This exercise contributes to:
Learning Objective: Identify the causes and consequences of abuse of power; Explain how power works in
Learning Outcome: Explain the effects of power and political behavior on organizations
AACSB: Reflective thinking
Few situations generate as much frustration as having a supervisor steal your idea. Just
ask Sophia Kim. She was an engineer working for a company that designs wearable
insulin pumps for diabetics when she developed a very inexpensive and effective way to
improve the design of one of the most significant components of the device. She was
excited by her idea and couldn’t wait to head up the development team. At least, she was
excited until her boss told her she would play no part in rolling out the new product.
Instead, her boss took the idea to the top executives alone.
The loss of control over intellectual property you have created is a common fear. In many
workplaces, it is standard operating procedure to require employees to sign over their
ideas to the organization. It is also common for supervisors to use their power to claim
employee ideas for themselves. Due to resource dependence issues, it can be very
difficult for employees to speak out and get their due.
What are the consequences of this kind of abuse of power? Some recent experimental
evidence suggests fear of having ideas stolen decreases creativity. Orly Lobel and his
colleague On Amir developed a virtual workplace and then put participants in one of two
conditions. One group was told the members would be paid for the work they did but
then would have to sign over their ideas to their virtual employers. The second group was
not required to sign over their ideas. The study found those who lost ownership of their
ideas reduced their concentration and effort on the task and made far more errors.
The question then arises—when supervisors appropriate employees’ ideas, do they not
consider the long-run effects of their political plays?
Sources: Based on O. Lobel “My Ideas, My Boss’s Property” New York Times, April 13, 2014,
http://www.nytimes.com/2014/04/14/opinion/my-ideas-my-bosss-property.html?_r=0; and J. Smith, “9 Things You Can Do When the
Boss Takes Credit for Your Work,” Forbes, April 30, 2013,
13-14. What types of power and influence are organizations using when they require
employees to sign over their creative rights to the company? Why are these tactics
Answer: Organizations requiring employees to sign over their creative rights to
the company are using formal power – specifically coercive power and legitimate
13-15. Do the results of the Lobel and Amir study fit with the ways the chapter describes
employee reactions to organizational politics? Why or why not?