Saturday, April 17, 2010

Power in the office

I don't have too much time for a post today, seeing as how I'm producing music for a feature film, and I have an appointment to headbutt grizzly bears at 3:30 (only one of those is a blatant lie).

Anyways, I want to talk about office power today. While reading our incredibly fascinating book, I came across the part in chapter 15 about the bases of power. I remembered talking about this in-class. If Mr. Miyagi is involved, you bet your ass I'll remember it.

So there are 5 kinds of power bases: Reward, Coercive, Legitimate, Expert, and Referent. For this post, I'm going to use my imagination to paint a picture of what a manager adhering to each of these power styles would look like.

Reward power, according to the book, is one who "obtains compliance with promised or actual rewards." Let's take Mark, a manager slaving away at a mid-level cardboard box supplier (they exist, trust me). He has noticed that his numbers are down, and he needs to get people in gear to start earning more money. He doesn't want to lose the monthly sales numbers contest to the Lodi branch again. So he tells his employees that, in addition to him throwing a badass picnic (badass picnic? What?), he'll make sure that they will each receive a bonus as a reward if they win two monthly sales contests.

Coercive power is the kind of power wielded by assholes. As stated in the book, "obtaining compliance through threatened or actual punishment." Let's look at Howard, a short fat guy who just got promoted to a management position. Unfortunately for everyone working underneath him, he is a man filled with spite, and takes sadistic pleasure in punishing people. Someone yawned once during one of his meetings. They were never seen again. He gets people to work hard by constantly hovering punishments over their heads. One time, he saw one of his subordinates at a bar with a hot date. In a fit of jealousy, he fired him the following Monday. This guy is cold-blooded.

Legitimate power is a little more formal and clear-cut. It's simply respecting the chain of command. If a guy occupies the position of "manager," then he gets to "manage" you. It's pretty simple. Obviously, someone with legitimate power can turn into a douchy coercive or nice rewarding manager, but legitimate power seems to be almost more passive and in the middle. You have authority because of your title. Case in point, Ron, who works for Boring Industries, a company that makes springs for printer cartridges. He just got promoted to a management position, but he's still totally the same guy that he was before. He just has management authority now. People listen to him and complete tasks that he requests of them. He sees it as the same job he had before, and he only gets to manage because of what his job title says.

Expert power is the most badass kind of power. Mr. Miyagi falls into this category. He knows his shit, and that's why he's practically bursting with awesome. If someone commands respect simply by what they know and what skills they have, then they are simply better than everyone else. Let's consider the case of Paul, a manager who has been in his industry (the fake vomit manufacturing business) for fifteen years. He knows his industry and workers inside and out, and he studies Krav Maga in his spare time (Krav Maga is the martial arts used by Israeli special forces). On top of that, he is a professional base jumper, expert chef, and has a respectable credit score. He commands respect by simply being an expert in the things he does. When he talks, people tend to listen because there is a good chance this man knows what he is talking about. Also, Krav Maga.

Referent power is, to put it lightly, the kind of power wielded by people who are just good with other people. It's all about charisma and raw appeal. Let us consider Gunther, a new manager who didn't go to college, doesn't have any particularly good skills, doesn't really focus on rewarding or punishing people, and doesn't know Krav Maga. But people LOVE him. Why? He gets people. Never underestimate this power. Upper management is populated almost entirely by human beings, and you can be the most qualified and knowledgeable person out there, but if you don't get people, forget about it. Gunther just gets people, and that's why he got promoted and you didn't.

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