Strategy & personal development

Do you have the power to make changes?

So you won the business, that plum contract with a company that promises to be a long term relationship. A good meaty problem they haven’t been able to resolve themselves and you just know that when you get stuck in you’ll expose even more issues. However you can feel a tingle of nerves as you’re going to need people at all levels within the organisation to support the changes that will need to be made.

It’s a good time to check that you have the necessary power to bring those changes about.

Models for assessing power within organisations has a long pedigree. In the late 1950s, Trench and Raven identified 6 ways in which you can leverage power to get other people to do what you want. Adam Grant (one of my favourite organisational psychologists) in his book Originals groups these together into two categories which he calls Power and Status.

Let’s tease out how these two different but related concepts might affect your ability to make the changes you are proposing as an outsider to their business.

Power in the sense that Grant uses it is about having the authority to control the actions of others. It incorporates three related concepts. It covers the what and how they will delegate the necessary authority for you to deliver the work they have contracted you to deliver.

Firstly it gives you the legitimacy to access information and request cooperation from others within the organisation and may give you permission to represent the organisation externally. Legitimacy also gives you the power to say No. No to activities that are beyond your contract but also no to illegal, unethical or just downright wrong.

It also gives you the extent to which you can use formal rewards and incentives to get that cooperation. These may be financial or other formal recognition for extra effort. Equally the use of coercive power by applying sanctions for non-cooperation may be appropriate. Many of these will remain within the power of the relevant manager of the individuals involved and care should be taken not to fall into the trap of promising (or threatening) individuals by offering or implying consequences you cannot deliver and may damage your relationships with others and affect your status within the organisation (see below)

Ideally the boundaries of your power in these terms should be set out in your contract. However these may need to be re-set as the work progresses. In particular when moving from an investigative to an implementation stage of your work. Take care to keep the lines of communication and accountability clear especially when difficult decisions need to be made.

As an outsider to the organisation from your first engagement with the people in the organisation onwards it is crucial to heighten your status. Status, according to Grant, is about being respected and admired by others involved so they engage and cooperate with you of their own choice. I like to think of it as what people say about you when you’re not there.

Three attributes contribute to raising your status

People with high emotional intelligence can relate appropriately to people at all levels within the organisation. They demonstrate empathy, control and react to the situation in an appropriate manner demonstrating consistency and genuineness.

People will also follow those who can demonstrate they know what they are talking about and have a demonstrable track record. Those who have the right expertise that gives people confidence to accept their recommendations and instructions.

Lastly people will follow those who are in the know, those who have access to information they seek. The expression knowledge is power has relevancy.

Communicating the right information to the right people in a manner that they can understand is crucial to being trusted. However, returning to the formal power where I started this article, you may have access to confidential information and can quickly lose status if you are indiscreet or feedback information told in confidence.

In conclusion, now you’ve got that lovely new contract, deal with that frisson of fear by checking if your rating of the power and status criteria is appropriate for what you’ll need to deliver the changes. Any gaps? Plan now how you’re going to cover them.

Originally posted 2022-08-15 09:38:16.

Jacky Sherman
The Business Bulletin

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Jacky Sherman

In 2003 Jacky left her post as the CEO of the Royal National Orthopaedic Hospital and set up her own coaching company. Realising she knew little about marketing her own business and as a result felt very de-skilled. She found the support and help she needed from two main sources. First she undertook formal training with Asentiv, the business development company that she bought into a few years later. The other source was the willingness of other business owners on the local networking scene to share their knowledge and contacts with a newcomer who freely admitted she was not a natural networker. Now semi-retired she pays forward that generosity by mentoring others who have come out of employment as experts in their field but find that running a business at times is uncomfortable territory. She finds a way of helping the most unnatural entrepreneur build a business in a way that is natural to them.

Do you have the power to make changes?

by Jacky Sherman Time to read: 2 min