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In the article Culture, leadership, and power: the keys to organizational change, Ronald W. Clement (1994) argues that organizational culture factors directly in the success or failure of major change efforts. By analyzing three major corporations – General Motors, IBM and Sears – Clement (1994) points to the importance of culture, specifically systems of rule within companies, and how it affects attempts to implement major restructuring or change efforts.
Ronald W. Clement’s (1994) article Culture, leadership, and power: the keys to organizational change, discusses the role of power in organizational culture in major change efforts. Clement argues that for change efforts to succeed, they “must consider three key features of organizational life: the firm’s culture, the leadership of the change effort, and the existing network of power” (Clement 1994). Clement (1994) examines three large companies – IBM, Sears, and General Motors – with a specific focus on the importance of leadership in change efforts, specifically, that “top management…must lead the change effort” (Clement 1994).
Clement’s (1994) analysis distinguishes slightly between IBM, Sears and General Motors, arguing that the power relationships of the top management teams at IBM and General Motors may be too entrenched to facilitate the level of transformation needed to turn the businesses around. Clement’s (1994) advice remains the same across all the firms’ situations in the realm of leadership itself, however; Clement firmly believes that leadership “cannot be delegated” to external parties and must “lead by example” to inspire stakeholder buy-in (Clement 1994).
Clement’s (1994) focus on leadership highlights some obvious yet oft-forgotten principles of any successful change management effort – “Top management needs to demonstrate visible and consistent support for change” (Clement 1994). Essentially, top management cannot simply talk about team building; it needs to actively participate in team building to provide a working model of expected behaviors for employees. Top management also needs to demonstrate the validity of the change effort directly, through quantifiable results such as “profits, productivity, or quality of work-life” (Clement 1994).
Leadership styles also contribute directly to a successful change effort. Positive leaders who employ training, delegation and incentives typically motivate change efforts more efficiently, while punitive employers may shut down change efforts before they even begin (Clark n.d).
Clement’s (1994) article elucidates two fine points on the nature of power in business, namely, that power can be construed as an emotional and therefore qualitative variable, which explains why it often does not factor in the discussion of any organization’s culture. In Clement’s (1994) words, “excluding power as a topic of discussion also assured the general public (especially investors) that decision making in organizations was based on efficiency and logic,” as opposed to something so irrational as protectionism and jockeying for position (Clement 1994).
Secondly, power is always about “acquiring, developing, and using power to achieve one’s objectives. Because change always threatens the existing balance of power in an organization, politics will always be used to maintain balance” (Clement 1994). This is not to suggest that power is inherently sinister; Clement simply accepts the implicit agenda in most power relationships, particularly in hierarchically governed firms, and urges change managers to maintain their awareness of it (Clement 1994).
The acknowledgment that power and protectionism each play a direct role in organizational culture and management is ultimately liberating. Once change leaders understand their view of power and their tendency to protect it in business relationships at all costs, they develop a key insight into the relationship between management, internal and external politics, emotion and leadership. In Clement’s (1994) words, “advocates of change [must not only] watch out for political and power plays, but they must also use power and politics themselves” (Clement 1994).
The intrinsic transformative effect of change efforts destabilize a fact which entrenched power networks typically resist. Change efforts do not always require new blood, however; in some cases, “top management teams, and not just a couple of top managers, are often removed in a change effort. Merely eliminating a couple of managers will not prevent the remainder of the team – often a long-standing, powerful coalition from blocking the change” (Clement 1994). As Clement (1994) notes, “change can be achieved through [the] positive use” of power, and this entails a positive commitment on the part of managers and change leaders to understanding and acknowledging all the facets of power, both overt and covert, at play in any organization.
Ratzburg (n.d.) states that “whatever the system [of rule], each represents a political orientation concerning how power is applied and distributed throughout the organization” (Ratzburg n.d.) Thinking about an organization as a political system reinforces an essential component and often overlooked element of organizational culture, namely, that power systems within organizations permeate the entire organization and affect the perception and treatment of key business elements such as problem-solving, decision making and innovation.
For example, in an organization overseen by an autocratic organizational structure, ideas channeled from the lower orders of the hierarchy may be easily disregarded simply because they did not originate from management. Organizational structures that employ a flat hierarchy, wherein ideas from janitorial staff, as well as senior managers, are given equal weight, channel tremendous energy, and innovation from all of their employees. These types of cultures function as an integrated whole, as opposed to an organization that expects all innovation to come from its top levels only.
Clark, D. (n.d.). Leadership styles. Web.
Clement, R.W. (1994). Culture, leadership, and power: the keys to organizational change. Business Horizons. Web.
Ratzburg, W.H. (n.d.). Defining organizational politics. Web.