Power, Politics and OD

Introduction of Power, Politics and OD

Power is defined as the ability to get an individual or group to do something- to get the person or group to change in some way. The person who possesses power can manipulate or change others. Peffer defined power as “the potential ability to influence behavior, to change the course of events, to overcome resistance, and to get people to do things that they would not otherwise.”

Power and politics play a major role in the implementation of change. It is widely observed that power and politics achieve their highest pitch during the transition state i.e., the period when the change program has begun for positive control.


Power can be defined as the intentional influence over the beliefs, emotions, and behaviors of people. It is derived from the French word ‘pouvoir’ which stands for the noun ‘power’ and the verb ‘to be able’. The phenomena of power are ubiquitous. Without the influence of power, people would have no cooperation and no society.

Power in action can take many forms. Power per se is probably neither good nor bad, a moment’s reflection, however, suggests that many problems with power stem from the goals of persons with power and the means they use, not the possession of power as such.

Theories of Sources of Social Power

The important theories are:

Power Dependence Theory

According to this theory given by Richard Emerson states that: (a) the dependence of Actor A upon Actor B is directly proportional to A’s motivational investment in the goals mediated by B. (b) inversely proportional to the availability of these goals to A outside of A-B relation.

The component of this theory is a social relation between two parties and the resources that are controlled by one party and desired by others. Power dependence theory is related to a broader framework of social interaction called social exchange theory, which posits that what goes on between persons is an exchange of social commodities: love, hate, respect, power, information, blame, rejection, etc.

According to French and Raven

On the bases of social power suggested five sources of social power:

  • Reward power.

  • Coercive power.

  • Legitimate power.

  • Referent power.

  • Expert power.

In this theory, power belongs to those who control or mediate desired commodities.

Strategic Contingency Model

This model of power suggests that power in organizations accrues to the subunits (individual units or departments most important for solving the organization’s most critical problems.

According to Henry Mint Berg

A theory of organization power is drawn from the organization theory literature and his creative synthesis abilities. This theory is built on the premise that organisation behavior is a power game in which players called influencers, seek control over the organisation’s decisions and actions.

In short, all the above-mentioned theories of the sources of power are remarkably similar power stems from the possession of or mediation of desired resources. The resources may be the ability to reward, punish, and be in control of critical skills, knowledge or information etc.

Organisation Politics of Power, Politics and OD

Organizational politics involves those activities taken within the organizations to acquire, develop and use power and other resources to obtain one preferred outcome in a situation in which there is uncertainty or dissensus about choices. Organisation Politics involves intentional acts of influence to enhance or protect the self-interest of the individuals and the group.

However, in our context we consider politics as neither good nor bad but believe that politics like power has two faces: the first face is negative which is characterized by an extreme pursuit of self-interest and the positive face which is characterized by the balanced pursuit of self-interest. Organizational politics tend to be associated with decision-making, resource allocation, and conflict-resolution process.

One gets an understanding of the overall political climate of an organization by studying its methods of resource allocation, conflict resolution, and choosing among alternative means and goals. Organizations generally display consistent patterns of decision-making, resource allocation, and conflict resolution.

Three patterns identified in the organization literature are the bureaucratic, rational and political models. In the bureaucratic model, decisions are made based on rules, procedures, traditions, and historical precedents.

In a rational model, decisions are made based on rational problem-solving: goals are identified and agreed upon: situations are objectively analyzed and alternative action plans are generated. In a political model, decisions are made based on perceived self-interest by coalitions for dominance, influence, or resource control.

Framework for Analysing Power and Politics

Two conceptual models provide a picture of the parts of situations involving organization power and politics.

Model 1: By Peffer

This model is given by Peffer, according to which the environment of the organization imposes demands and constraints that will be accommodated in the form of “means” and ends-that is how the organization gets its job done and the goal it pursues. Often heterogeneous or incompatible goals are sought by the members of the organization.

Wise, members may seek different or incompatible ways to accomplish the goals. The primary conditions giving rise to a conflict are differentiation, scarcity, interdependence and incompatible goals and means to goals. When these conditions exist, conflict occurs. And when conflict occurs, power and political behaviors are likely to result.

It is possible to increase or decrease the amount of political activity in organizations by manipulating the conditions of power and politics. If organization actors become less interdependent, the conflict will be reduced.

Model 2

Derived from the literature of the game theory literature. The conditions giving rise to cooperation and competition and to use the of power have been studied extensively by economists and behavioral scientists in an attempt to understand wars, strikes and arguments as well as cooperation and altruism. Several concepts from the game theory provide a framework for understanding power and politics.

Some of these concepts are conflicts, the payoff matrix, the nature of independent relationships, and integrative and distributive bargaining. The game theory views conflict as a critical condition leading to power and political behavior. In a conflict of interest, different parties prefer different goals.

In conflict or competition for scarce resources, different parties want the same resources but the parties cannot possess them. Power and politics will predominate in the purely competitive, win-lose situation. Power should be absent from purely cooperative, win-win situations, here the appropriate behaviors are communication, coordination, and cooperation.

Power may or may not prevail in the mixed-motive situation; here each party needs the other to transact an exchange, yet each party is seeking to maximize its gains.

Role of Power and Politics in the Practice of OD

OD practitioners for dealing with the political realities of the organizations should learn to integrate the concepts of power and politics. Organizational development was founded on the belief that using behavioral science methods to increase collaborative problem-solving would increase both organizational effectiveness and individual well-being.

This belief gave rise to the field and is the guiding premise behind this technology. To increase collaborative problem-solving is to increase the positive face of the power. Thus from its inception, OD addressed issues of power and politics by proposing that collaboration, cooperation and problem-solving are the better ways to get things done in organizations that rely solely on bargaining and politics.

The nature of OD concerning power and politics can be examined from several perspectives-its strategy of change, its interventions, its values and the role of the OD practitioner. To use the framework of Robert Chin and Kenneth, OD programs implement normative-reeducative and empirical-rational strategies of change, and not power coercive strategy.

The normative re-educative strategy of change focuses on norms, cultures, prevailing attitudes and belief systems. Change occurs by changing norms and beliefs, usually through education and reeducation. The empirical-rational strategy of change seeks facts and information in an attempt to find better ways to do things.

Virtually all OD interventions promote problem-solving, not politics, as the preferred way to get things accomplished. OD interventions increase problem-solving, collaboration, fact-finding, and effective pursuits of goals while decreasing reliance on the negative faces of power and politics.

The OD interventions generate public data about the organization’s culture, power, strengths and weaknesses. OD interventions do not deny or attempt to abolish the reality of power in the organizations; rather they enhance the positive face of power and politics.

OD values are consistent with the positive face of power, but not with the negative face of power. Values such as trust, openness, collaboration and promoting individual and organizational competence are parts of the foundation of organizational development. The role of the OD practitioner is that of facilitator, catalyst, problem solver, and educator.

According to Chris Argyris, the interventionist has three primary tasks:

  • To generate valid and useful information.

  • To promote free, informed choice.

  • To promote the client’s internal commitment to the choices made.

In short, Organisation Development represents an approach and method to enable the organization members to go beyond the negative face of power and politics. This major strength of OD is a drive from the strategy of change, the technology, the values and the role of OD practitioners.

OD Practitioners Operating in the Political Organisation Environment

OD practitioners operate from a potentially strong power base which they can use to their advantage. According to French and Raven, OD consultants possess the power from the following bases:

Reward Power

This source of power depends on the person’s ability and resources to reward others. Managers have many potential rewards, such as pay increases, promotions, favorable work assignments, more responsibility, new equipment, praise, feedback and recognition, available to them.

To understand this power, one must remember that the recipient holds the key. If managers offer subordinates what they think is the reward, but subordinates do not value it, then managers do not have reward power.

Coercive Power

This source of power depends on fear. A person with coercive power can inflict punishment or make other people believe that it will lead to undesirable consequences. It is probably this fear that gets most people to come to work on time & look busy when the boss walks through the area.

Legitimate Power

It is almost identical to authority and closely linked to both reward and coercive power because the person with legitimacy is also in the position to reward and punish. It is dependent on the position and not on the personality or the relationship.

Power comes from three different sources. First, the prevailing cultural values of the society, organization, or group, determine what is legitimate. For example in the organization, managers generally have legitimate power because people believe in the hierarchy where the higher positions have been designated to have power over lower positions.

Second, people can obtain legitimate power from the accepted social structure, in some societies, there is an accepted ruling class like the blue-collar workers. A third, source of legitimate power comes from the designated agent or representative of a powerful person or group. For example, elected officials or the chairperson of the committee.

Referent Power

This type of power comes from the desire on the part of the other persons to identify with the powerful person. The other grant the power he or she is attractive & has desirable resources or personal characteristics.

For example, arguments especially emotional ones are more influential when they come from beautiful people. Out of season athlete is forgotten and has little referent power. Managers who depend on referent power must be personally attractive to the subordinate.

Expert Power

Experts are believed to have knowledge or understanding only in certain well-defined areas. The target must perceive the agent to be credible, trustworthy and relevant before expert power is granted. These sources of influence produce a substantial power base that will enhance the likelihood of success.

  • According to Michael Beer, the additional means by which an OD group can gain and wield power in organizations are:

    • Competence.

    • Political access and sensitivity.

    • Sponsorship.

    • Stature and credibility.

    • Resource management.

    • Group support.

With the help of these, an OD practitioner can enhance the likelihood of success of OD programs:

  • OD practitioners can help the organization members reduce the negative faces of power.

  • The concept of negative and positive faces of power and politics suggests where the practitioner is likely to be more effective and less effective. The OD programs will likely be used as a pawn in the organisations’ power struggle.

  • OD practitioners should learn as much as possible about bargaining negotiations, the nature of power and politics, the strategy and tactics of influence and the characteristics and behaviors of power holders.

  • OD practitioner realizes that power stems from possessing a commodity valued by others.

Thumb Rules for OD Practitioners

For effectively operating in a political environment there are several thumb rules for OD practitioners:

  • RULE ONE Become a desired commodity both as a personal ad as a professional. OD practitioners should have high interpersonal skills.

  • RULE TWO OD programs themselves should become a desired commodity.

  • RULE THREE To make the OD program a valued commodity for multiple powerful people in the organization.

  • RULE FOUR Create win-win solutions.

  • RULE FIVE The OD consultants should help with the requests.

  • RULE SIX OD consultants should help the decision maker by providing them with good decision-making processes and not getting involved in the answers.

  • RULE SEVEN OD practitioners should act as a facilitator, catalysts, problem solvers and educators, not power activists or power brokers.

Greiner, Schein, Power and Organisation Development Model

Greiner and Schein proposed a four-stage model for using the OD process to help the power elite transform the organization in ways beneficial for all concerned. The four stages are:

  • Stage 1: Consolidating power to prepare for changes.

  • Stage 2: Focusing power on strategic consensus.

  • Stage 3: Aligning power with Structure and people.

  • Stage 4: Releasing power through leadership and collaboration.

Thus the model offers the practical insights for acquiring and using powers in the organisation.


Investortonight requires its writers to base their articles on primary sources. This includes government documents, data, direct observations, and interviews with industry leaders. Additionally, we also incorporate research from reputable sources when appropriate. Our editorial guidelines detail the standards we maintain to ensure unbiased and accurate content.

  • Michael Beer and Anna E. Walton, “Organisation Change and Development,” Annual Review of Psychology, 38 (1987), pp. 339-367.

  • Larry E. Griener and Virginia E. Schien, “A Revisionist Look at Power and OD: The Industrial Organisation Psychologist,” 25, no. 2 (1988), pp. 59-61.

  • Mintzberg, Power in and Around Organisation.

  • Peffer, Power in Organisations (pp. 69-70).

  • R.A. Dhal, “The Concept of Power,” Behavioral Science (1957), pp. 202-203.

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