Sales assistants

One of the five types of power bases described by French and Raven is coercive power, “the capability of causing harm to others, whether physically, emotionally, financially, or otherwise.”5 It is the power to apply or withhold punishment, and is often used in conjunction with attempts to generate fear in order to gain others’ compliance. In Warehouse, there are targets set every week of the number of account cards that need to be opened. Each member of staff is encouraged to open at least two accounts every shift.

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Previously, the supervisors would mention a few words to the sales assistants, advising them on effective methods of opening accounts and warning them that disciplinary action may be needed if failure to meet targets persisted. Unfortunately, the staff did not meet the targets, with certain members of staff not opening any accounts at all. This led to several assistants receiving a disciplinary meeting where they were asked to explain why they had not opened any accounts and what the y would do in future to improve their performance. After several weeks however, it was interesting to note that the management recognized that certain staff were more capable in this area, and therefore arranged the rota so that the staff who had a poor track record with opening accounts were given alternative tasks. So, although the ‘punishment’ inflicted by the management

was not as harsh as could have been, it resulted in sales staff being positioned in areas in which they were more able. It can therefore be said that a drawback of coercive power is that it “leaves the individual losing referent power, while an application of expert power may mean the individual gains referent power.”Referent power is the type of power that a person gains if others show admiration for or a desire to be like that person. Referent power is therefore a power that is “given” to a person by those who relate in some way either directly or indirectly. It is interesting to note that referent power does not have to relate to a formal position within an organization.

For instance, in Warehouse, there are several sales assistants who have obtained referent power due to their outgoing personality, their ability to complete their tasks with efficiency, at the same time as maintaining friendly and casual relationships with the senior staff. Managers who possess referent power over their employees may not realize that they possess this form of power. If a manager is approachable and understanding it will naturally be easier for the employee to speak to that manager. Therefore, anyone in an organization can gain referent power by their actions, behaviour, or appearance, although a person’s reputation and status have much to do with the amount of referent power they have.

Reward power “exists when one person controls the rewards that someone else desires or needs.” It is associated with the belief that benefits will follow from complying with management’s orders. A situation where this type of power was exercised in Warehouse, was when an employee needed to take a day off work to attend a lecture given by a professor who had come in especially from New York. Because of staff shortages, the manager was reluctant to give the employee the day off. However, after some consideration, the manger decided to grant the day off if the employee opened over five accounts on their next shift. This clearly motivated the employee to open more accounts. At the end of the shift, the employee had reached their target and was therefore given the day off, a clear example of referent power being utilised to reach targets and/or goals of the organization.

“Expert power derives from group members’ assumption that the power holder possesses superior skills and abilities.”7 Expert power is power based on knowledge, especially specialized knowledge not easily available to a wide range of people. It can be said that the managers and supervisors at Warehouse possess expert power because of the skills they possess in leadership, delegation, and customer service. However, these are not skills that cannot be learned by the employees. Within contemporary organizations, expert power is not confined to the top of the hierarchy which consequently has the effect of providing certain employees at lower levels of the organization with the means to balance the greater power of those at the higher levels of the organization. From this, we can see that the dispersal of expertise throughout the organization is a great leveller.

The final type of power described by French and Raven is legitimate power. This power is conferred on a person by the organization. Legitimate power or authority gives “one person or persons (e.g. supervisors) a designated ‘right’ to require compliance by someone else.”8 In other words, it is the ability of the leader to inflict influence based on the belief of his or her followers that they do indeed have the power or authority to issue orders which they, as followers, have an obligation to accept. The management of Warehouse have been elected to represent a group of staff, which has given them power over these staff, and therefore influence over the group’s decision making process.

It is this type of power which, in my opinion, is most relevant to the management of Warehouse. The manager of the store, along with all supervisors, were appointed by heads of the company and given responsibility to ensure, amongst other things, that the Argyll St. branch of the franchise reached its financial targets, achieved excellent customer service levels, and to guarantee the continued success of the store.

Each member of management has their different role. For example, one supervisor is the head of accounts and is responsible for teaching new members of staff about the account card, ensuring weekly account targets are met, and for setting small incentives for employees to encourage them to open more store cards. Another supervisor is responsible for producing the weekly rota, making sure that there are enough staff for every shift and that the branch does not exceed its payroll budget. The manager of the store is responsible liaising with head office, the area manager, and other heads of the company as well as dealing with daily running of the store.

So, while the manager has power over the supervisors of the store as well as the floor staff, the supervisors only have power over the floor staff. From this we can see that legitimate power is positional because managers at different levels of the hierarchy have varying forms of power over their employees. Furthermore, legitimate power is only delegated to people who have the expertise and knowledge to manage and control groups of people. It is imperative to note however that legitimate power has its limitations. Whilst the manager of the Argyll St. branch has considerable power at the branch, she cannot act outside the boundaries of her legitimate power and may have little influence over such things such as employing more staff, increasing the pay roll budget so that staff can work more hours, or increasing the number of items of uniform designated to sales assistants.

Like any business model, the French and Raven model for power bases has its shortcomings. Firstly, it is very likely that there will exist in the organization, staff that have worked there for a considerable period of time and will therefore have much knowledge and experience with the company. These staff will occasionally be given charge of the shop floor and, for that time, will undertake the responsibilities and duties of the management team. This is a good example of how it is not only the mangers who exercise and are given power.

Another shortcoming of the French and Raven model is that it was established in 1959, a time where managers would not necessarily take into consideration the individual expertise and skills of their employees. Instead, employees would be delegated tasks according to their manager’s choice. Today, managers allocate tasks to their employees according to what they are best at doing. For example, in Warehouse, sales staff that are more successful at opening store accounts are positioned at the cash desk, whereas staff more efficient at working in the stockroom would be positioned there.

In order to implement French and Raven’s model in a method that would be more beneficial, I feel that more emphasis should be placed on expert power and this should be carried down to the floor staff. For instance, in order for the store to reach, and exceed, its targets, sales assistants should be given tasks or placed in departments in which they excel.