Power is generally agreed to be the capacity to influence or get things done. Consequently, it has a massive impact on the decisions which an organisation makes. The more power you have, the more likely you are to be able to realise your objectives.
So, it is natural that individuals and groups will be seeking power. Usually, the power structures within an organisation emerge as a result of strategy, performance, environment and ambition. Rarely are they created deliberately to match the strategy of the venture. Therefore, power is more of an output than an input.
Yet, this is a little bizarre when you consider that the vast majority of decisions made by organisations are significantly shaped by the power positions of the interested parties. When agendas within an organisation so often appear to be conflicting, ignoring the power dynamics at the design (or restructure stage) is an omission which puts the realization of strategy into doubt.
Questions People Don’t Ask
Since power trumps logic, the strength of your business case is subservient to the powers in play. How often do you hear these questions in meetings focused on organisational design and structure?
- How does this proposed new structure affect the power of those concerned?
- What do we need to do to give sufficient power to internal audit so they protect the company properly?
- How can we moderate the power of the sales division?
- What are we going to do to compensate divisional heads for losing their power of autonomy in project funding allocations?
- What new power sources will emerge if this strategy is successful?
- What training and support should we give people who are acquiring power for the first time so they will use it wisely?
As you start to answer these questions, you will perhaps begin to see how the implementation may play out, what battles may be fought. You may also start to imagine the likely political strategies which could play out. These vital insights can put you in a position to be proactive in shaping things to minimise unhelpful conflict and protect the strategy.
Tug of War
Failure to consider these aspects appropriately can lead to all sorts of problems, which generally fall into two camps — domination and stalemate.
Imagine a tug of war between sales and compliance. Which side is the strongest or most powerful? If sales have an extremely strong team, they will easily pull the compliance people all over the field. Exaggerating it a little, they may even just wander where they will with compliance trailing along behind, picking up the pieces. As soon as compliance tries to put in place a new sign-off process, sales will just walk all over them.
This introduces the idea of needing to balance the two sides to achieve the optimum outcome for the business. Compliance is powerful, but not so strong that it walks all over sales. So you might think that power needs to be equal, but you’d be wrong there.
Back to the tug of war. If both sides are equally matched, nobody goes anywhere, despite the huge amount of energy (meeting time) that is expended. So, we actually arrive at a very expensive stalemate. Compliance forcing forward on a new procedure, sales pushing back due to lost revenue. The conclusion doesn’t suit either side — classic lose-lose situation.
Balancing and Adjusting Power
What is the optimum balance of power between the two functions? The answer is highly dependent on the situation the organisation is in. In a heavily regulated environment with a track record of major reputational problems, balance of power should probably be given to the compliance side. Otherwise, sales perhaps? It’s a judgment call and, I think, an important one when considering your organisational design. It is made more complicated by the fact that your organisation probably has any number of teams all pulling against each other in their pursuit of power!
Making the call about how much power each function should have is a start. Then comes the interesting part, how can you influence the adjustment of the relative power to suit the situation and the strategy? Space does not permit full coverage of this now, but here are a few ideas that you can expand upon…
- Adjusting reward and recognition strategies.
- Exiting powerful people (for the good of the state obviously — Machiavelli’s influence continues to reach through the centuries).
- Recruiting powerful people.
- Creating or carving up empires.
- Training people to build power in the desired divisions.
- Messaging through internal communications.
- Providing or removing voice/visibility to different groups.
Again, your route depends on the organisational perceptions and experiences of power. What is powerful in one place may not be powerful in another. And you also have to be aware that it is easy to say to a senior manager that they now have power of veto over certain decisions. Trickier is getting them to be able to exercise their power of veto — that’s where they really need help and support, especially if they are likely to be facing up to omnipotent sales barons!
Colin Gautrey is becoming the most sought-after expert in power and influence by ambitious and talented professionals who are serious about accelerating their careers and their results. But, Colin is certainly not for the faint-hearted.
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Other articles by Colin:
What Is Group Power? How to Influence Strategically
This is another of those simple concepts often over-complicated by well-meaning consultants in the realms of organisational psychology. Avoiding the complexity gives you more time to act. Once you understand what group power is, it will become easier to spot opportunities to influence more effectively. It will help you to magnify your influence and put the group to work.
So, keeping it simple, in organisational realms, group power is:
Here, it is vital to be able to peel back the layers to expose what is going on beneath the surface, the good, the bad and the ugly. With careful analysis, it becomes possible to see what is motivating people, and how it affects what is happening. At that point, your level of accuracy rises, your stress lowers, and the path towards your goals becomes clear.
37 Provocative Thoughts about Power
It is some time since I last wrote specifically about power here. The topic has not gone away, far from it. Power remains a central part of the way I look at the world, and how I help people with integrity to influence more effectively.
Regardless of what you are trying to achieve when you’re working with others, power is an undercurrent in your relationships. If you are a leader, leaders need to be powerful in order to get things done. If you are a follower, you need to be powerful to achieve your goals. If you are outside of…