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Intrinsic Power And Political Organisations

Paper Type: Free Essay Subject: Cultural Studies
Wordcount: 4239 words Published: 2nd May 2017

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This paper’s first aim is to analyse as well as evaluate the different thoughts and views exist in the literature about “Power and politics are intrinsic to organisations”. The second goal is to represent the motivational approaches related to power and politics in organization. The final goal is to show and illustrate the concept of power and politics through the film “Devil Wears Prada”. The review of the literature on organizational power and politics reveals a growing interest on this subject throughout the last few decades. Power and politics are the two indisputable part of organization. Decision making and problem solving are the two vital factors which are interconnected with Power and politics. Actual conflicts in organisations are resolved by power and political skills of managers and leaders. Power and Politics, though closely related, share similarities and differences but ultimately work together for the success of an organization. ‘Unity in diversity’ should be the positive outcome of power and politics in organization. Power and politics are the crucial medium through which conflicts and divergent interest are managed and resolved. Power and politics are called the heart of organization.

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In the first part I want to discuss different aspects of power in organizations. “Power is defined as the ability to get someone to do something you want done or the ability to make things happen in the way you want them”. (Schermerhorn, Hunt, and Osborn). Throughout history, human beings have been fascinated by power. In the earlier periods power is prescribed by the structure of the organization. Without reference to the works of Marx (1967) and Weber (1978) it is hard to make sense of organizational power. Power is conceptualized broadly within a system-rational model of organizational structure. Decision making and concomitant exercising of power (logical, optimal and adaptive response) bring changes in the organization and we can say that ‘The Devil Wears Prada’ is an example of a movie which is unapologetically or maybe semi-apologetically fascinated with power of Miranda. Power is important within the organizations and moreover for the management to influence individuals to make things happen. ‘Power is to organization as oxygen as to breathing’ (Bernard Crick 1982). All organizations require power but all power don’t require organization. We cannot make serious enquiry in to the organization without an enquiry of power. Main conception of power is concentrated on Weber’s (1947) classic definition that “power is the probability that a person can carry out his or her own will despite resistance”. The concept of power is often expressed in the literature by the words ‘the ability to …’ as by Salancik and Pfeffer (1977) and ‘the ability to bring about outcomes you desire’ (Power politics and organizations: Andrew Kakabadse and Christopher Parker,P 22). There are four dimensions of power such as behavioural view (Dahl), political view (Bacharach and Baratz), radical structural view (Lukes) and relational approach (Foucault). (Management & Organization, Linstead and Fulop ,2nd Edition P 282). Great men are almost always not good men as they exercise influence and authority. As example in the film “Devil Wears Prada” we have seen how Miranda has treated her assistant Andy. In organizations, power is considered to derive from numerous sources. French and Raven (1959) identified five sources of power such as coercive power, reward power, exert power, legitimate or position power and referent power. Etizoni has classified power as coercive power, utilitarian power and normative power. Robbins (1984) has discussed the comparisons between the sources of power and the means to exert influence that refers to ‘bases of power’.

Blau(1964): “Power is the ability of persons as groups to impose their will on others despite resistance through deterrence either in the form of withholding regularly supplied rewards or in the form of punishment inasmuch as the former, as well as the latter, constitutes in effect negative sanction”.

The definition by Parsons (1956) is an interactive formulation but within a structural framework:

“Power we may define as the realistic capacity of system-unit to actualize its interests within the context of system-interaction and in this sense exert influence on processes in the system”.

Organizations should have formal and informal rules for coordinating actions of different people. People of diverse background, particular interests and different understandings abide by these rules. A famous thought by Lord Acton: “Power tends to corrupt and absolute power corrupts absolutely. Great men are almost always bad men, even when they exercise influence and not authority: still more when you super add the tendency or the certainty of corruption by authority” (Lord Acton, 5 April 1987 to Bishop Mandell Creighton). The pluralists (Dahl1957, Wolfinger1971) claimed that power was equitably distributed around the society and no particular group had undue influence over decision making processes. The elitists (Bachrach and Baratz, 1962, Hunter1953, Mills1956) argued that power was concentrated in the hands of privileged few who controlled political agendas. “The term ‘power’ takes on different meanings when the unit or power holder is a formal group in an open system with multiple goals and the system is assumed to reflect a political-domination model of organization rather than only a co-operative model”(Perrow 1970,P 84). In the film “The Devil Wears Prada” Miranda occasionally takes time from Andy’s daily routine and spreading fear and anxiety in her mind wherever she goes. In a scene Miranda tells Andy that ‘I am your Master, you are dying to be like me’, that is what Master (Miranda) never should say. This is all about her organizational power.

In this part I want to represent the organizational politics with critical and mainstream approach. Organizational politics can be expressed as a social influence process in which behaviour is strategically designed to maximize short term or long term self-interest. Power and politics are the top two elements used in a company that either can cause the downfall or success of that organization. Politics is defined as the tactics used to obtain a desired goal, position or status in an organization. The power relationships in day-to-day relations could be understood by the political metaphor. If we consider the positive side then politics can be defined as

“A style of interaction which allows us to read and understand the situations, interpret them and exhibit the right kind of behaviour for inducing others to do what we want and do it willingly” (Ferris,G.R,Davidson,S.l, and PerreweP.L (2005), political skill at work, P 9.Mountain view)

And if we look at the negative side then it can be defined as

“The actions of individuals which are directed toward the goal of furthering our own self-interest without regard for the well-being of others or organization”.(Kacmer,K.M. Carlson,D.S(1997),POPS A multiple sample investigation.Journal of Management,23, P 627).

Political skill can influence organizational performance in different ways. The politically skilful managers and professionals often have higher job performance which is the building block for organizational performance. In the film “Devil Wears Prada” we have seen the politics of Emily (assistance of Miranda) as well as Miranda with Andy. For example, for facilitating the manufacture of a major new piece of equipment that is in demand from several customers, a project manager might use political skill. Political skill is positively associated with job performance in terms of quantity of work output, quality of workout and accuracy of work in organization. Thirty years ago J. Pffefer observed that organizations are more political than rational. Aristotle told that politics stems from a diversity of interests. Almost all employees bring their own interests, wants, desire, and needs in the organization. Robbins (2001) suggested that there are two forms of organizational politics, one is legitimate and other is illegitimate politics. Organizational leaders seek to satisfy not only organizational interests, but also their own wants and requirements, driven by self-interest. According to Farrell and Peterson “the successful practice of organizational politics is perceived to lead to a higher level of power, and once a higher level of power is attained, there is more opportunity to engage in political behaviour”. Politics are generated by structural cleavages in the organization among various component elements and identities, different values, affective, cognitive and discursive styles. Other causes of generation are the complexity and the degree of uncertainty, the external pressure coming from stakeholders or other actors and the history of past politics in the organization.

If we accept the existence of power relations in organizations then politics and politicking are essential part of organization. ‘Kissing up’, passing the buck, apple polishing, covering your rear, creating conflict, forming coalitions, cunning, arrogant, scheming etc. are the negative terminology which are often used in organization as the political activity. Developing working relationships, encouraging change and innovation improving efficiency, facilitating teamwork, planning ahead, astute are the terminologies of positive aspect of organizational politics. The lack of concern with politics is the main void of organizational theory. Political alignment such as interest group of politics and coalition politics has an important effect on relations within organizations. In the film “The Devil Wears Prada” Miranda gives short orders and never likes to repeat herself. Andy is just supposed to know what she is talking about. Miranda wants her coffee as hot as brimstone, and sometimes even demands the unbelievable as at one point she demands a copy of a yet to be published Harry Potter book for her daughters. All these activities show the influence and organizational power of Miranda. The understanding of organizational politics requires a collective influence which is used by departments or subunits of organization to counter control and establish resistance pattern is described in Michel Crozier’s famous study ‘The Bureaucratic phenomenon (1964)’. Most of the management and organization studies are based on Weber’s work as a simple affirmation of bureaucratic rationality. As example his work on ‘Verstehen’ as an interpretive method for analysing human behaviour is almost completely ignored. The “community power debate” which was conducted during 1950s, 1960s, 1970s described the status of power as an empirical phenomenon. At the time of answering the question ‘what is the structure and distribution of power in contemporary society?’ people were divided into two camps, one is pluralists (Dahl 1957, 1958, 1961, Wolfinger 1971) and other is elitists (Bachrach and Baratz ,1962,1963,Hunter 1953, Mills, 1956). The pluralists claimed that power was equitably distributed throughout society and there is no particular had undue influence over decision making processes. On the other side the elitists argued that power was concentrated in the hands of a privileged few who controlled political agendas. Then Dahl (1957) expressed that “A has power over B to the extent that he or she can get B to do something that B would not otherwise do” (Dahl 1957, PP. 202-203). On the other hand Bachrach and Baratz (1962) criticize Dahl’s explanation on concrete decision making situation , claiming that power is also exercised in “non-decision making” situations.

“All forms of political organization have a bias in favour of the exploitation of some kinds of conflict and the suppression of other because organization is the mobilization of bias. Some issues are organized into politics while others are organized out.” (Schattschneider 1960, P 71, emphasis in original).

Debate was increased when Lukes’s(1974) ‘radical’ three dimensional view of power criticizes both Dahl’s ‘one dimensional’ model and Bachrach and Baratz’s ‘two dimensional model. Decision making is a political interest which is resulting from the conflicts of interest characteristic of sub-goal differentiation within organization (Ganz and Murray, 1980, Mayes and Allen 1977, Rogers 1971, Vredenburgh and Maurer 1984). The dynamics of political behaviour is essential to understand for a full understanding of organizational functioning. The political character of organization life is rooted in “non-bureaucratic decision mechanisms” (Salancik and Pfeffer 1974, P 454) which is used to resolve the conflicts between organization and subunits. Gandz & Murray (1980) expressed the difference between political and non-political uses of power.

Miles (1980) asserts that “it is important to recognize that politics need not be bad, though common parlance uses the term in a pejorative sense. The survival of an organization may depend on the success of a unit or coalition in overturning a traditional but out-dated formal organization objective or policy”.

Political activity can also be beneficial to organizations. If through the politicking of the marketing manager, changes in product are brought about which in turn provide commercial gains for the organization, then it could be claimed that such political behaviour is beneficial for organizations. A recent study developed a profile of individuals active in office politics based on a survey completed by a number of managers. The result indicated that managerial level, job function and sex were unrelated to political activity. However certain personality traits corresponded highly with the individual manager’s propensity to engage in office politics. The managerial person should avoid making their power open and explicit. Self-serving behaviour has a bad effect on organizations and its employees. Kanter (1979) told that “People know who is holding power”. Kanter has claimed that explicit claims to power are only made by the powerless. Office politics does exist in the organization regarding issues like departmental budget, space allocation, project responsibilities and salary adjustment (Robbins 2001). In the film “Devil Wears Prada” Miranda has done politics by choosing Andy to go to Paris with her over Emily and asked Andy to inform this to Emily, Again Miranda bypasses Nigel for a promotion so as to keep her own job secure as she was to be replaced and the information for which came from Andy. Thus organizational politics is blatantly portrayed here and is thus an excellent example. So far we have discussed the key aspects of power and politics.

In this part I want to focus on motivation and discuss the relation between motivation and organization. Motivation is an essential part in organizations, both for the individual and for the organization as a whole. Motivational state or condition of a person has an impact or influence upon both behaviour and performance. “Motivation to work is of great importance to us since we spend a lot of our time working in organizations” (Michael W.Drafke and Stan Kossen., The Human Side of Organizations, Massachusetts: Addison/Wesley,1998,p.2-12). Pffefer (1981) has suggested that major characteristic often accompanying political behaviour is the attempt to conceal its true motivation. True motive was concealed because the actor believed that it was unacceptable. Motivation is equal important for manager and employee. In 1970 David McClelland and David Burnham published an article in Harvard Business Review called “Power is the great Motivator”. This article directly focused on manager’s motivation.

“A good manager is one who, among other things, helps subordinates feel strong and responsible, rewards them properly for good performance and sees that things are organised so that subordinates feel they know what they should be doing”(McClelland,2003,P-109).

In the film “Devil Wears Prada” Andy has motivated herself in different ways to be familiar with the new job environment in spite of rude behaviour of her boss Miranda. Recently the boundaries have widened and work and private life is much more connected to each other than past. In the past when one left his workplace, the person had less obligations or responsibility against the company (Karl Weick., Making sense of the Organization,Malden: Blackwell Publishing, 2006,P 207-210). Then Karl Marx stated that “Freedom begins at the gates of the factory” (Robert Tucker,The Marx-Engels reader,NewYork Norton,1978, P-440). ‘Today people often bring their work home as well as colleagues socialize outside work’ (Weick). If employees are not motivated, no one would make an effort to work and company’s performance would be less efficient. Vroom (1964) has developed expectancy theory from the original work of Tolman and Honzik(1930) and produced a systematic explanatory theory of workplace motivation. It claimed that “the motivation to behave in a particular way is determined by an individual’s expectation that behaviour will lead to a particular outcome, multiplied by the preference or valence that person has for that out-come”. Vroom has argued that human behaviour is controlled by ‘subjective probability’. The equation is ‘Motivation (M) = Expectation (E) * Valence (V)’. Abraham Maslow’s (1943, 1954) theory of motivation was the first theory to be applied to the world of work. He proposed that human beings have five needs (Self-Actualisation, Esteem, Social, Safety, and Physiological) and when these are not satisfied they provide the drive to act and set up the motivating mechanism. The most significance and potential value to managers attempting to understand the motivation in the workplace is the work of McClelland’s (1961) achievement theory. Herzberg’s (1968) two-factor theory on intrinsic and extrinsic motivational factors affect what individuals perceive as the value or valance of particular outcomes which will influence both their performance and job satisfaction. Communication between employees and managers within the organization is an essential and vital ingredient of motivation. Employees are motivated by recognition and constructive feedback from their manager. Motivation is a complex, dynamic and culture based concept so there is no one universal theory which is applicable to motivation.

Karl Marx said that “Men make history but not under conditions of their own choosing”. In spite of covert nature of power and politics it is real and important aspect of all organizations. We have discussed the unitary, pluralist, radical and relational view of power and politics in this essay. Managers can prevent the misuses of power by confirming that clear organizational goals, plans, and individual roles, and responsibilities are understood and followed. Power should be used to manipulate the understanding and interpretation of organizational events. According to pluralist, radical and relational perspectives on power and politics it is generic to organization. The unitary as well as pluralist views provide a ‘comfort zone’ to deal with power and politics. Managers should be highly skilled in reflective practice and critical thinking if they want to understand the relational view of power and politics. Smart and clever manager can boost themselves or their career through power and politics. Politics involves cultivating influential allies, controlling the flow of information and influencing decisions through one’s power base. Organizational politics have detrimental effect on employee’s moral, loyalty and trust. Some people think that practice of politics can be cunning and deceitful while other people believe that it can be motivator with positive result. To understand the organizational political behaviour Farrell and Peterson (1982) proposed a three dimensional typology. One dimension is where the political activity takes place (inside or outside the organization), second one is the direction of the attempted influence (vertically or laterally) and last one is legitimacy of the political action (Functional vs. Dysfunctional conflict) .The processes by which the organization is operated should be ethically based. There are many internal and external aspects of organization which are the cause of success and failure of organization. Organizations must insure that decisions are not based on personal agendas or outside influences. Organizations should abide by their code of conduct to avoid conflict of interest. The effect of Power and Politics depends on how they are practiced in organization. All the approaches of power and politics have their own advantages and disadvantages. It is very important to understand the limits of power and authority, resistance and obedience in organizations. Fundamentally, power is shaped by what we know and how we know what to do in organization.

Throughout this essay I have represented the critical approaches of power and politics and the relation with mainstream approaches. I am unable to point out any organization which has no implications of power and politics. I agree with the topic that “power and politics are intrinsic to organization”. I think that there should be more research on this topic to clarify in a more broad vision.


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