioned research, one might conclude that politics and power play
major roles in creating and managing change, and rarely do organisations fully
function without the effect of them in the organisational culture. However, it
is important to acknowledge that the implications of the two concepts may not
always have a positive or beneficial outcome. Research has previously suggested
that there is a relatively high probability of negative politics and the misuse
of power and control (Cacciattolo, 2015). This can lead to lack of trust
between employees and their seniors, which as a result, could impact the group
dynamics. Additionally, it could suggest to lower levels of job satisfaction
and organisational commitment, and increased levels of stress (Bedi &
Schat, 2013); especially for those who either choose not to, or do not have the
skills to “play the game”. There are several other drawbacks to using politics
and power to manage change, and they have been articulately observed in both
theory and real-life scenarios. Furthermore, due to popular pre-conceived
notions, power play and organisational politics have been regarded with a bad
name. It is, nonetheless, essential to re-iterate that, whilst these concepts play
major roles in change management, change is not limited to them. It is
dependent on various factors, including the leadership, the overall motivation
and commitment of the employees and team, etc. 

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