Power in Action

When people get together in groups power will be exerted. People want to carve out a niche from which or exert influence, to earn rewards, and to advance their careers. When employees in organizations convert their power into action, we describe them as being engaged in politics. Those with good political skills have the ability to use their bases of power effectively.


There has been no shortage of definition for organizational politics. Essentially, however they eave focused on the use of power to affect decision making in the organization or on behaviors by members that are self serving and organizationally non-sanctioned. For our purposes, we shall define political behavior in organizations as activities that are not required as part of one’s formal role in the organization, but that influence or attempt to influence, the distribution of advantages and disadvantage within the organization. This definition encompasses key elements from what most people mean when they talk about organizational politics. Political behavior is outside one’s specified job requirements. The behavior requires some attempt to use one’s power bases. In addition our definition encompasses efforts to influence the goals, criteria or process used for decision making when we state that politics is concerned with the distribution of advantages and disadvantages within organization. Our definition is broad enough it include varied typical political behaviors such as withholding key information from decision makers, joining a coalition, whistle-blowing spreading rumors leaking confidential information about organizational activities to the media, exchanging favors with others in the organization for mutual benefit and lobbying on behalf of or against a particular individual or decision alternatives.

A final comment relates to what has been referred to as the legitimate-illegitimate dimensions in political behavior. Legitimate political behavior refers to normal everyday politics – complaining to your supervisor, by passing the chain of command, forming coalitions, obstructing organizational policies or decisions though inaction or excessive adherence to rules, and develop contacts outside the organization through one’s professional activities On the other hand, there are also illegitimate political behaviors that violate the implied rules of the game. Those who pursue such extreme activities are often described as individual who play hardball. Illegitimate activities clued sabotage, whilst bowing and symbolic protest such as wearing unorthodox dress or protest buttons and groups of employees simultaneously calling in sick.

The vast majority of all organizational political actions are of the legitimate variety. The reasons are pragmatic: The extreme illegitimate firms of political behavior pose a very real risk of loss of organizational membership or extreme sanctions against those who use them and they fall short in having enough power to ensure that they work.

The Reality of Politics:

Politics is a fact of life on organizations. People who ignore this fact of life do so at their on peril. But why, you may wonder, must politics exist? Isn’t it possible for an organization to be politics free? It’s possible but most unlikely.

Organizations are made up of individuals and groups with different values goals and interests. This sets up the potential of conflict over resources. Departmental budgets space allocations project responsibilities and salary adjustments are just a few examples of the resources whose allocation organizational members will disagree.

Resources in organizations are also limited, which often turns potential conflict into real conflict. If resources were abundant then all the various constituencies within the organizations could satisfy their goals. But because they are limited, not everyone’s interest can be provided for. Furthermore, whether true or not gains by one individual or group are often perceived as being at the expense of others within the organization. These forces create competition among members of the organization with limited resources.

May be the most important factor leading politics within organizations is the realization that most of the facts that are used it allocate the limited resources are open to interpretation. What for instance is good performance? What’s an adequate improvement? What constitutes an unsatisfactory job? One person’s view that an act is a selfless effort to benefit the organization is seen by another as a blatant attempt to further one’s interests. The manager of any major league baseball knows a .400 hitter is a high performer and a .125 hitter is a poor performer. You don’t need to be a baseball genius to know you should play your .400 hitter and send the .125 hitter back other minors. Now what if you have to choose between players who hit .280 and .290? Then other factors – less objective ones – come into play: fielding expertise, attitude, potential ability to perform in a clutch, loyalty to the team and so on. More managerial decisions resemble choosing between a .280 and a .290 hitter than deciding between a .125 hitter and a .400 hitter. It is in this large and ambiguous middle ground of organizational life where the facts don’t speak for themselves that politics flourish.