7 Bases of Power

POWER. The most important and unyielding condition of management isn’t human relations, communication skills or employee empowerment, but power. POWER. Defined as the ability to influence and produce a desired effect on other individuals without having one’s own behavior modified in any undesired way by other individuals. On one hand, some people view power as being limited in amount, kind of like a pie, with constant conflict about who gets the largest slice. On the other hand, people view it as open-ended, having no limits, except those imposed by the situation. The latter may be the more reasonable way of viewing power.

Unfortunately, power can lead to exhibitionism. A supervisor, for instance, can use power just to show that power exists by perhaps unfairly punishing an employee. This is an abuse of power and can easily be counterproductive in the workplace. Nonetheless frontline supervisors must have power and use it properly in order to maintain organizational policies, procedures and regulations. Without power, there can be no authority and without authority there can be no discipline. Finally without power, we would find it hard augmenting productivity. Clearly, supervisors must recognize that power can get things done.

Unique and different kinds of power that should be exercised at various times in the workplace Let’s look at seven of them and how they are used: (1) COERCIVE POWER: This stems from the subordinates’ perception that the supervisor clearly has the ability to enforce policies and procedures. This power is derived from the principle that there will be consequences if unacceptable subordinate behavior continues. HOW IS IT USED: Let’s say that a subordinate is beginning to abuse the organization’s attendance policy. Perhaps in the past few weeks, he’s been absent, late and left early several different times.

Prior to this, he’d been a solid employee. Certainly the supervisor must take appropriate action or this a use will spread until other subordinates begin taking advantage, too. The initial action by the supervisor might be to discuss the situation with a supportive human resource associate and together create an action plan. Next, a private meeting takes place between the employee and the supervisor discussing the facts surrounding the attendance abuse. At the conclusion of the meeting, the consequences would be mentioned should the behavior not change.

Coercive power is being employed here. Your message is simply for the person to change and conform to the organization’s attendance policy or suffer further disciplinary action. Finally, coercive power is never to be undermined. This undermining happens when supervisors attempt to ignore undesirable behavior in employees, not follow-through with warnings or simply play favorites. (2) AFFILIATION POWER: Employees perceive front-line supervisors to have the right affiliations or connections with influential individuals to get things done more effectively within the organization.

HOW IS IT USED: A department supervisor, remember, has limited power, but if he or she knows how to work through upper management to get things then their perceived affiliation with that group generates added influence in the eyes of subordinates and peers. This power base is sometimes used when employees request special consideration or request (for instance, leave of absence, extended vacation time) beyond the organization’s written rules and regulations. If the employee is deserving of it, the supervisor should use their influence to have the special situation granted.

This might, for example, necessitate the supervisor writing a note to the personnel department supporting this employee’s request. Lastly, supervisors who effectively use the affiliation power base surely create an atmosphere towards motivating an employee to want to produce to their highest level. (3) LEGITIMATE POWER: Employees perceive that supervisors have the right to make decisions based solely on their title and status. HOW IS IT USED: A manufacturing supervisor, for instance, instructs an employee to discontinue working on a product and then to scrap it from the order because it is irreparable.

The reason, he states, is that it would cost more to try to repair it than it’s worth. This certainly is the supervisor’s right to make that decision because it’s his responsibility to see that good money isn’t just being thrown away. Oftentimes, however, rank will not influence certain “I-am-not-convinced you’re-right” employees. These employees continually challenge the supervisor’s judgment on every issue and, at times, cause unnecessary department interruptions. When this occurs, supervisors are strongly advised to use coercive power to direct the individual to simply follow instructions and continue working or suffer the consequences.

Unfortunately, sometimes disc primary action is the only way to correct the situation. (4) INFORMATION POWER: Employees have a perception that the supervisor has access to or at least possesses useful reformation. Recall that old adage: Information is power. HOW IS IT USED: The human resources department, issues an organizational policy change to all management personnel that must get communicated, if it’s to work, to all staff and non-staff employees. Successful supervisors are always among the first to pass along vital information efficiently to their department members.

Perhaps the supervisor will conduct a brief meeting so everyone hears the message together reducing any chance of misunderstandings. At other times, the supervisor may place the communication on the department bulletin board for everyone to read. Whatever the means of getting information quickly to their subordinates, these supervisors are indeed showing that they care about getting company information to their employees as quickly as possible. Over the long run, these employees will, in fact, reciprocate by working harder for their supervisors.

It’s because of the way the information power base is used that the supervisor projects a very positive image. The other supervisors, who ignore this vital power base, are viewed, unfortunately, in a more negative light by subordinates as well as their superiors. (5) EXPERT POWER: There is a popular perception among employees that the supervisor should have an adroit understanding of all facets of the operations within his or her area of responsibility. Subordinates, who view their supervisor to be an expert, will be more apt to be highly motivated and therefore be very productive.

HOW IS IT USED: Expert power is especially important when training new department members or retaining existing ones. If people think the supervisor is “blowing smoke,” credibility can be drastically diminished and so would be the productivity of the person being trained. This is why supervisors, who don’t know the answer, should say so (“I’m sorry, I’m not familiar with that”) and then go get the answer as soon as possible. Essentially, expert power can either help or hinder a supervisor’s credibility with department members.

People often challenge authority where credibility ;. s lacking. Subsequently, being believed can be very advantageous to a supervisor’s effectiveness, being disbelieved can be fatal. (6) REFERENT POWER: This comes from the employee’s perception that the supervisor possesses positive personality characteristics which results in an effective supervisor-subordinate relationship. Smart supervisors, who know how to use referent power, can create an atmosphere to motivate workers to improve productivity. HOW IS IT USED: When the employee sees the supervisor as aving confidence, is easily approachable and is fair in all dealings with people, then that employee will want to produce for their supervisor. Ethical behavior, an offshoot of referent power, is another important trait all supervisors must have in dealing with people in the workplace. Why, for example, should a department member trust their supervisor after hearing him tell an outright lie to someone else? If the lies to that person, the member believes, why wouldn’t he lie to me. Why, too, should employees come to work on time every day when they see their supervisor often late?

Experts will agree that trust is the cornerstone toward improving productivity in any employee, Certainly if they don’t trust you, they just won’t produce up to standard. (7) REWARD POWER: This comes from the employee’s perception that the supervisor has the ability to provide certain rewards to those deserving individuals. HOW IS IT USED: When a supervisor gives, for example, a bonus or a promotion, this is considered reward power. Even simply publicly or privately praising an employee for a job weld done is considered reward power and can be a mighty useful management tool.

For instance, someone who suggested a process improvement that eventually saved the department money would be rewarded in some way. Reward power spurs productivity gains, if used pragmatically. Undoubtedly, it’s only human nature to want to go that “extra mile” for someone who’s expressed outward approval of us for something special that we’ve done. CONCLUSION: It’s important for supervisors to recognize that there are different power bases available. Subconsciously we use most of them without ever knowing or giving it another thought.

As a matter of fact, in the course of a business day, we can probably use three or four bases in different situations and never be aware that we’re doing it. Now, we can be much more cognizant of them which will only make us more effective front-line supervisors of the people we manage. In turn, by using power bases properly we can expect improved quality of work and improved productivity because the power we have will be better utilized now. Finally, power is perceived, we have power only when we make others really believe we have power.