Power in Organization’s: Power Theory of Foucault and Change Management

Introduction

Power is the ability to think, do, and act in a certain manner. In social sciences, power is usually defined in terms of political or social command over the other person or commodity (Weber, 2009). By the word power, a layman yields the image of a person who would like heads bowed in front of him (Wilkin, 2019). However, different schools of thought have been negating this typical definition of power in several ways. The term power is simple and holds authority and customized personalized traits as mandatory elements (Messarra, Karkoulian, & Sidani, 2009). Power is defined as a mean to exert social acceptance, the ability to use force or to access resources. In social sciences, the term power is used as a medium to maintain authority over the other individual by practising or portraying dominance (Menge, 2017). Power in organization is about “how, what, when and who” of management roles. The managerial role adheres to all these contexts of power to determine the authority over one commodity or individual over another. In plain words, power in organization is something which cannot let the other process work or let an individual perform without accepting it. The power is within every one of us, which is exerted as and per circumstances (Hannah, 2020).

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In this essay, power is studied and analyzed in terms of organizational practices to manage change. Foucault’s theory of power is the core idea of analysis which is implemented throughout the essay. The power theory of Foucault is evaluated from different aspects to manage change within the organization and study the relevant impact on organizational structure, workplace culture and other aspects.

Foucault theory of power

Michael Foucault presented the notion of power in 1998. Foucault’s power concept is holistic yet straightforward. He claims that power is everywhere and comes from everyone (PowerCube, 2020). According to Foucault, everyone has a certain degree of power over the other person/commodity that is exercised in an episodic nature (Välikangas, Anita & Seeck, 2011). The constant exertion of power is not the mainstream notion of power as presented by Foucault. Rather, it is asserted that power is episodic, and individuals exercise it as and when they feel the need. From an organizational perspective, Foucault state that power is assimilated with knowledge and wisdom and demonstrated in all hierarchal levels of organization (Lawrence, Malhotra & Morris, 2012). Without good performance at every level, it is not possible for organizations to progress holistically Power in Organization’s.

Change is a constant phenomenon in every organization. The Foucault theory of power determines the link of power and knowledge with the “episodic” nature of work. It is asserted in Foucault’s power notion that power is not exercised all the time. The organizational change complies by the said factor that employees do not show their power all the time at work. Instead, whenever there is any change expected in the organization, the workforce expresses resistance to change by exercising their power (Leclercq-Vandelannoitte, 2011). The resistance to change is commonly shown in the form of verbal protest, refusal to work, turnover, high job absenteeism rate or a formal strike. Employees who are not ready to accept change express their resistance by showing power over organizational productivity (Treleaven, 2018). They refuse to meet daily productivity targets until the power concerns are alleviated.

The Foucault theory of power determines the link between power and knowledge. He demonstrates power as an ongoing phenomenon which should not be subjected to only one person or a social group (Letseka & Pitsoe, 2013). By considering the concept of change and change resistance practices of employees, it is understood that the Foucault’s point is simple yet holistic. He believes that everyone has a certain extent of power over another due to which the absence of people and processes is felt. Foucault’s viewpoint asserts the social phenomenon of being connected with or without obvious communication. Employees show their concern over job security, post-change job engagement level, post-change performance quality and risk of being laid-off as a result of the change, are some typical outcomes of employees’ resistance to change.

Research also shows that change is creative (Byers, 2017), as change reflects the innovative nature of organizational practices that is a crucial need of today’s dynamic business environment. Without being innovative or open to change, organizations cannot meet the changing demand of consumers and maintain a distinct competitive edge (Tohidi & Jabbari, 2012). Similarly, power is also painstaking and innovative, as it is practised in different environments. Foucault reinforces the concept that power keeps innovating itself, and it is greatly dependent on circumstances and behavioural responses of other people to provoke exertion of power (Balan, 2010). The social phenomenon is subjected to change with the change in power levels of people and processes. The result of this transition in power is a radical change in overall societal phenomena and norms (Jack & Theophilus, 2017).

Power becomes creative when it is shifted from one person or social group to another. Hence, everyone exerts power according to their supremacy and become a part of the change either directly or indirectly. Whenever there is a change-related phenomenon, power comes from everyone, i.e. every employee, to show acceptance or resistance to change (Manokha, 2009). Creativity and innovation also face resistance from stakeholders due to which the importance of power and power-related behaviours is evident. Organizations design special practices such as incentives and salary packages, the communication strategy, and resource allocation and employee motivation policies to deal with different types of change-related responses and prepare employees for the upcoming change (Dirani, Hejase & Houssien, 2019). The said HRM practices are conducted in response to understanding that every employee has a particular type of power over organizational performance. Incentives are designed, bonuses and jobs security announcements are made to ensure employees about the implications of change and prepare employees to remain in flow with the upcoming change without having to show their power (Adam & Viorel, 2016).

Shewart’s PDCA cycle and Power theory

Deming and Shewhart’s PDCA (Plan, Do, Check, Act) cycle is usually considered as a process of resolving a problem which is carried out by the implementation of power, resources, efforts, and profound thinking. However, due to prolonged assimilation of unnecessary thinking, lack of resources, effort, and motivation, the cycle turns into Procrastinate, deliberate, confusion and argue.

The PDCA cycle is a standardized approach to solve problems and resolve conflicts. It is an essential component of continuous process improvement (CPI) strategies of the company and adhere to the needs of learning and growth of the organization (Jagtap & Teli, 2015). Therefore, the change management process recognizes the PDCA cycle as a systematic tool to adopt new changes and implement the change management strategy (Pietrzak & Paliszkiewicz, 2015). The process of change management recognizes every element of change; whether it is a barrier or supporter of the change process, of equal importance. The research shows that change management experts (change agents) consider even minute details in the change implementation process to make the process successful and reduce resistance to change (Appelbaum, Cameron, & Ensink, 2017). Therefore, in organizations, the process of change management usually takes longer time than in any other setting due to the detailed focus of change agents on every element involved in the change process.

Hence, Foucault’s theory asserts the notion that “everyone has power”. The said argument of change process and the importance of minute factors agree with Foucault’s idea that power comes from everyone. For example, if the change process flows smoothly with available resources, staffing needs, tangible equipment, communication and even job security issue of employees; but the majority of employees are not intrinsically happy. The possible consequence would be a failure to adapt change or the delay in the achievement of results of change. The said consequence would be due to the intrinsic commitment of change stakeholders who were ignored to communicate about their reservations on the change process (Stumpf, Favorito, Jr, & Smith, 2013). Therefore, even when radical factors of change process have completely adhered, the negligence to the critical aspect of employee’s intrinsic commitment to upcoming change can delay the outcomes of change and even fail the process (Jalagat, 2016).

Organizational structure, change, and power

Organizational structure impacts the process of change implementation. However, analytical research on organizational structure shows that a flat organizational structure is more flexible to change and adapt it quickly as compared to tall organizational hierarchies (Rishipal, 2014). The latter structure is buoyant and resilient to changes as there are numerous layers of power to pass in order to assimilate change at all levels. In terms of Foucault’s theory of power, there would be more people and factors to impose authority as compared to flatter structures.

A research paper identifies that rationality, power and legitimacy in public organizations are interlinked even if the type of power may not be authoritative (Gordon, Kornberger, & Clegg, 2009). The author argues that the relations of legitimacy and power are consistently dependent on the rationality of situation and exert high power over another in all types of power. Even in democratic organizations, the link of organizational legit policies and rationality is kept intact while making decisions to exert influence in the right manner. Therefore, as the research concludes, the notion of power exists in all circumstances of organizational operations, under all types of power exerted by the leadership.

Hofstede’s cultural dimensions support the power of individuals and assert the logic of power distance on organizations. In flatter organizational structures, there is reduced power distance as compared to taller structures (Gupta, 2015). The high power distance yields more time, resources and efforts from change agents to implement the change. Whereas, in the tall organizational structure, the change agent tends to face issues of power distribution in a post-change scenario and address related issues. Therefore, Foucault’s theory enactment concludes for organizational structures that there would be more power enriched factors in taller organizational structures as compared to flat. The change agent would need to face higher resistance to change process in taller structures than flat hierarchies. The change process itself can bring strategic transformation to organizational structures if the change involves job layoffs, firing of employees, launching a new system which requires new staff, etc. (Tariq & Usman, 2015). However, the power assortment in both structures cannot be ignored in any case. The change agent is liable to devise suitable strategies for flat structures as well to deal with every employee and factor having power over the change process.

Hence, Foucault’s theory supports the notion of addressing all elements of change in organizations to indulge the process of CPI in the learning curve of the organization. The PDCA cycle is thus, understood in the context of continuous growth when every organizational element is taken into compliance and being in pace to pace by change agent in all change-related processes (Alvesson, 2009). However, if the stakeholders of change are ignored and the change process is delayed due to negligence to any vital factor, the PDCA cycle turns into procrastination, deliberation, confusion and argument. Employees would procrastinate about change outcomes and deliberately give delayed response to change agents. The confusion to the change process would lead to unnecessary arguments and ultimately slow implementation of the change process (Guenter, Emmerik, & Schreurs, 2014).

Research shows the “power to and power over” logic by Foucault as a social fact (Pansardi, 2012). The researcher argues that Foucault rightly recognizes the power of individuals towards others in the context of understanding the importance of every employee in the organization. Hence, the power and hegemony of employer/manager work side by side. As per research, it is evident to state that in tall organizational structures, the power distance is higher, and the hegemony of top management is apparent (Adaba, Sims, & Wilson, 2014). Employees cannot exert their power as they could in an environment where power distance is low. The communication flow is slow and has to surpass various organizational levels in order to maintain the productivity rate of employees (Spash, 2017). Therefore, the taller the organizational structure is, the higher would be the power distance.

Robert Dahl’s famous definition: ‘A has power over B to the extent that he can get B to do something that B would not otherwise do’ is rightly reflected in the Foucault’s power rationale (Ailon, 2006). During the process of change management, managers would face resistance by employees who express fear of unknown and fear of uncertainty. The manager realizes that there is an evident need of employees’ acceptance to change and thereby communicate with each employee directly or through change agent for amicable change implementation (Samah, 2018). However, in this process, employees do negotiate and express their demands. It is the stage where Dahl’s saying fits in the context that manager would otherwise never agree to employee demands which he would agree in the process of establishing employee’s readiness to accept change (Nikolaou, Vakola, & Dimitris Bourantis, 2007).

Moreover, it is interesting to note that employees also use their power over the organizational structure to suffice their motives (Haugaard, 2012). For example, labour unions arrange protests in order to demand a hike in salary by using their power of the production process. The owner of a factory, regardless of his power over the organization, is bind to sit on talking terms and find an amicable solution to end the strike (Huang, Jiang, & Erik Lie, 2017). It is because the labour has fundamental power to meet organizational goals. If the employees would not meet daily productivity goals, the stock cannot be prepared on time which will lead to a shortage of end product on market shelves (Lee & Takao Kato, 2010). Therefore, power is exerted by the labour to fulfil their financial motives.

Thus, Foucault precisely puts the concept of power from a multi-dimensional perspective, which asserts the powerful status of everyone who works in the organization. However, it is crucial to understand that flat structure does not ‘reduce’ the power of one employee or top management over the staff (Tang & Min Zhang, 2014). The flat structure only influences the staff communication and makes it easier for top management to demonstrate the tasks to each department or working unit conveniently. Employees in each unit work with their line managers and possess similar power over organizational productivity as of employees working in taller structure (Bermig, Dilger, & Hannah Geyer, 2011).

Thus, power is a reflexive, methodical tool that can be utilized by managers in various organizational settings. The resilient nature of power supports managers to make strategic decisions carefully (Walters & Rodriguez, 2017). Therefore, the managers are sent on training to handle employees’ issues such as employee stress, conflict management, precise understanding of intrinsic and extrinsic needs, workload management, the financial compensation, and ability to communicate effectively. Managers are trained and educated to realize the power of productive and devoted employees who possess the required skills and talent needed to perform the job (Awasthi & Kumar, 2016). The manager, in turn, practices feasible actions to retain good employees by realizing their power over the organizational goal, which can be fulfilled by a skilled and committed workforce only. For example, research shows that disengagement and low commitment of employees to work results in a loss of $350 billion annually (Osborne & Hammoud, 2017). Employees do attend office but do not commit to their work which results in wastage of time and resources. An organization is a network of information flow between employees. Therefore, the work of dedicated employees is suffered if subordinate does not proceed with the task timely. The loss due to employee’s low commitment shows that every employee has power over the organization. Employees misuse the reflexive nature of power, and managers are often enforced to fire them based on low performance. The performance appraisal report yields the need to shuffle staff and re-hire skilled individuals on the job who promise commitment to the productivity goal (Falcone, 2017).

Hence, power is possessed by everyone and towards everyone, which is practised as per the motives of the individual. In organizational settings, the resilient nature of power results in the quality-oriented HR management of employees which works for fair compensation for being at a certain position in the company and also adhere to their power by fulfilling their demands. The Foucault’s notion is sought after by managers but only shown in the best interest of an organization’s financial, competitive, and resourceful position. During or post-change process, managers do express their realization of employee power over the organization and tackle each employee’s concern regarding change holistically.

Conclusion

To conclude, Foucault’s notion of power is evident and resides within organizational practices. The resilient, reflexive nature of power is practised by employees in various settings of organizational settings. The change management process is a true reflection of employee power over another and organization which is expressed in the stage of change resistance. Change agents are hired to reduce employee fears and insecurities regarding change and make them ready for the upcoming change. The paper concludes that organizational structures are influential on power distribution in employees in terms of job privileges. But, there is no difference in employee power as a worker of organization in either of organizational structures. Henceforth, Foucault’s theory is precisely understood and practised by managers to retain and manage employee motivation and commitment to the work. Whether it is a change process or a daily productivity goal, managers keep an eye on the performance of employees and monitor the signs of power misuse by employees. The paper also concluded that power is evident in organizational structures and high or low power distance between hierarchies affect the change process. Foucault’s notion exists in organizations and influence on change management process, which is considered as an opportunity by employees to show their power.

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