Power Plays

Some workplaces encourage everyone to act competitively. Enron, for example, had an organizational culture in which winning and making the numbers counted more than relationships.

People like basketball coach Bobby Knight and Terrell Owens got away with more than would be tolerated in normal circumstances because we embrace clichés like “winning isn’t everything; it’s the only thing” in the United States. It may appear that the more one is right and the more one wins, the bigger jerk you can be.

Leaders in most organizations not only get paid more than others; they also enjoy constant deference and false flattery. A huge body of research shows that when people are put in positions of power, they:

  • Start talking more
  • Take what they want for themselves
  • Ignore what other people say or want
  • Start ignoring how less powerful people react to their behavior
  • Start acting more rudely
  • Generally treat any situation or person as a means for satisfying their own needs

Studies show power corrupts people and causes them to act as though they’re above rules meant for others. Even trivial power advantages can change how people think and act, and usually for the worse.

Pay is a vivid sign of power differences, and a host of studies suggest that when the difference between the highest- and lowest-paid people in a company is reduced, good things happen: improved financial performance, better product quality and enhanced productivity.

And yet, the idea of reducing pay differences isn’t catching on. CEOs of large corporations make more than 500 times what the average worker earns.

“If you want to have fewer assholes – and better organizational performance – reducing the difference between the highest- and lowest-status members of your organization is the way to go,” according to Stanford Professor and author Robert Sutton.

Status differences will always be with us. But successful companies are doing everything they can to downplay and reduce status and power differences among managers and employees. Companies like Costco, the Men’s Wearhouse and Southwest Airlines are prime examples.

This doesn’t, however, mean you can eliminate the pecking order. Some people are more important to the organization than others because they are more difficult to replace or have more essential skills. This is the power-performance paradox.

How does competition play out in your organization? Are there rewards for performance? Do you see the downside?

This entry was posted in chip scholz, collaboration. Bookmark the permalink. Post a comment or leave a trackback: Trackback URL.

Post a Comment

Your email is never published nor shared. Required fields are marked *


You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <s> <strike> <strong>