Understanding the Role of Power in Decision Making
By: Jeffrey Pfeffer
Summarized By: Brian Kelly
In this article, Pfeffer presents four models of organizational decision making. Before he does so he attempts to clarify the definitions the following concepts:
- Power means a lot of different things to different people and is ancient and ubiquitous.
- Power is characterized by the relationships among social actors, in other words. Power is relative.
- The exercise of power requires costs and energy to perform.
- When accessing power we must be able to estimate
♣ A- What would happen in the absence of the exercise of power
♣ B- The intentions of the actor exercising this power
♣ C- The effects of the actions taken are likely to occur.
- Authority is legitimated power.
- The exercise of authority is expected and desired, and failure to exercise authority may result in punishment.
- Exercise of authority may actually enhance the amount of authority someone possesses
- “Organizational politics involves those activities taken within organizations to acquire, develop, and use power and other resources to obtain ones’s preferred outcomes in a situation in which there is uncertainly or dissensus about choices.”
- Political activity is activity which is undertaken to overcome some resistance or opposition.
Pfeffer then examines the role power places in Organization Theory Literature.
- Power is not often referenced in textbooks and when it is, it is a very short definition. These definitions emphasize the presents of individual bases of power or the need for power. Power is left out of management and organization literature because it is incompatible with discussions on ideology and values.
- Pfeffer then discusses the functions served by management writing. Management writing focuses on rationality, and efficiency. Discussions on power and politics do not fit well with discussions on rationality and efficiency. Politics and power will actually work against discussions on rationality and efficiency and so therefore it is left out of literature.
Next, Pfeffer discusses four decision making models. He first discuses Rational and Bureaucratic models which are both popular in literature and then discusses Decision Process and Political Power Models.
Rational Choice Models
- This model is not only one of the most popular models but is often cited as the actual process used by decision makers.
- The model follows a four step process which reflects the axiom that “behavior reflects purpose or intention. In other words behavior in an organization is not accidental and random but is instead reflective of pre-existing guides.
- Here is the four step process:
• Goals and Objectives: The model presumes that an organization has goals and objectives unique to the organization. These goals must be consistent with one another
• Rational Choice: The model than requires that there be a set of alternative choices from which to choice. This list usually limited and will end when the correct choice is found.
• Assessment of the Outcomes: An assessment of the outcomes is required for each choice.
• Final decision is made.
Bureaucratic Model of Decision Making
- This model substitutes procedural rationality (rational choice model) for substantive rationality; rather than having choices made to maximize values, choices are made according to rules and processes which have been adaptive and effective in the past.
- Uncertainty tends to be avoided in...
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