Power, Politics and Organizational Change

Reviewed by: 
Dave Buchanan and Richard Badham
Sage Publications
Alistair Schofield, Managing Director, Extensor Limited

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Power, Politics and Organizational Change is a must for anyone interested in the politics of change. It is a seminal work on the subject that pulls together and summarises a plethora of information and summarises the work of many other writers and commentators in non-judgmental style.

Whereas many other books on the subject of politics of organisational change focus on external agents and consultants, Buchanan and Badham take an alternative approach by focusing on the internal change agent, or “change entrepreneur” as they prefer to call them, and combines an analytical and theoretical framework with empirical evidence and practical guidance.

The philosophy of the book reflects four basic beliefs:

  • The reality of politics. The first is that political behaviour plays a more significant role in organisational like than many either recognise or are happy to admit. We see self-interest, deceit, subterfuge and cunning, as well as the pursuit of moral ideals and high aspirations. Organisational behaviour cannot therefore be understood without a knowledge of the role of political behaviour.
  • The repression of politics. The second is that most management literature does not adequately acknowledge the shaping role of political behaviour in organisational change. Denying or overlooking it is a serious omission, as political behaviour unquestionably exists – understanding it is therefore important.
  • The two faces of politics. The third is that not all ‘tricks’ are ‘dirty tricks’, that political behaviour can act for the good as well as for the bad. The book provides several scenarios to explain this and to challenge the reader to sit in judgement upon whether different scenarios justify political manoeuvring.
  • Confronting the challenges. The fourth is that management development should help managers in general, and change agents in particular, to deal with the realities of organisational life. Denying politics exists is unrealistic, acceptance without engagement is naïve and recognition without advice is unhelpful.

I particularly like the practical no-nonsense approach the book takes to politics. The popular notion that ‘power corrupts’ is balanced against the observation that power also helps in the pursuit and achievement of valuable social and organisational objectives. If your objective is to achieve results, then it may be more ethical and professional to deal effectively with the political dimension than simply to observe the political realities from some remote moral high ground.

The book is not the easiest of reads as it is written in a highly academic style. But I believe it more than meets its objectives and provides a comprehensive overview for anyone interested in the subject.

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