Power and Control in Organizations

Introduction

This essay explores the concept of power and control in organizations. Whoever has power is able to exercise some form of control. Control is one of the most traditional functions or roles of management. The major aspect of this role is ensuring errors and mistakes are minimized in procedures. Further, control ensures that in case of any deviations, corrective action is duly taken. The conception of Management control has undergone a metamorphosis as general thinking on management changed. Depending on the theory of management, the control means something totally different. However, despite different conceptions of control, it is a vital role of management that can not be subverted.

Traditional conceptions of management enforced rigidity and hierarchical structures along which control in an organization was exercised (Huczynski & Buchanan 1985, p. 389). In most organizations of today, control is more decentralized, and employees empowered. The empowerment of employees does not necessarily entail management not being able to exercise control. The management roles in an organization are not just about employee support or coordination. Some people view management control negatively; they give control of a negative connotation as to mean dominating or coercively manipulating others.

Power in Organizations

Power has a direct link to control; in actual sense, power refers to the capacity to influence or control (Huczynski & Buchanan 1985, p. 450). People often associate the use of power with the capacity to coerce or use force to make others respond as desired. Power in itself is not bad, but the way power is used can either be just or unjust, coercive, or benign. In an organization, all individuals have certain given powers; they have spheres of influence or control.

Each person in a relationship exercises power. It is only through individuals exercising some power that things happen. Power is a necessary ingredient in all organizational processes. There are two different types of power exercised in an organization i.e., personal and position power. Personal power exists in the form of personal charisma or capabilities (Roger, 2006, p. 64). Position power is derived from the rank or positions one holds in an organization. In an organization, the base of power that individuals exercise is position, expertise, personality, or persuasive capacity. In whichever case, individuals exercise powers either through the use of force or through persuasion (Roger 2006, p. 247). Although personal power is different from position power, the exercise of personal power at different levels is what makes possible the achievement of position power. One’s influence depends on the kind of decisions an individual can make and the effect.

Organizational control more often relies on position power than personal power (Jackson & Carter 2007, p.56). One exercises authority prescribed by the position he or she holds in the organization. Formal authority is important, however, it has to be based on an individual’s skills, experience, and knowledge. It is the skills, experience, and knowledge that define one’s personal power. It is personal power that determines other employees’ willingness to follow and accept directives from a senior or manager. It follows that managers have positional power, but it is their personal power than ensures they have full control in the organization.

Personal power evokes consent or is given by the willingness of the individuals. Managers can only be effective if they are able to command a willing following. However, positional power bolsters personal power such that subordinates do not manipulate leadership. Position power ensures that leaders can assert certain things against which followers may adamantly be. It has to be noted that in an organization, employees may tend towards selfishly wanting to earn huge from little effort. Position power ensures managers are able to enforce the right kind of performance. However, given the employees also have forms of personal power, they could easily choose to repel. To avoid conflict, managers have to rely on their personal power to entice compliance.

Personal power means enlisting compliance due to personal attributes (Jackson & Carter, 2007, p.63). Position power means that others respect or comply just because of one’s formal authority over them. In position power, the threat of bad decisions against subordinate enlists desired behavior. In personal power, persuasion due to expertise, knowledgeableness, or skill superiority enlists compliance. Personal power is inclined towards bargaining for compliance, while position power relies on asserting position.

Importance of Control

Without control, an organization cannot function. An organization only exists where a number of people are working together to achieve given objectives or goals. It would be absurd to imagine an organization that does not have goals or objectives. There has to be what brings the different people together. Before they all coalesce or join hands in working towards a given goal, individuals have to communicate with each other. Secondly, the common purpose is only clarified through discussions and planning. As the people in the organization plan, they necessarily have to cater to who will be doing what and when. In small organizations or groups, all individuals may be involved in the process, but one or some of them will more proximately be the coordinator and thus controller of the activities. In a big organization, a team of activity controllers or managers are necessary for proper coordination of organizations activities (William 1993, p. 94)

In modern management practice, control is no longer synonymous with dominating or lording over others. Rather, control as a function of management is more in line with ensuring the right performance levels, instituting standards and procedures, and taking corrective action in case of errors. Therefore, control is exercised in the context of already predetermined principles or standards of procedure. For example, for management to control performance, there has to be established performance levels against which the employees are measured. Control is not possible without planning because it is in planning that actual organizational objectives or goals are set. Once the goals are set, then control aims at ensuring the different factors enable the realization of the objectives.

In an organization, control happens at all levels and in all areas (Stephen 1999, p. 87). Control is effected through strategic planning, structural design of the organization, operational controls, and through financial plans or estimates. When control is properly established, it ensures that there is no wastage in the organization. Wastage reduction is effected through proper inventory management and setting of specific quality requirements in inputs and outputs. Control ensures that the right people are attracted, developed, and retained in the organization (Stephen 1999, p. 87). Personnel is controlled through performance appraisal and proper motivational packages. Information control is most critical in an organization; information control is affected through forecasts, reports, and analysis. Finally, financial controls come in handy in ensuring the organization avoids debts and loses.

Control is vital not just in identifying and correcting errors but also towards adopting and responding to change. A control system has to have the capacity to anticipate future trends and have alternatives or optional courses of action well outlined. Apart from anticipating the future, by monitoring error occurrence, control ensures costs are minimized, and errors do not accumulate. With proper measures of monitoring performance, error accumulation is not possible because defects can immediately be identified and dealt with. The final importance of control is that it generally helps employees in handling organizational complexity. By defining what has to be done, by who, when, and to what extent, control measures ensure employees know what to do or what not to do, and to what extent.

Control Factors in an Organization

Any control system has to have four factors or elements. These elements include the controlled, sensor, comparator, and activator. The controlled is the element or factor that has to be influenced or measured. A direct link has to exist between the controlled as a factor and performance in the organization (Porter 1998, p. 65). For example, the hours employees put in manual work will definitely determine how much work is done at the end of a month. The number of hours is a measurable factor that can be controlled.

The sensor refers to the way the controlled is to be monitored and measured or evaluated (Porter 1998, p. 63). It is important that in an organization, performance measures are clearly outlined. In the case of a sales manager, one way of measuring performance would be in number of calls a sales representative makes, the number of leads he or she closes, or meeting of targets. The means of measuring are determined by the availability of the third factor or element, which is a comparator (Porter 1998, p. 65). What is performance being measured against?

Performance is measured either against predetermined standards/targets or against previous records. The strategic plans and operational plans play crucial roles. They provide the benchmark or what performance is compared against. Control means determining any deviations and instituting corrective measures. The activator, as a factor in control, refers to corrective measures instituted to ensure performance is as planned (Porter 1998, p. 67).

Control in an organization is largely dependent on information dissemination in the organization (Sutton 1988, p. 39). Deviation or errors can not be identified unless correct information about a system is accumulated, disseminated, and accessed. Each organization can only function properly if the flow of information is proper. The flow of information has to be two way. The standards and procedures against which performance is measured have to be clear enough to ensure any deviations are easily identified. For example, if there is a designate dressing code, the affected people have to be made fully aware. Through thorough sensitization and awareness, any deviancy will easily be noted. As for salespeople, they should be provided with standard reporting templates capturing the different performance indicators. These standard templates make it easy for management to identify deviations easily.

Control in an organization happens at two levels or in two ways. The first level looks into the nature of the organization with the aim of determining how effective the organization design or systems are (Huczynski & Buchanan 1985, p. 349). The second level or aspect of control in an organization concerns daily operations. Therefore, control in an organization takes into consideration all the components of the system while also focusing on what daily inputs are brought into the system. Control direction is largely depended on the strategic objectives or general plan of the organization (Roger 2006, p. 114).

The general plans or strategic plan of an organization is broken down into specific measures or indicators. Some of the common overall organizational performance indicators are market share, return on investment, and total earnings. Moreover, Budgets are important to control tools used in the organization towards ensuring cash flows are favorable. The organization establishes the norm through plans, and performance evaluation is done with reference to the norm. Any deviations from the norm would necessarily warrant corrective action while achieving set targets should warranty some form of reward.

Control at the operational level looks into basic daily input and output measures. Control is only possible where specific plans have been set (Roger, 2006, p.115). Operational plans often include action scheduling, task specifications, quality standards expected, the projected costs, and then output expectations. Once the given parameters or measures have been predetermined, control becomes easy.

Control becomes challenging when considering individuals in a system. Monitoring the performance of individuals and determining what the right standard against which the evaluation is to be done is not easy. A salesperson may meet his or her sales targets but basically not meet customer satisfaction requirements. In the short term, the goal of meeting targets as a measure of performance has been met, but the sales person’s conduct is likely to dent the image of the organization. Controlling people often require related behavior management (Lynda, 1999, p. 61).

Appraising behavior is not easy and could easily invoke reactions that destabilize operations. There is also the challenge of subjectivity in the appraisal; individual managers have their own way of judging or behavior preferences. In most appraisal efforts, the behavior is quantified, and yet the behavior is a quality. Given a manager does not deal with just an individual but rather a unit of employees, and does not work with them always, standards of operations and procedures come in most handy.

Standards of operation or procedures are predetermined to ensure that control is in-calculated in all operations. Control aims at ensuring the operations or procedures are effective. It gives the limits in terms of what is to be done and what is not to be done and to what extent (Huczynski & Buchanan 1985, p. 455). Determining the limits or establishing the standards acceptable to everyone in the organization, especially the employees, is a challenging task.

The dilemma normally is on whether to let employees set their own standards/ targets or to determine everything for them. The problem of setting the targets or standards of the procedure is the risk that they could be repelled by employees. Allowing employees to set their own targets or to participate in setting standards of the procedure actively means they will more happily accept to operate under them. However, when employees are let to set the standards, there is the likelihood that they will be selfish as opposed to generous towards the organization.

Authority-controlled environments (Traps)

The alternative to encouraging employee participation is micromanaging the workplace. Micromanaging means overly controlling every process, procedure, and detail in the organization. Micromanaging has, over the years, proved futile; it only serves to trap employees while at the same time, entrapping the controller (Roger 2006, p. 68). In the long run, employees learn new tricks that leave management trapped in their ways but having no positive influence that would move the organization to the next level (William 1993, p. 99).

Employee participation is encouraged because it is the only sure way of management, not losing control. Controlling behavior from managers only attracts rebellion, which may necessarily lead to failure of meeting organizational objectives. Decisions in the organization have to be done through a participative approach; otherwise, managers trap themselves (Lynda 1999, p. 91). If a manager is controlling and he or she makes a wrong decision, the employees will happily execute, and the failure will not be the employees but rather the manager’s fault.

Micromanagement leads to employees losing initiative or a sense of ownership in an organization (Henry, Sumantra, & James 2003, 114). When employees lose a sense of ownership, they also lose a sense of accountability. It is for the foregoing negative result from micromanaging that managers tend to shy from controlling tendencies. However, this does not mean a laise fair approach to management. Rather, control has to be in-calculated into the procedures or processes so that employees by following the kind of procedure of auto-control themselves.

The standard procedures ensure that both employees and managers know what criterion would define the successful completion of a task. In case of a defect, it would be clear to the manager as well as the employee. Too much control directly from the manager means reduced flexibility for the employee. In such a scenario, both the employees and managers are likely to get trapped in a dysfunctional relationship that does not work in the interest of the organization.

Employee Empowerment

Employees are critical to the improvement of processes, embedding a customer-focused culture, and maintaining open internal communication networks. Having adjusted to more participative management styles, organizations are now keen on encouraging employee participation in decision making. Creativity and innovation are key values that any participative management system holds dear. It is understood that employees will only spread their wings and create or innovate if they have the freedom or right to make decisions in an organization. This kind of outlook is often referred to as employee empowerment. To achieve employee empowerment, an institution has to institute systems that encourage employee participation (Lynda 1999, p. 74).

For employees to take on leading roles in charting the way on organizational standards, procedures, and strategic choices, their capacity has to be acknowledged as well as developed. Their frame of reference has to be changed through initiatives by top management (top management has to be actively involved). One strong way of encouraging employee participation is encouraging freedom of expression in its entire meanings (Roger 2006, p. 53). When employees are not free to express themselves, they are likely to feel like victims in a system that suffocates them. Such a scenario definitely stifles creativity and innovation.

The information has to be widely disseminated both upwards and downwards; employees should be put in the know. In many organizations, much information is from bottom up. One-sided (uplink) information path interferes with the command chain. Knowing what is happening and what should be happening is crucial to giving individuals the capacity to be able to make decisions; they will have confidence because their decisions are well informed (Porter 1998, p. 75). Employees in their respective duties should be provided with all relevant information. It doesn’t have to be that everything in the organization is communicated to all employees, but information pertaining to or related to one’s role has to be availed.

Employees have to be encouraged to take responsibility. One will only feel responsible if he or she can make decisions. Therefore, employees have to be encouraged to be self-directed. Taking personal responsibility at one’s work station or for one’s role encourages interest in the kind of decision made and desire to influence decisions. Teamwork has to be encouraged, and each individual has to be held singularly responsible towards the team. Jobs have to be clearly defined even when being done by a team such that each individual is clear on what is expected of him or her.

Employees have to be encouraged to support and take care of each other (George, Scott & Arthur 2006, p. 147). Mentoring systems in the workplace are helpful. Peer kind of support helps people developing the necessary confidence to be leaders in themselves at the workplace. Delegation plays an important role because, through delegated duties, individuals take on greater roles in an organization. This works in favor of the organization as employee morale is likely to be buoyed if delegation is done in good faith. For the participation of employees to bear fruit, mutual respect amongst employees is critical. Mutual respect is not only meant for authority figures but utterly all employees. A key way to respect is being able to identify other people’s gifts and appreciating them.

Delegation

One of the powerful ways of empowering employees is through delegation. The delegation, when done effectively, not only helps management but also builds the capacity of other employees (Henry, Sumantra, & James 2003, 59). Delegation should be done based on some criteria. It is advised that before delegating, one has to be clear on what tasks he or she needs to delegate and why. Delegation is not about doing away with a role; rather, it is giving away a role that the giver remains directly responsible for.

Before delegating, one has to be clear as to what results are expected. This is crucial towards determining what is necessary for the accomplishment of the task or job. Before leaving junior employees to do the work, management has to clarify methods to be used and in what time frame. Management has to make clear what decision employees can make without consultations, the ones they have to consult first, and those that are definitely not in their capacity. The authority they are allowed in fulfilling the delegated mandate should be sufficient such that they can actually do the job without much reliance on approvals from above.

Reporting is an important aspect that would ensure smooth operations despite delegation (George, Scott & Arthur 2006, p. 73). Employees have to make regular reports to the delegating body such that management is well involved with regard to what is going on. The top management has to be informed often so that they do not lose track, given ultimate responsibility for the organization lies with them. Time frames have to be encouraged so that no part of the organization lags behind due to slack in divisional operations or decision-making processes.

One way of ensuring management is fully informed is having regular meetings with employees. Such meetings should be follow-ups to reports or tasks assigned. Such meetings allow management to compare notes with employees and chart ways of improvement or of tackling given issues. There have to be mechanisms for monitoring and evaluation of progress on assigned tasks (Henry, Sumantra, & James 2003, 94). This enables issues or tasks in the organization to be on schedule, avoiding slack in organizational progress.

Another way of maintaining control is through monitoring and evaluation of employee activities. This should be done with the sole aim of identifying where employees need help in execution. Employees always have to be encouraged to take full responsibility for processes and decisions made about or in the course of their work. Taking full responsibility would encourage more astuteness, thus guaranteeing results. However, even though employees should be encouraged to take full responsibility, management remains alert and follows happenings keenly in work execution. Management has to be swift and supportive in dealing with any issues arising at work stations.

Conclusion

In this paper, I have explored the concept of power and control in organizations. Power and control are closely linked because only those who have power can influence or control. The two major types of power discussed are personal power and position of power. In organizations, power is designated in a position or a rank. However, control based on position power is not effective. Position power has to be supported by personal power, which is given one’s skills, expertise, knowledgeableness, or basically charisma.

Control is important because it ensures or guarantees the realization of organizational objectives. However, control relies heavily on predetermined norms, thus the need for proper planning for control to be effective. Planning provides general organizational objectives. From the objectives, specific plans are set out against which performance measures or controls are set. Standards of procedure play a critical role in in-calculating control into organizational processes and operations.

The standards of procedure or operations have to be precise and well communicated to all who may be affected by the same. It is also important to set and communicate the penalties for individuals who do not take corrective action (Huczynski & Buchanan 1985, p. 451). This measure is necessary because, in the face of control, some people may tend to be rebellious or just adamant. Another aspect of putting into consideration by managers who design control measures is the motivation for adherence. Employees have to be given reason why adhering to control measures is important. For example, why should the salesperson meet targets? If all control related issues can be taken care of when making an organization’s strategic plan, control becomes a given and not an issue to contend with.

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