Positional Power

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Power, broadly defined as the ability to get things done, rests on three fundamental pillars: personal, relational, and positional power. Building all three sources of power is critical to achieving your objectives. This technical note focuses on positional power, which we define as the control over resources. Resources, in turn, are anything that you control within the organization that satisfy peoples' needs, including formal elements such as technical knowledge, information, and career-advancement, as well as informal elements such as the ability to enhance others' social standing, sense of self-worth, and meaning at work. As will be explored in depth in this note, your control over resources critically determines your positional power. This note provides a guide for developing positional power in three parts: (1) Diagnose Structural Power. Organizations are collections of formal structures (e.g., business units) and informal relations (e.g., coalitions) that affect positional power. By understanding the power derived from formal and informal sources within the organization, you can best chart a path for developing your own positional power. Building positional power therefore starts with an overarching analysis at this organizational level. (2) Identify Needs and Dependencies. Beyond the organizational level of analysis, people within organizations have different needs and dependencies (i.e., constraints towards achieving their goals). By understanding what people need, as well as what gets in the way of obtaining their goals, you can position yourself to help others and the organization achieve their objectives, and consequently enhance your own positional power. (3) Develop and Control a Resource. While your formal position in the hierarchy endows you with certain resources (e.g, budget, headcount, etc.), your knowledge of the structural power in the organization coupled with your understanding of others' needs and dependencies can help you creatively build a new resource to help satisfy others' their needs. This means going beyond what is asked of you; being strategic and creative in delivering value to the organization in ways that you have not directly been tasked. Herein lies the key to positional power and an insight that many people overlook in organizations. Together this technical note provides a framework for analyzing where the positional power lies in an organization, what people need to achieve their objectives, and how you can go about creating resources to accomplish your and the organization's goals.
Bibliographic citation: BRION, S., SALCEDO, K. (2022). Positional Power. Diagnosing and Developing Positional Power. IESE, DPON-357-E.
Date: 01/04/2022
Author(s): Sebastien Brion; Katrina Salcedo
Document type: Technical Note
Department: Managing People in Organizations
Languages: English