In my last post, “Which is More Detrimental: Power or Powerlessness?“, I redefined the term “power” to challenge common misconceptions and introduced the seven levers necessary to effectively wield power. This week, I will take an in-depth look at one power lever that is often dismissed out of sheer misunderstanding: system power.
We have all heard the saying, “You can’t fight the system.” But the truth is: systems are powerful and useful. You can exhaust yourself by continually struggling against it or you can learn to effectively leverage system power by understanding system nuances.
A system can be defined as “a group of interacting, interrelated, or interdependent elements forming a complex whole.” Translated this means that systems include the organization’s structure, policies, rules, standard practices, established processes, and plans. While they may be documented and fairly consistent, you can still use them to influence action, impact decision-making, and align activities.
The research conducted by Enterprise Management indicates that the system power lever is the most widely used type of power in both business and government.
Constructive use of the system power lever includes:
- Connecting new initiatives to current priorities, strategies, or goals
- Linking new requests for authorization to similar approvals
- Finding a key “champion” who will help win acceptance for new ideas or initiatives
- Providing new interpretations and applications to rules or conventions
- Proposal introduction at multiple entry pathways
While I recognize that flaws exist in every system, implementing these constructive tips will help you make the most of the systems currently in place within your organization. Be cautioned though, there is a negative use of systems power that surfaces as bureaucracy, change avoidance, and excessive red tape. Innovation and creativity do not have to fall victim to static systems. There are creative ways to initiate change while still “playing by the rules.” The art lies in understanding the systems within your organization and using them to achieve your goals.