Why prestige still matters to power

Wednesday, July 20, 2016 - 12:03

By AIM Education & Training

One of the key goals of a manager is to reduce conflict and facilitate collaboration and communication. Effective management training can help develop approaches to conflict that mitigate the impacts on organisational health and employee engagement. 

New research has found conflict can be caused by managers who place workers with significant power in roles low in the organisational hierarchy.

High-power/low-status individuals

Many people believe the higher you are in the hierarchy, the more power you have. And while this is generally true, there is a large segment of low-ranked jobs that have the power to manipulate key processes.

Research from Columbia University, Stanford and University of Southern California investigated the salient, but under-researched distinction between status and power. They defined status as respect and admiration for peers, while power referred to the ability to control resources and influence outcomes. 

The researchers warn that high-power/low-status individuals can be treated in a rude or demeaning way. Stanford Graduate School of Business Professor Nir Halevy said that people with low status tend to receive little in the way of respect and can thus bottle up negative feelings about themselves, their peers and the organisation they work for.

"People with a lot of control over resources but little of the respect that comes with high status may be prone to act based on the negative feelings that they have," says Halevy. "And they can have a negative impact because they control resources, so power without status is toxic."

Bringing accountability back

One way to avoid conflict is to ensure responsibility models are in place at your organisation. In most of these models, accountability tends to fall on the shoulders of one person.

However, like all loaded terms, accountability can mean a range of different things to different people. To avoid this, it's essential to be clear about what form of accountability the worker is taking on.

When a team is involved, accountability can be muddled among the group if it's not setup correctly from the beginning. Luckily, most project management methodologies include strict guidelines for locating accountability. Whether it is an agile format or an older waterfall approach, with the right training you can ensure that conflict is kept to a minimum and accountability is fully understood.

AIM's Leading, Managing & Developing People unit is a core unit of the Graduate Certificate, Graduate Diploma and MBA. As much about self-reflection as it is about learning strategies to manage others more efficiently, this unit will boost your awareness and help you think objectively about your capabilities as a leader. Leaders and managers achieve organisational objectives through the people they lead, so if you can be better at engaging, motivating, and developing people, you’ll stand to increase your own productivity and that of the organisation as a whole.