As in other areas of organizational behavior and management, contingency approaches to power have emerged. For example, Pfeffer simply says that power comes from being in the “right” place. He describes the right place or position in the organization as one where the manager has:
1. Control over resources such as budgets, physical facilities, and positions that can be used to cultivate allies and supporters
2. Control over or extensive access to information—about the organization’s activities, about the preferences and judgments of others, about what is going on, and about who is doing it
3. Formal authority
There is some research support for such insightful observations, and there are also research findings that lead to contingency conclusions such as the following:
1. The greater the professional orientation of group members, the greater relative strength referent power has in influencing them.
2. The less effort and interest high-ranking participants are willing to allocate to a task, the more likely lower-ranking participants are to obtain power relevant to this task.
Besides these overall contingency observations, there is increasing recognition of the moderating impact of the control of strategic contingencies such as organizational interdependence and the extent to which a department controls critical operations of other departments or the role of influence behaviors in the perception of power. Also, the characteristics of influence targets (that is, their influenceability) have an important moderating impact on the types of power that can be successfully used.
Influenceability of the Targets of Power
Most discussions of power imply a unilateral process of influence from the agent to the target. It is becoming increasingly clear, however, that power involves a reciprocal relationship between the agent and the target, which is in accordance with the overall social cognitive perspective taken in this text. The power relationship can be better understood by examining some of the characteristics of the target. The following characteristics have been identified as being especially important to the influenceability of targets:
1. Dependency. The greater the targets’ dependency on their relationship to agents (for example, when a target cannot escape a relationship, perceives no alternatives, or values the agent’s rewards as unique), the more targets are influenced.
2. Uncertainty. Experiments have shown that the more uncertain people are about the appropriateness or correctness of a behavior, the more likely they are to be influenced to change that behavior.
3. Personality. There have been a number of research studies showing the relationship between personality characteristics and influenceability. Some of these findings are obvious (for example, people who cannot tolerate ambiguity or who are highly anxious are more susceptible to influence, and those with high needs for affiliation are more susceptible to group influence), but some are not (for example, both positive and negative relationships have been found between self-esteem and influenceability).
4. Intelligence. There is no simple relationship between intelligence and influenceability. For example, highly intelligent people may be more willing to listen, but, because they also tend to be held in high esteem, they also may be more resistant to influence.
5. Gender. Although traditionally it was generally thought that women were more likely to conform to influence attempts than men because of the way they were raised, there is now evidence that this is changing. As women’s and society’s views of the role of women are changing, there is less of a distinction of influenceability by gender.
6. Age. Social psychologists have generally concluded that susceptibility to influence increases in young children up to about the age of eight or nine and then decreases with age until adolescence, when it levels off.
7. Culture. Obviously, the cultural values of a society have a tremendous impact on the influenceability of its people. For example, some cultures, such as Western cultures, emphasize individuality, dissent, and diversity, which would tend to decrease influenceability, whereas others, such as many in Asia, emphasize cohesiveness, agreement, and uniformity, which would tend to promote influenceability. As the accompanying OB in Action: Taking as Long as It Takes indicates, controlling the agenda and time in foreign cultures may be used to gain power and influenceability.
These individual differences in targets greatly complicate the effective use of power and point up the need for contingency models.
An Overall Contingency Model for Power
Many other contingency variables in the power relationship besides the target could be inferred from the discussion of the various types of power, for example, credibility and surveillance. All these variables can be tied together and related to one another in an overall contingency model.
The classic work on influence process, by noted social psychologist Herbert Kelman, can be used to structure an overall contingency model of power. The model in Figure 10.1 incorporates the French and Raven sources of power with Kelman’s sources of power, which in turn support three major processes of power.
According to the model, the target will comply in order to gain a favorable reaction or avoid a punishing one from the agent. This is the process that most supervisors in work organizations must rely on. But in order for compliance to work, supervisors must be able to reward and punish (that is, have control over the means to their people’s ends) and keep an eye on them (that is, have surveillance over them).
People will identify not in order to obtain a favorable reaction from the agent, as in compliance, but because it is self-satisfying to do so. But in order for the identification process to work, the agent must have referent power—be very attractive to the target—and be salient (prominent). For example, a research study by Kelman found that students were initially greatly influenced by a speech given by a very handsome star athlete; that is, they identified with him. However, when the students were checked several months after the speech, they were not influenced. The handsome athlete was no longer salient; that is, he was no longer in the forefront of their awareness, and his previous words at the later time had no influence. As discussed, except for the handful of superstars, athletes are soon forgotten and have no power over even their most avid fans. Once they have graduated or are out of season, they lose their salience and, thus, their power.
Finally, people will internalize because of compatibility with their own value structure. But, as Figure 10.1 shows, in order for people to internalize, the agent must have expert or legitimate power (credibility) and, in addition, be relevant. Obviously, this process of power is most effective. Kelman, for example, found that internalized power had a lasting impact on the subjects in his studies.
Researchers have had problems constructing ways to measure compliance, identification, and internalization. However, this model of power does have considerable relevance as to how and under what conditions supervisors and managers influence their people. Many must depend on compliance because they are not attractive or do not possess referent power for identification to work. Or they lack credibility or do not have expert or legitimate power for internalization to occur. Kelman’s research showed that internalization had the longest-lasting impact and, as shown in the model, does not need surveillance or salience. In other words, what is generally considered to be leadership is more associated with getting people not just to comply but also to identify with the leader and, even better, to internalize what the leader is trying to accomplish in the influence attempt. This internalization would be especially desirable in today’s highly autonomous, flat organizations with cultures of openness, empowerment, and trust.
The Two Faces of Power
Besides the sources and situational, or contingency, nature of power, there are also different types of power that can be identified. Well-known social psychologist David McClelland did considerable work on the impact of the motivational need for power (what he called n Pow). His studies indicated that there are two major types of power, one negative and one positive.
As the introductory comments point out, over the years power has often had a negative connotation. The commonly used term “power-hungry” reflects this negative feeling about power. According to McClelland, power
is associated with heavy drinking, gambling, having more aggressive impulses, and collecting “prestige supplies” like a convertible. . . . People with this personalized power concern are more apt to speed, have accidents, and get into physical fights. If . . . possessed by political officeholders, especially in the sphere of international relations, the consequences would be ominous.
McClelland felt that this negative use of power is associated with personal power. People with this “face” of power are primarily looking out for themselves and how they can get ahead; they are very “I” oriented, as in “I should look good if this project is completed so I can get a raise and promotion out of it.” McClelland felt that this personal power is primitive and does indeed have negative consequences.
The contrasting “other face” of power identified by McClelland is social power. It is characterized by a “concern for group goals, for finding those goals that will move people, for helping the group to formulate them, for taking some initiative in providing members of the group with the means of achieving such goals, and for giving group members the feeling of strength and competence they need to work hard for such goals.” In other words, social power types are very “we” oriented, as in “We are going to have the best unit in the company, and we will all reap the rewards.” Under this definition of social power, the manager may often be in a precarious position of walking a fine line between an exhibition of personal dominance and the more Socializing use of power. McClelland accumulated some empirical evidence that social power managers are quite effective. In some ways this role power may play in organizational effectiveness is in opposition to the more humanistic positions, which emphasize the importance of democratic values and participative decision making. There is also more recent empirical evidence that would counter McClelland’s view. One study found that those with a high need for power may suppress the flow of information, especially information that contradicts their preferred course of action, and thus have a negative impact on effective managerial decision making.
The negative use of power can also show up in situations such as sexual harassment. Unwelcome conduct of a sexual nature takes place when someone uses coercive power to threaten another with negative consequences if they do not submit to sexual advances. This is known as quid pro quo harassment. A hostile work environment (sexual jokes, leering, posters) is another inappropriate use of one’s power over another. In all such inappropriate circumstances, harassment is based on power being used to intimidate another, especially those in a subordinate formal position. However, regardless of some of the controversy surrounding power, it is clear that power is inevitable in today’s organizations. How the dynamics of power are used and what type of power is used can vitally affect human performance and organizational goals. OB in Action: Taking as Long as It Takes In recent years many American firms doing business internationally have found, to their chagrin, that their overseas hosts have been using the agenda to gain power over visiting dignitaries. Here is a story related by a business lawyer who recently returned from Japan. “I went to Japan to negotiate a Licensing agreement with a large company there. We had been in contact with these people for three months and during that time had hammered out a rough agreement regarding the specific terms of the contract. The president of the firm thought that it would be a good idea if I, the corporate attorney, went to Tokyo and negotiated some of the final points of the agreement before we signed. I arrived in Japan on a Sunday with the intention of leaving late Friday evening. When I got off the plane, my hosts were waiting for me. I was whisked through customs and comfortably ensconced in a plush limousine within 30 minutes. “The next day began with my host asking me for my return air ticket so his secretary could take care of confirming the flight. I was delighted to comply. We then spent the next four days doing all sorts of things—sightseeing, playing golf, fishing, dining at some of the finest restaurants in the city. You name it, we did it. By Thursday I was getting worried. We had not yet gotten around to talking about the licensing agreement. Then on Friday morning we had a big meeting. Most of the time was spent discussing the changes my hosts would like to see made in the agreement. Before I had a chance to talk, it was time for lunch. We finished eating around 4 P.M. This left me only four hours before I had to leave for the airport. During this time I worked to get them to understand the changes we wanted made in the agreement. Before I knew it, it was time to head for the airport. Halfway there my host pulled out a new contract. ‘Here are the changes we talked about,’ he said. ‘I have already signed for my company. All you have to do is sign for yours.’ Not wanting to come home empty-handed, I signed. It turned out that the contract was much more favorable to them than to us. In the process, I learned a lesson. Time is an important source of power. When you know the other person’s agenda, you have an idea of what the individual’s game plan must be and can work it to your advantage. Since this time, I have all my reservations and confirmations handled stateside. When my host asks me how long I will be staying, I have a stock answer, ‘As long as it takes.’