5.4 Stakeholder legitimacy and conflict
One way that stakeholders attempt to exert and maintain influence is by seeking to legitimise their interests and demands while de-legitimising those of others. Another strategy involves a stakeholder group (e.g. senior management, designers) using its power to structure an organisation in such a way that it then favours its interests over that of other groups (e.g. workers, users). At that point, power becomes institutionalised and virtually invisible.
To ensure that goals are met requires adequate forms of formal control and it is through control mechanisms that authority – that is, legitimised power – is exercised. Emphasis is placed on designing and implementing formal, hierarchical methods and techniques and mechanisms for controlling the planning and implementation of systems. Organisational activities must be regulated so that actual performance conforms to expected organisational standards and goals.
In addition to formal, structural, control mechanisms such as rules, regulations and technology, informal systems such as peer pressure, tradition, convention, etc. are also at work. However, formal and informal systems of control are often in conflict leading to the emergence of an ‘implementation gap’ – a difference between the planned and actual outcome of a project, e.g. technologies being designed to do one thing but when implemented being used for another (or functions being ignored).
In mainstream views, mechanisms of domination such as leadership, culture and structure are usually treated as neutral, inevitable, or objective, and hence unproblematic.
The separation of formulation from implementation, downplaying the importance of the relationship between formal and informal systems of control and assumptions about the compatibility of organisational and individual/group goals is likely to encourage ignorance of the possibility of ‘goal incongruence’ (or mismatch of stakeholder objectives), and therefore of the possibility of conflict between stakeholders. This situation is further aggravated because conventional approaches to management encourage the belief that those involved in managing the implementation process act as rational and neutral actors when carrying out their responsibilities and actions. Consequently, power and interests remain invisible until the point at which conflict occurs when power and politics become a necessary resource of management to defeat conflict.