Dynamics of Power, Obedience, and Resistance in a Classroom Restructure

[We’re pleased to welcome author Todd Bridgman of Victoria University of Wellington. Dr. Bridgman recently published an article in the Management Teaching Review entitled “Overcoming Compliance to Change: Dynamics of Power, Obedience, and Resistance in a Classroom Restructure,” which is currently free to read for a limited time. Below, Dr. Bridgman discusses the genesis of this research.]

The idea for this paper came from my experiences teaching change management to undergraduates as well as graduates. In my change management classes we examine topics like ‘resistance to change’ from both mainstream and critical perspectives. Within the mainstream, resistance by employees is often portrayed as an inevitable and undesirable response to planned change that managers must attempt to overcome. Critical perspectives, in contrast, are more likely to see resistance as positive, by prompting deeper analysis of a change, or by preventing an ill-advised or unethical one. It is recognised, however, that it might be difficult for employees to voice their concerns about change, especially if implemented from the top down, because of the power relationships involved. Therefore, we should encourage students to think about how to overcome compliance to change and not just how to overcome resistance to change.

Over time I found my MBA students could relate easily to both perspectives. Most are mid-career and have experienced multiple organizational restructures. Often they viewed these structural reorganizations as change for change’s sake by new managers seeking to make their mark on the organization and demonstrate their capabilities as leaders of change. In contrast, the undergraduates, with their limited work experience, were much more likely to accept without question the mainstream assumption that change is good and resistance is bad. After all, they have spent most of their lives in educational institutions where obedience to authority figures is encouraged, rewarded and valued.

To address this, I created a classroom activity that simulates an organizational restructure, requiring students to reorganize themselves around the room multiple times on the order of the instructor. I ask them to change their seating position in the room and once they have complied I ask them to change again. And I keeping moving them until they refuse.

The paper gives instructions for running the activity and a list of questions that can be used to debrief the exercise with students, together with their likely responses. The debrief gets them to reflect on their compliance and resistance, group dynamics that influenced their behavior and the ethical issues raised. It concludes with a discussion on how organisations can foster cultures that encourage employees to speak up.

I’ve used this activity successfully for more than 10 years and have received positive feedback on it from students. So I decided to write the paper to share my experience with other management educators.

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The Emergence of “Solidarity Recycling” in Brazil

[We’re pleased to welcome authors Silvio Eduardo Alvarez Candido, Fernanda Veríssimo Soulé, and Mário Sacomano Neto of the Federal University of Sao Carlos. They recently published an article in Organization & Environment entitled “The Emergence of “Solidarity Recycling” in Brazil: Structural Convergences and Strategic Actions in Interconnected Fields,” which is currently free to read for a limited time. Below, Dr. Candido reflects on the inspiration for conducting this research:]


The paper is part of my PhD thesis, presented at the Federal University of Sao Carlos (UFSCar) in 2016. I invited Fernanda Soule and Mário Sacomano, close colleagues who intensively participated in the elaboration of the argument, to co-author this specific result. The idea to study recycling is associated with my long standing interest in environmental and social issues. The perception that in Brazil environmentalism was very commonly tied to issues of social justice always impressed me and I decided to study one of the cases in which these two categories were also very entangled with economic practices, what lead me to recycling. I was lucky enough to be part of a Research Center very specialized in Bourdieu’s sociology, the Center of Economic and Financial Sociology of UFSCar, coordinated by Professors Roberto Grün, who actually studied with the French sociologist, and Julio Donadone, also a great specialist in his work. I was also lucky to read the book “A theory of fields”, from Neil Fligstein and Doug McAdam, right after its release in 2012, while beginning the research, and discussing it in a group led by Professor Mauro Rocha Côrtes. The considerations of the authors about the little attention given by scholars to the issue of the interconnection of fields encouraged me to carry the “though experiment” of building my research object as an ensemble of fields. With the progress of the research, I also noticed that neither their approach or Bourdieu’s alone could account my case completely, what directed me to cross-fertilize the perspectives.

These choices implicated in great theoretical challenges, since the topic of the interconnection of fields is considered to be a very complicated one by the authors, implicating in extensive data collection about several different spheres of practice. The presentations and discussions of preliminary research results in meetings of the Society for Advancements of Socio Economics, in colloquiums of the European Group of Organization Studies, and in a period of six months I spent in the University of Alberta, under the supervision of Professor Michael Lounsbury, were certainly decisive so that these challenges could be overcome. I believe that in the paper we demonstrated that the concept of field may be used as a very flexible research tool, capable of capturing at the same time the more structural and situational dynamics of social life. The case of the rise of solidarity recycling in Brazil was actually very rich and great to demonstrate this. It was clear that this emergence process was conditioned by the broad social structures of Brazil. It was also very surprising to discover how the genesis of these very heterodox practices was attached to progressive branches of the Catholic Church, its spread depended on the collaboration of UNICEF and of critical academics and how its consecration is associated to the support of both left wing governments and beverage industry. I hope this put forward novel ways to understand the cultural-political dynamics underlying social change and, specifically, transitions to sustainability.

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Leadership and Employee Work Passion: Propositions for Future Empirical Investigations

[We’re pleased to welcome author Dr. Richard Egan of the University of Canberra, Mark Turner and Deborah Blackman of the University of New South Wales. They recently published an article in the Human Resource Development Review, entitled “Leadership and Employee Work Passion: Propositions for Future Empirical Investigations,” which is currently free to read for a limited time. Below, Dr. Egan reflects on the inspiration for conducting this research:]

HRDR_72ppiRGB_powerpointIn what ways is your research innovative, and how do you think it will impact the field?

By measuring employee perceptions of their interpersonal experience with organizational leaders as well as employee affect and levels of intent, this study contributes to bridging the gap between the long-standing research base relating to organizational leadership and the emergent theory of employee work passion. Indeed, scholars such as Albrecht (2010) and Meyer, Gagné, and Parfyonova (2010) have called for research to integrate theories and evidence from adjacent fields. Such integration will allow Human Resource Development scholars and organizational practitioners to develop a deeper understanding of related psychological constructs that contribute to the development of work passion.

In terms of practical implications, by exploring theoretical links between leadership behavior, employee affect and work intentions, we develop and provide a relevant theoretical framework for future discussion, analysis and refinement. With a clearer understanding of how leadership impacts on employee affect and employee work intentions, HRD practitioners can measure the antecedents to and consequences of work passion accurately. Subsequently, appropriate behavioral interventions, such as training and coaching programs that aim to increase leader awareness and skills needed to build workplace environments where employees can choose to be passionate about their work, can be developed.

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Deconstructing Privilege and Equalizing Access to Employee Engagement

1118629691_d977a99f65_z[We’re pleased to welcome Brad Shuck of University of Louisville. Brad recently published an article in Human Resource Development Review with co-authors Joshua C. Collins, Tonette S. Rocco, and Raquel Diaz, entitled Deconstructing the Privilege and Power of Employee Engagement: Issues of Inequality for Management and Human Resource Development.” From Brad:]

We were inspired to write this article due to some experiences that each author had encountered in their own personal lives. In some situations, we found ourselves thinking about what work must be like for people we met in our daily lives, how they might be treated as an employee, and how their co-workers and leaders were experienced. I personally had a profound experience while traveling aboard, watching a man dig hundreds of small square holes in the blazing sun, with no break or water in long sleeves. Despite the conditions outside and what seemed to be the grueling nature of his work, he was smiling and seemed to be enjoying his duties. He moved from hole to hole with energy and presence, paying close attention to the details of the earth he was moving.

I wondered if it were possible for this man to be engaged when the conditions of his work seemed so tough. After some reflection, I realized that I needed to check my own privilege, realizing that I had a lot to learn about deconstructing issues related to privilege – and inherently power – when it came to exploring the idea of employee engagement. It was of course entirely possible for the man I met to be engaged – and for any person to be fully engaged in any work – and that so much of what I was assuming about his work – and again, the work of others – was wrapped in the ways individuals encountered experiences of privilege in their own work settings. It became important for us to explore these issues, as we suspected that both privilege and power potentially influenced experiences of engagement, although we knew very little about how and why this might happen.

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We were initially struck by the fact that almost universally, every organization wants higher levels of engagement, and despite decades worth of research and practice, the numbers on engagement have changed very little. Some have suggested that this is due in large part of the failure to win the hearts and minds of employees. We offer, however, that perhaps it is not a massive failure at all; rather for the many who go to work every day, organizational struggle is the norm due to encounters of privilege at play inside organizations. When employee engagement is a privilege only a select few employee’s experience, we agreed with scholars such as David Guest – who suggested that employee engagement is nothing more than a manufactured, normative, and exploitative overextension of work (our words, not his).

On the other hand, when organizations develop deeply inclusive cultures that foster engagement – when they support the conditions for engagement to flourish and all employees enjoy a positive psychological state of work—this leads to higher levels of performance, greater productivity, and experiences of higher levels of well-being. Because we define employee engagement as a psychological state dependent on an employees’ encounters with that organizational culture, the outcomes of employee engagement (i.e., higher performance) can be defined as a privilege for the organization. When an organization nurtures those conditions of engagement, employees are more likely to engage at higher levels and consequently perform better. Undoubtedly, higher levels of performance becomes an earned organizational asset that helps an organization advance and benefit over and at the expense of their competitors. The willingness to nurture the conditions for engagement develops as an authentic experience for the employee. From this perspective, employee engagement is not exploitative or overextending at all. It is transformational and positive, and it is a shared experience.

There is still so much to unpack and work through with this topic, and we hope that our work can inspire future research that might take up this perspective empirically, to test our propositions and better refine this still emerging theory. We also hope that those who read our ideas on this topic will think about their own engagement and how, if at all, their experiences with their own work have been influenced by encounters with privileged organizational structures and individuals, as well as what role they choose to play in that process and experience.

The abstract for the article:

The purpose of our work was to explore the job demands–resources model of engagement through the critical lens(es) of privilege and power. This deconstruction of the privilege and power of employee engagement was focused toward exploring four principal questions: Who (a) controls the context of work? (b) determines the experience of engagement? (c) defines the value of engagement? and (d) benefits from high levels of engagement? We conclude that organizations and employees both benefit from the outcomes associated with the heightened experience of employee engagement. We maintain, however, that the organization is uniquely positioned to influence systems of power and privilege that ultimately enable the conditions for engagement to flourish. Organizations desiring high levels of engagement have an obligation to confront manifestations of privilege such as unequal states of power, access, status, credibility, and normality.

You can read Deconstructing the Privilege and Power of Employee Engagement: Issues of Inequality for Management and Human Resource Development from Human Resource Development Review free for the next two weeks by clicking here. Want to stay current on all of the latest research from Human Resource Development ReviewClick here to sign up for e-alerts!

Why Are Some Leaders Selfish?

Abraham Lincoln once said that if you wanted to test a man’s character, give him power. While one would hope that a personThe Strategy Of Chess would use their power to benefit people as a whole, it can become a solely self-serving practice. But just why would a leader act selfishly? That’s the question that Melissa J. Williams researched in her article, “Serving the Self From the Seat of Power: Goals and Threats Predict Leaders’ Self-Interested Behavior” from Journal of Management.

The abstract:

Why do some leaders use their position to amass personal prestige and resources, and others to benefit the team, the organization, or society? This article synthesizes new, cross-disciplinary research showing that jom coverself-serving leader behavior is predictable based on the function and nature of power—an essential component of leadership. First, because power increases goal-oriented behavior, it amplifies the tendency of self-focused goals to yield self-interested behavior. Self-focused goals may arise from a variety of sources; evidence is reviewed for the role of traits (e.g., low agreeableness), values (e.g., self-enhancement), self-construal (e.g., independence), and motivation (e.g., personalized power motivation). Second, because power is generally desirable, leaders whose power is threatened (e.g., self-doubts, positional instability) will turn their focus to maintaining that power—even at others’ expense. These ideas have important implications for research and for organizational efforts to develop leaders who will improve others’ outcomes rather than merely benefit themselves.

Miners’ Tales: Storytelling in Times of Change

GOM_72ppiRGB_150pixwPatrick Dawson of the University of Aberdeen and Peter McLean of the University of Wollongong published “Miners’ Tales: Stories and the Storying Process for Understanding the Collective Sensemaking of Employees During Contested Change” this month in Group Organization Management’s OnlineFirst section. Professor Dawson kindly provided the following brief reflection on the study:

Interest: This work builds on a longstanding interest in traditional working communities and change aligning well with previous studies in the automotive industry and on the railways.

UntitledFindings: The findings that were especially interesting related to the temporal aspects of sensemaking and sensegiving and how these contrasted with post-hoc rationalisations and documented accounts of change processes. It also draws attention to some of the limitations of existing story typologies (the narrative turn) where lot of emphasis is put on coherence and the backward glance. This suggests the need for more of a storying turn that embraces relational concepts of time (prospective, retrospective and the here-and-now).

Future research and practice: The research draws attention to the causality embedded in research narratives and case study accounts, particularly in the way that these may inadvertently reinforce the tendency to develop n-step models that promote best practice guidelines for managing change. This highlights the need for further research on temporality and change in order to consider alternative ways of presenting research material (for example, how to deal with both objective event sequences and lived subjective experiences) and for dealing with concepts of time in conducting longitudinal research in organizations.

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Power and Risk: Lessons From the Jungle

Jennifer Jordan, University of Groningen

Editor’s Note: We’re pleased to welcome guest contributor Jennifer Jordan, Assistant Professor in the Faculty of Economics & Business at University of Groningen, The Netherlands.

Dr. Jordan, together with Niro Sivanathan of London Business School and Adam D. Galinsky of Northwestern University, published “Something to Lose and Nothing to Gain: The Role of Stress in the Interactive Effect of Power and Stability on Risk Taking” in the December 2011 issue of Administrative Science Quarterly.

Dr. Jordan kindly provided the following commentary, setting the research against a backdrop of current global events.

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The New York Times (Tabuchi, April 26, 2012) recently highlighted a strange political choice made in Japan. The city of Yubari, Japan is desolate – virtually free from young people and full of shuttered businesses and schools. Based in the coal-mining industry, Yubari was once a bustling city but its population has fallen 90 percent since the 1960s. Any local tourism that the city once enjoyed was decimated by the 2011 tsunami. The troubles facing Yubari are endemic to many parts of Japan. For example, the population of Japan is expected to fall by one-third in less than 50 years. And its debt is two-times the size of its economy – making it the largest government debt burden in the world. Faced with such daunting challenges, you would think that the residents of Yubari would choose a seasoned professional to run the city – perhaps someone like the 46-year-old candidate Yukari Ijima – a former national parliamentarian. But no. In Yubari’s recent election, the residents chose 31-year-old, Naomichi Suzuki, who had absolutely no experience in the political arena. One might chalk this decision up to the chaos that accompanies political elections and fickle social preferences. However, based on research that my co-authors (Adam Galinsky of Northwestern University and Niro Sivanathan of London Business School) and I recently published in Administrative Science Quarterly, we suggest that this risky choice is a function of the declining power being experienced by the people of Yubari.

Both having and lacking power have pervasive effects on human behavior and thought. Research has demonstrated, for example, that in contrast to the powerless, the powerful are more likely to take action (Galinsky, Gruenfeld, & Magee, 2003), less likely to empathize with others (Galinsky, Magee, Inesi, & Gruenfeld, 2006), and more likely to be goal-directed in their behavior (Guinote, 2007). But power is often not an either-or state. From the political to the business realm, people rarely possess absolute power or powerlessness – rather, their power is in a state of flux. Yes, individuals can have absolute power (e.g., a dictator) or powerlessness (e.g., a member of India’s former untouchables caste). But individuals can also be in dynamic states of unstable power and powerlessness. This concept can be witnessed in the political elections currently taking place throughout the United States. Mitt Romney’s power as the front-runner for the Republican Party only became evident as the primaries progressed.

But how do these states of stable and unstable power and powerlessness affect behavior, especially risk-taking behavior? Are individuals who have everything to lose (i.e., the unstable powerful) more likely to take risks than those who have nothing to lose (i.e., the stable powerful)? And how about the powerless? Should we really beware of those who have nothing to gain (i.e., the stable powerless)? The answers to these questions have a critical impact on world politics and business.

Our research shows that it is those who are in positions of unstable power and stable powerless who are most likely to take risks. Across three studies we demonstrated that the powerful unstable and the powerless stable are more likely than their stable and unstable counterparts to show risky preferences for their organization’s future, make riskier plays in a blackjack game, and act with greater risk when their money is at stake. But why?

The answer about the mechanism behind this relationship can be found in the jungle. Research by Stanford anthropologist, Robert Sapolsky, tells us that within non-human primate hierarchies, it is the powerful (i.e., the alpha males) who show less risky behavior than the powerless – like initiating aggression against other group members. But this is only when the group’s power hierarchy is stable. When the hierarchy is in flux, then it is the powerful primates who display the more risky behavior than their less powerful counterparts. Sapolsky and his colleagues explain these behaviors in terms of stress. When a hierarchy is stable, it is those in low-power positions that must constantly vie for adequate amounts of food and access to mates. However, when the hierarchy is unstable, it is the powerful who experience the most stress because they must defend their current positions of supremacy. This is key because it is stress that often leads to more risky behavior. Our research has found that humans act very similarly to their non-human predecessors – individuals in our experiments who were assigned to powerful unstable and powerless stable roles in the laboratory showed faster heart rates (i.e., a physiological sign of arousal) than did those who were assigned to powerful stable and powerless unstable roles. We also found that the mere manipulation of stress also lead to greater risk taking. If these effects manifested themselves within fifteen minutes of time in a laboratory, one can only imagine the implications of these roles in real world contexts where there are constant reminders of one’s power level and the stability of that power.

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Read Something to Lose and Nothing to Gain: The Role of Stress in the Interactive Effect of Power and Stability on Risk Taking in the December 2011 issue of Administrative Science Quarterly (ASQ). To learn more about the journal, please follow this link.

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