Strategic Management: Formulation and Implementation

Politic Forces: The Struggle For Control

Political models of organizations describe an organisation: as a battleground for multiple stakeholders, who are each trying to shape the organization's activities in ways that will further their own interests.

The "official" direction of the organization is set by a "dominant coalition" in which power is temporarily concentrated (Thompson, 1967), but the alliance is a dynamic one, subject to perturbation and change. Power is not determined solely by formal position but by agreements struck among stakeholders as interests groups.

Alliance formation can create potential for change regardless of the organization's official strategy and stated direction. Moreover, the desire of a dominant coalition to maintain its power may cause change or resistance to change in ways that do not benefit the organization as whole. Therefore, in successful organizations, the size and shape of the dominant coalition can be a function of organizational imperatives and environmental contingencies, not just of a powerful chief executive's preferences (David Summers, 1983).

The political struggle is constant; issues can arise and disappear, challenges to power can succeed, and new groups can achieve prominence. Macroevolutionary forces contribute to political dynamics. For example, the politics of coalition formation are more salient when the underlying premises of the organization are unstable (e.g., a rapidly changing environment, uncertain markets, or the rewriting of rules of the game).

Similarly, life cycle forces create shifting political dynamics. As an organization grows, needs and goals change, and so do the groups wielding power. Shifts in membership in organizational power elites can also reflect the impact of government action changing laws and regulation (Fligstein, 1990)

Political dynamics are forces for change, but they also produce inertia, especially for older organizations. For example, political factors can explain why some organizations seem to survive without high performance, becoming in effect "permanently failing organizations" (Meyer and Zucker, 1989). Therefore, politics was considered a disruptive force, interfering with the organization's ability to pursue its objectives.

But recently, examination of organizations that have successfully adapted to new conditions has given credit to one kind of politics: constructive conflict. Conflict, if it produces new ideas and new possibilities, can be a force for positive change (Kanter, 1983; Pascale, 1990).

Overall, political struggles seem most destructive when only personal ambitions or narrow interests are involved, when the battle is over the reins of power or the size one's slice of the pie, and there is no productive purpose new initiative, positive innovation to be served.