Power, Politics and Conflict in an Organization

Overview

In the first video clip of the Corporation, the Office Manager, Barbara Mitchell, is reluctant to invest in the automated system of the company due to its high costs. It is estimated that the project will cost around 5Million. The Universal Systems Manager, Rod Jevons, asks the manager how much she spends to keep the company running. She reveals that it is a figure of 25 Million. Rod informs her that central order processing for all branches, automated sales ledger, electronic mails and word processing will save the company costs in the range of 25% which is 5Million. In short the automated system will pay for its implementation costs within a year.

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There are two advantages that she will get when she agrees to the automation process. She will save on costs and as Rod points out, she will be known as the manager who removed the clerical inefficiencies of the business. He also points out that other big companies have automated their systems and are reaping the benefits. Motivated by the highlighted benefits of the automated system, she approaches the data processing manager, John Franks. He wants to request for an upgrade of the computer system from the finance committee. He is not enthusiastic to hear the draft proposal of the automated system. However, once Barbara shows him how the implementation of the automated system will benefit him, he reconsiders and actually agrees to support the manager in voting for the automation. John knows that a second upgrade of the system in two years will not be taken well by the finance manager. However, if the automation is approved, it will require high usage of computer resources which need to be upgraded.

In the second scene of the corporation video clip, the organisation approves the budget and it moves to the implementation stage. However, the actual costs are higher than the projected costs by over 20%. There is conflict between the finance director, Harry Macleod and the Barbara Mitchell. Harry is not pleased with the budget overruns. He cuts the design costs to bring the costs back to the original value. It becomes harder as the days go by. The clerks in the office have a perception that the automated process will end up causing them to lose their jobs. Tom Blyth has refused to use the automated system. This has caused the customers to get invoices from the company even before they have received the company’s services.

In a heated confrontation, Tom Blyth reveals he will not use the system and will not be controlled by Barbara Mitchell’s plans.

Organizational Politics and Power

In any organisation, there are office politics involved. Politics emerge due to the scarcity of important resources (Medison et al, 1980). In the Corporation, finances are a scarce resource, a fact which the Data processing manager and Office Manager are well aware of. They also want to implement their projects which require a lot of money.

The Finance Committee has to make decisions on how the scarce resources will be allocated among the different departments. Unhealthy politics can lead to the demise of a corporation however healthy politics can be the breeding ground for innovation and creativity (Parker, Dipboye, & Jackson, 1995). For politics to work, the managers should be equipped with social skills in mobilising people and accomplishing objectives instead of the company descending into malicious and vicious power struggles and bureaucratic fighting (Harsanyi, 1962).

A manager has to assess whose help is important, establish relationships and know how to melt the manager’s resistance to his agenda (Dutton and Walton, 1966). This is an office situation with different people seeking their own objectives. There are different tactics that managers use to get what they want:

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  1. Building of coalitions: Building a coalition requires an informal environment(Gandz and Murray, 1980). Building the social networks assists the managers to accomplish certain tasks (Boyatzis, 1982, pp. 122). Barbara Mitchel used this strategy to build support from her colleagues before the finance committee meeting.
  2. Expansion of Networks: A second strategy that the manager may use is to work towards expanding the size of his network (Mayes and Allen, 1977). The Office manager ensured she got support from the data processing manager.
  3. The Control of decision premises: In this political tactic, the manager may choose not to reveal all the information to the other managers so as to influence them to do what he wants(Ferris et al, 1996).
  4. Use of legitimacy and expertise: In an organisation there are those managers who are known to be experts in certain fields. Due to their recognition in that domain, the other managers will agree to his request quickly (Shukla, 2004, pp. 111) Rod Jeavons used this strategy when he convinced Barbara Mitchell on the implementation of the automated system.
  5. Balancing preferences and power: A manager cannot afford to be silent since his department will not get the support and resources that are needed. There are requests that are usually considered in an organisation because there were no other viable alternatives suggested by other managers (Ferris and Kacmar, 1992.

Politics is tied to power and authority. Power is the ability of an individual to influence others or the decision making process in an organisation (Gelder, 2007). Authority refers to the role that has been conferred upon the individual by the organisation in terms of duties and responsibilities (Warren, Berkowitz, Affinito, and Malone, 1958). Power however has certain aspects that enable the staff and departments to experience it horizontally (Bierstedt, 1950). Barbara Mitchell used her power, the ability to influence individuals to get support from John Franks. There are different sources of horizontal power:

  1. Dependency: In an organisation the department that relies on another department for information, knowledge, materials or any other outputs finds itself vulnerable (Dahl, 1957). Barbara Mitchell gets frustrated with the Services manager, Tom Blyth when he does not cooperate with her in using the new system. 2. Financial Resources: In a business it is all about achieving the bottom line or making a profit. The departments that are deemed to be steering the organisation towards such a goal is deemed to be powerful. They have a higher priority over other departments when it comes to resources (Strauss, 1964). This is another tactic Barbara Mitchell used. If the automated system reduced costs, it would also increase profits.
  2. Centrality: The operational departments such as production are seen to be contributing directly to the firms total output. These departments with direct staff or operations staff are more powerful (March, 1955)
  3. Non-substitutability: This comes in where there are certain staffs in the organisation that cannot be easily replaced. There is no one else with the level of skills and expertise that they possess. (Stymne, 1968)
  4. Coping with uncertainty. A department that therefore assists the organisation to deal with uncertainty in the market place is perceived to be very powerful (Cartwright, 1965). Barbara is motivated to support the automated system as she can be seen be the manager who removed clerical inefficiencies of the company.

Motivation

Barbara is motivated by the Universal Systems Manager into several courses of action. Maslow identified the human needs hierarchy that aimed to explain the factors that affected employees in the workplace. In the first level of needs, the individual had desire for physiological needs such as water, food, clothing and shelter. His desire is mainly for money so that he can fulfil his physical needs.

At the next level of needs are the security needs. The individual is interested in job security and knowing that the company will continue employing him. He is concerned with the policies on retrenchment, discipline, downsizing and retirement. He also wants a place that has excellent working conditions. The third level is where the individual is concerned with the need for affiliation. He desires to belong in the company and to be appreciated. There are higher levels of needs where Barbara and the other managers in the company fall in. These are senior officials of the bank. They earn significant salaries and are able to take care of their physiological needs. They might have worked longer for the company, creating great bonds with their colleagues. They have probably invested heavily and are doing well financially.

As managers they have great experience, skills and expertise. They are valuable in the market place and were they to lose their jobs, they are confident they would get employment.

The Universals Manager knows what would specifically motivate Barbara into action concerning the implementation of the automated system. Rod Jevons goes to Barbara’s office and asks her how much she spends to keep the company running. She tells him that she spends approximately 20 to 25 Million dollars yearly. Rod informs her that central order processing for all branches, automated sales ledger, electronic mails and word processing will save the company costs in the range of 25% which is 5Million. The new system will enable her to save on costs and be known as the manager who removed the clerical inefficiencies of the business. Highly motivated she approaches John Franks to get support for the Finance Committee meeting.

Barbara is motivated by the higher level of needs which are the needs of esteem and self-actualisation. At this level is motivated by recognition before colleagues, promotions and good reputation in the market place. At self-actualisation, the individual is motivated when he feels he has achieved the set goals and objectives in a project. It is about knowing that he has changed the current system for a much better system. Barbara wants recognition, great reputation and to improve the processes of the company. Maslow’s hierarchy of needs assists the management in categorising their employees in order to use the best incentive to motivate each of them to higher performance.

Intergroup and Organizational Conflict

Barbara Mitchell has found herself facing conflict from several colleagues. There is the finance director tired of the budget overruns. Tom Blyth is running his own show without consulting her and the officers and clerks are wary of the new system. There is a difference between conflict and competition in the organization. Conflict may adversely affect the productivity of the workers and the ultimate bottom line of the company (Fink, 1968). Competition can be healthy between the different departments as they strive to be the best in order to get rewards and other forms of compensation (Makin, Cooper and Cox, 1996, pp. 233). Conflict can be constructive or positive and it leads to productive decision making however when it is not managed well it leads to inefficiency and ineffectiveness in the organisation (Mack and Snyder, 1957). There needs to be conflict resolution skills in the organisation to deal with the situation (Whetton, Cameron and Woods, 1994, pp. 384). Conflict arises in the company due to several situations:

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  1. Poor information processing: Where one department does not have the correct or the latest information it causes misunderstandings (David and Frank, 1975, pp. 182). There are certain groups who have higher expertise than others in certain areas causing conflict (Craver, 2003).
  2. Role or goal incompatibility: This is where the goals of one department are in conflict with the goals of another department. (Gallinsky, 2002). The Office Manager wants to use financial resources to set up an automated system but the Finance Director is concerned with cutting costs.
  3. Differentiation: When it comes to work, different departments may have different deadlines for the completion of the work. One department may be constrained by time and experience a lot of time pressure while another group does not have any time constraints causing conflict. (Druckman, 1994). The automated system helps in order processing however it does not assist in the installations at all, a point that the Service Manager readily points out.
  4. Interdependence: Conflict may occur when one department has to rely on another department in order to complete its work (Fisher, 1972). There are very few cases where there is pooled interdependence. This refers to the situation where a department does not rely on another department to conduct and accomplish its tasks (Rahim, 2010, pp.150). Barbara Mitchell gets frustrated when she realises that the Tom Blyth is not cooperating by using the automated system. This leads to loss of customer orders.
  5. Limited resources: The discrepancies in the degree of resources given to different departments increase the tendency towards disharmony in an organisation (Kenneth, 1977).
  6. Environmental stress. The clerks at the office are reacting to the changes in the office in terms of a new system. The job insecurity and fear makes them view the new system with a lot of suspicion. (Spoelstra and Pienaa,1991, pp. 191).

There are five ways of dealing with conflict. The manager may collaborate with the opponent, compromise, avoid the situation, compete or force his strategy or try and accommodate the other person (Ertel, 1999). The kind of strategy the manager uses depends on the power she has, the relationship with the opponent and the importance of the issue at hand (Thomas and Thomas, 1977). There is also the negotiation strategy of conflict resolution which is different from compromise which the office manager can use with the services manager (Whetton, Cameron and Woods, 1996, pp. 20). There are two types of negotiation strategies.

Whichever strategy one uses he or she should not resort to unethical practices in the office (Lewicki and Robinson, 1998).

Recommendations

The system does not reduce the costs as it was anticipated. The CEO, David Fox calls an expert to come and conduct an analysis of the project to find out what exactly went wrong. The expert carries out the study and interviews several clerks and managers on the system. He meets with the board officer with his findings. First of all the system has cost the company more than 5 Million. There were staff relocation costs of about a million. The system has further cost the company in terms of lost profit in the region of 6Million. In total the system has cost the company a total of 12 Million.

What were the causes of project implementation failure? The expert identifies one of the major problems as delegation failure. He believes that the technical officer and the sales and marketing officer did not have the required skill and expertise to control the project from the beginning to the end. The project should have been controlled from the top. There should have been a board member in charge of the project who keeps the board informed on the project. He should have worked with an IT skilled individual. Empowerment occurs when the management shares power with the other staff in the organisations (Nelson and Campbell, 2004, pp. 226). The people who are empowered should be the best people to handle any particular project.

The board individual who tried to remedy the situation when the budget overran only made the situation worse. He cut the design costs which ended up making the implemented IT system worse. If he had consulted an IT savvy staff, he would have been informed of the risk and disadvantages of taking such a course of action. The project was perceived as an isolated project which was not true. The project affected all the departments. In fact there were departments that came up with their own system of doing things instead of adopting the system. The services manager’s needs were not considered at the board level causing a lot of conflict between him and the office manager.

The expert is correct when he states that the company lacks an information technology strategy.

Conclusion

Organisational politics, power, motivation and conflict should all work together to ensure that the company’s objectives are met. Rod and Barbara have great social skills and were able to use their influence to gather support for what they wanted to achieve. This is an example of politics and power used positively. The people should be motivated to take on new challenges. The Office Manager was motivated to change the current system. The other employees and managers should also have been motivated to comply and reap the benefits of the new system through trainings and involvement in coming up with the new system.

As there was no training and inclusive involvement they were de-motivated. The managers however need to be equipped with conflict resolution strategies in order to handle misunderstandings between them. It should not escalate to the level people take things personally the way Tom Blyth did. He indicated that he would not be controlled by Barbara yet this was not the case. There needs to be objectivity in the organisation.

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