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Organizational Power and Politics

Limiting the Influence of Political Behavior

  1. How do you recognize and limit inappropriate or unethical political behavior where it occurs?

The final topic we will examine concerns ways in which people and groups can attempt to lessen the impact of political behavior. Clearly, politics in organizations cannot be eliminated. Yet to some extent, the negative aspects of it can be neutralized if managers carefully monitor the work environment and take remedial action where necessary. Part of this issue was discussed above, in the section on counterpower. Beyond this, however, several strategies can be identified that can help manage organizational politics. As shown in (Figure), four basic strategies can be used.

D. Beeman and T. Sharkey, “The Uses and Abuses of Corporate Politics,” Business Horizons, March-April 1987, pp. 25–35.

First, efforts can be made to reduce the uncertainty in the organization through clarifying job responsibilities, bases for evaluations and rewards, and so forth. The less ambiguity in the system, the less room there is for dysfunctional political behavior. Second, managers can try to reduce interpersonal or intergroup competition by using impartial standards for resource allocation and by emphasizing the superordinate goals of the entire organization—toward which all members of the organization should be working. Third, managers can attempt to break up existing political fiefdoms through personnel reassignment or transfer or by changing the reward system to encourage interunit cooperation. Finally, managers can work to prevent the development of future fiefdoms through training programs, selection and promotion, and reward distribution.

To the extent that employees see the organization as a fair place to work and to the extent that clear goals and resource allocation procedures are present, office politics should subside, though not disappear. In organizations where politics prosper, in fact, you are likely to find a reward system that encourages and promotes such behavior. The choice is up to the organization.

(Attribution: Copyright Rice University, OpenStax, under CC BY-NC-SA 4.0 license)
Limiting the Effects of Political Behavior
Source: Adapted from “The Use and Abuse of Corporate Politics,” by Don R. Beeman and Thomas W. Sharkey. Reprinted from Business Horizons, March–April 1987 by the Foundation for the School of Business at Indiana University.

To Reduce System Uncertainty

  • Make clear what are the bases and processes for evaluation.
  • Differentiate rewards among high and low performers.
  • Make sure the rewards are as immediately and directly related to performance as possible.

To Reduce Competition

  • Try to minimize resource competition among managers.
  • Replace resource competition with externally oriented goals and objectives.

To Break Existing Political Fiefdoms

  • Where highly cohesive political empires exist, break them apart by removing or splitting the most dysfunctional subgroups.
  • If you are an executive, be keenly sensitive to managers whose mode of operation is the personalization of political patronage. First, approach these persons with a directive to “stop the political maneuvering.” If it continues, remove them from the positions and preferably from the company.

To Prevent Future Fiefdoms

  • Make one of the most important criteria for promotion an apolitical attitude that puts organizational ends ahead of personal power ends.
  1. How can managers limit inappropriate and unethical behavior in the organization?
  1. How do you recognize and limit inappropriate or unethical political behavior where it occurs?

Political behavior can be reduced or minimized in organizations through four techniques: (1) reducing organization uncertainty, (2) reducing interunit competition, (3) breaking up political fiefdoms, and (4) preventing the development of future fiefdoms.

Chapter Review Questions

  1. Compare and contrast power, authority, and leadership.
  2. Identify five bases of power, and provide an example of each. Which base (or bases) of power do you feel would be most commonly found in organizations?
  3. Discuss the concept of power dependencies. What is the relationship between power dependencies and bases of power?
  4. What is counterpower? Provide an example of counterpower from your own experience.
  5. Why is it important to understand political behavior in organizations?
  6. Define politics. How does politics differ from power?
  7. Compare and contrast the resource dependence model of power and politics with the strategic contingency model.
  8. Identify several specific power tactics in organizations, and provide an example of each.
  9. Why is it important that the exercise of power and politics be handled in an ethical fashion? What might happen if employees felt that managers were using power in an unethical fashion?

Managerial Skill Application Exercises

  1. You might find it interesting to look at your own bases of power in an organization you have worked with. To do this, simply think of your present or past job, and complete this self-assessment. When you have finished, refer to Appendix B for scoring procedures.

What Are Your Bases of Power?

Instructions: Using a current or former job, answer each of the following items by circling the response that most suits your answer.

Strongly Disagree Strongly Agree
  1. I always try to set a good example for other employees.
1 2 3 4 5
  1. My coworkers seem to respect me on the job.
1 2 3 4 5
  1. Many employees view me as their informal leader at work.
1 2 3 4 5
  1. I know my job very well.
1 2 3 4 5
  1. My skills and abilities help me a lot on this job.
1 2 3 4 5
  1. I continually try to improve the way I do my job.
1 2 3 4 5
  1. I have considerable authority in my job.
1 2 3 4 5
  1. Decisions made at my level are critical to organizational success.
1 2 3 4 5
  1. Employees frequently ask me for guidance.
1 2 3 4 5
  1. I am able to reward people at lower levels in the organization.
1 2 3 4 5
  1. I am responsible for evaluating those below me.
1 2 3 4 5
  1. I have a say in who gets a bonus or pay raise.
1 2 3 4 5
  1. I can punish employees at lower levels.
1 2 3 4 5
  1. I check the work of lower-level employees.
1 2 3 4 5
  1. My diligence helps to reduce the errors of others on the job.
1 2 3 4 5
  1. It might be interesting for you to evaluate your own level of political behavior. To do this, complete this self-assessment. When you have finished, score your questionnaire according to the procedure outlined in Appendix B.

How Political Are You?

Instructions: To determine your political appreciation and tendencies, please answer the following questions. Select the answer that better represents your behavior or belief, even if that particular behavior or belief is not present all the time.

Source: Adapted from Joseph F. Byrnes, “Connecting Organizational Politics and Conflict Resolution,” Personnel Administrator, June 1986, p.49.
  1. You should make others feel important through an open appreciation of their ideas and work.
_____ True _____ False
  1. Because people tend to judge you when they first meet you, always try to make a good first impression.
_____ True _____ False
  1. Try to let others do most of the talking, be sympathetic to their problems, and resist telling people that they are totally wrong.
_____ True _____ False
  1. Praise the good traits of the people you meet and always give people an opportunity to save face if they are wrong or make a mistake.
_____ True _____ False
  1. Spreading false rumors, planting misleading information, and backstabbing are necessary, if somewhat unpleasant, methods to deal with your enemies.
_____ True _____ False
  1. Sometimes it is necessary to make promises that you know you will not or cannot keep.
_____ True _____ False
  1. It is important to get along with everybody, even with those who are generally recognized as windbags, abrasive, or constant complainers.
_____ True _____ False
  1. It is vital to do favors for others so that you can call in these IOUs at times when they will do you the most good.
_____ True _____ False
  1. Be willing to compromise, particularly on issues that are minor to you but important to others.
_____ True _____ False
  1. On controversial issues, it is important to delay or avoid your involvement if possible.
_____ True _____ False

Managerial Decision Exercise

  1. You have recently been promoted to the position of president of the division from your current role as VP of accounting and finance. Many people thought that the VP of sales and marketing would get the position, but you and he had always been friendly, and you thought that things would go smoothly. After about six months in the new position, you notice that he has been fighting you in small and subtle ways. You recognize his value, so you decide to let things play out and even mention other possibilities for promotion within the organization that he could apply for and that you would be supportive. After 11 months, things have not improved, and you are considering letting your colleague go. You are hesitant, however, because your organization needs a strong sales and marketing department. What should you do? If this power struggle continues, how do you think it will affect the larger organization?

Critical Thinking Case

The Ohio Connection

Janey worked as an executive assistant to a product manager at her company: Ohio Connection. Overall, she loved her job; she was happy to work with a company that provided great benefits, and she and found enjoyment in her day-to-day work. She had the same product manager boss for years, but last year, her manager left Ohio Connection and retired. Recently her new manager has been treating her unfairly and showcasing bullying behavior.

Yesterday, Janey came into work, and her boss decided to use their power as her manager and her “superior” to demand that she stay late to cover for him, correct reports that he had made mistakes on, and would not pay her overtime. She was going to be late to pick up her son from soccer practice if she stayed late; she told him this, and he was not happy.

Over subsequent days, her boss consistently would make comments about her performance, even though she had always had good remarks on reviews, and created a very negative work environment. The next time she was asked to stay late, she complied for fear of losing her job or having other negative impacts on her job. Janey’s situation was not ideal, but she didn’t feel she had a choice.

  1. What type of power did Janey’s boss employ to get her to do the things that he wanted her to do?
  2. What negative consequences are apparent in this situation and other situations where power is not balanced in the workplace?
  3. What steps should Janey take do to counteract the power struggle that is occurring with her new manager?

Sources: A. Morin, “How to Prevent a Workplace Bully from taking Your Power,” Inc., June 25, 2018,; V. Giang, “The 7 Types Of Power That Shape The Workplace,” Business Insider, July 31, 2013,; B. Weinstein, “10 Tips for Dealing with a Bully Boss,” CIO, accessed October 13, 2018,


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