Culture, Power & Politics in the Workplace

Culture, Power & Politics in the Workplace

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Culture, Power & Politics in the Workplace
As far back as history can be told mankind has struggled between balancing culture, power and politics. Many wars have been fought and many people have placed their lives on the line in order to stand up for what they believe in. The combinations of culture, power and politics have spilled over into the workplace. In today’s business environment individuals have much more to worry about than just completing their assigned tasks. Organizational culture, power and office politics influence day to day operations as well as govern the atmosphere within the organization. The amount of impact that power and politics have in the workplace, directly reflect the organization’s culture formally as well as informally.
Organizational Structure
Organizational structure within an organization is a critical component of the day to day operations of a business. An organization benefits from organizational structure as a result of all it encompasses. It is used to define how tasks are divided, grouped and coordinated. Six elements should be addressed during the design of the organization’s structure: work specialization, departmentalization, chain of command, spans of control, centralization and decentralization. These components are a direct reflection of the organization’s culture, power and politics.
Common Organizational Designs
Most organizations fall under one of three organizational designs: simple structure, bureaucracy and matrix structure. The organizational design of a company suggests who makes executive decisions and how they are enforced. The organizational design is typically decided based on the size of the company and market place.
Simple Structure
Simple structure is widely used by small businesses in which the owner directly manages the day to day operations. The benefit of using the simple structure is that it is simple. One person normally calls the shots and takes full responsibility for the businesses success and failure. “It’s fast, flexible, and inexpensive to maintain, and accountability is clear” (Judge & Robbins, 2007, p.546). Unfortunately, using simple structure as an organizational design limits the business of its full potential, as it grows, it becomes more difficult for one individual to oversee the daily operation and make quick executive decisions. Once an organization reaches this point, it must change its organizational design in order to remain competitive within its market.
Bureaucracy is an organizational design based on the concept of standardization. “It is characterized by highly routine operating tasks achieved through specialization, very formalized rules and regulations, tasks that are grouped into functional departments, centralized authority, narrow spans of control, and decision making that follows the chain of command” (Judge & Robbins, 2007, p.

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546). A bureaucracy allows an organization to perform standardized activities in a highly efficient manner. Since decision making is centralized, management requires less decision-making ability and therefore the company can get by with less talent, which reduces salary costs. Unfortunately, there is no room for modification in a bureaucracy. “Bureaucracy is efficient only as long as employees confront problems that they have previously encountered and for which programmed decision rules have already been established” (Judge & Robbins, 2007, p.546).
Matrix Structure
Matrix structure is a combination of two forms of departmentalization: functional and product. The concept behind this design is to place like specialist together. This allows for the exchange of ideas and sharing of resources. This disadvantage of the matrix structure is that is lacks coordination, which hinders productivity, delays deadlines and fluctuates the budget.
Organizational Culture
“Organizational Culture refers to a system of shared meaning held by members that distinguishes the organization from other organizations” (Judge & Robbins, 2007, p.573). It is a common perception that is shared amongst an organization’s employees. A strong organizational culture provides both the company and its employees with direction and stability. The culture within an organization can be powerful enough to effect employee attitude and behavior as well as performance and turnover ratio. According to many scientific studies, there are seven primary characteristics used to define the culture of an organization: innovation and risk taking, outcome orientation, people orientation, team orientation, aggressiveness and stability.
What Do Cultures Do?
An organization’s culture shapes the attitudes and behaviors of its employees by defining boundaries, providing a sense of identity and stability. It also establishes a standard in regards to what employees should say and do. Culture can be transmitted via stories, rituals, material symbols and language. Culture within an organization is no exception.
An organization’s culture governs day to day behavior. This type of power may be seen as a control mechanism, which businesses use to manipulate internal and external perception. Every organization has a set of assumed understandings that must be adopted and implemented by new employees in order for them to be accepted. Conformity to the culture becomes the primary basis for reward by the organization. “The role of culture in influencing employee behavior appears to be increasingly important in today’s workplace, as organizations have widened spans of control, flattened structures, introduced teams, reduced formalization, and empowered employees, the shared meaning provided by a strong culture ensures that everyone is pointed in the same direction” (Judge & Robbins, 2007, p.579).
Power and Influence
Power normally refers to the influence one party has over another. The word power may generate mixed emotions. “The term power is usually used to describe the absolute capacity of an individual agent to influence the behavior or attitudes of one or more designated target persons at a given point in time” (Yuki, 2006, p.146). The amount of power and influence varies from one individual to the next. However, power is used on a daily basis to influence decisions of a magnitude. “One useful basis for evaluating the success of an influence attempt is whether the immediate outcome is what the agent intended” (Yuki, 2006, p.147).
Power Types and Sources
According to early researchers power can be categorized as either position power or personal power. “Position power includes potential influence derived from legitimate authority, control over resources and rewards, control over punishments, control over information, and control over the physical work environment” (Yuki, 2006, p.148). Typically a position of power is obtained from opportunities inherent in a person’s position in the organization. “Personal power includes potential influence derived from task expertise, and potential influence based on friendship and loyalty. Position and personal determinants of power interact in complex ways, and sometimes it is difficult to distinguish between them” (Yuki, 2006, p.149). Objectives performed by either position power or personal power are typically classified into one of the following categories: reward power, coercive power, legitimate power, expert power or referent power.
How Power is Acquired or Lost
Power changes over time through various components and changing conditions. The two theories that exist to describe how power is acquired or lost are social exchange theory and strategic contingencies theory. “Social exchange theory explains how power is gained and lost as reciprocal influence processes occur over time between leaders and followers in small groups” (Yuki, 2006, p.158). This theory is learned at an early age as individuals engage in social exchange and in return develop expectations. “Strategic contingencies theory explains the acquisition and loss of power by different sub-units of an organization (e.g., functional departments or product divisions) and the implications of this power distribution for the effectiveness of the organization in a changing environment” (Yuki, 2006, p.158). This theory is based on three factors: expertise in coping with important problems, centrality of the subunit within the workflow and the extent to which the subunit’s expertise is unique rather than substitutable.
The position of Chief Operating Officer (COO) for S&F is a position of power and authority that must demand respect in order to be successful. A successful COO is responsible for establishing two-way communication between various departments and making executive decision based on the information relayed from experienced and knowledgeable staff. Based on the size of the organization a matrix structure would be most effective for S&F. The COO must reintroduce the company’s mission and implement policies and procedures that increase efficiency, morale and knowledge amongst employees in order to develop effective leaders from within. Employees are more likely to work towards the company goal if they feel they are contributing towards a rewarding career as well.
In order for an organization to reach its maximum potential within its marketplace, management must know how to wisely combine power, politics and culture in an ethical business manner. Every individual is unique and that allows for diversity in experience and knowledge. Companies spend too much time in manipulating public perception of a utopian workplace. “To maximize employee performance and satisfaction, individual differences, such as experience, personality, and the work task, should be taken into account” (Judge & Robbins. 2007, p.561). If every employee and manager thought, felt and looked alike companies would be limited within its market and innovation would be greatly hindered.

Judge, Timothy A., Robbins, Stephen A., (2007). Organizational Behavior. Twelfth
Edition. Prentice Hall
Yuki, Gary. (2006). Leadership in Organizations. Sixth Edition. Prentice Hall.
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