Power Styles And Their Effects:
The Case Study Of Disney

The documentary ‘Waking the Sleeping Beauty’ has provided insight into the internal operations of the multimedia conglomerate Disney and a number of key figures that have contributed to the Disney Renaissance. However, regardless of the overall company’s success, the managerial actions had both positive and negative short-term effects on the creative employees. Therefore, this essay will examine the management-worker relations in Disney applying five notions of power and analyse the impact of those power expression. Notably, it will examine power styles of Jeffrey Katzenberg, Peter Schneider, Howard Ashman and the subsequent workers’ behaviour and resistance styles. Finally, it will articulate how the power styles of these individuals have worked together to revive Disney’s animation department.

To begin, power is the ability to manipulate others into doing what they otherwise would not do (Turner & Schabram, 2012). However, in large organisations, such as Disney, due to a large number of employees it is hard for senior executives to form and preserve interpersonal relationships. Thus, these organisations become more complex and less flexible (Jayasingam, Ansari & Jantan, 2009). Therefore, they become more bureaucratic with power sources concentrated within rules and standards and strongly relying on punishment to govern its employees (Jayasingam et al., 2009). As a result, this documentary frequently showcases the uses of legitimate and coercive powers by managers to achieve valence among their employees (Turner & Schabram, 2012). For example, soon after being appointed the studio’s chairman, Jeffrey Katzenberg has instituted a number of changes that the animation department had to adhere to, or otherwise they would have to leave the company. Notably, a director Joe Hail was fired, as he was not attuned to Jeffrey’s vision (Hahn, 2009). Consequently, in the documentary Katzenberg was described as “causing the World War III”, using coercive power to create threats, which pressed his subordinates into compliance (Hahn, 2009).

Furthermore, it was found that project managers, such as Jeffrey Katzenberg, are likely to perceive their powers for granted as being embedded in the job position they occupy (Hodgetts, 1968). This power style is known as ‘legitimate power’, which is the predominant power expression that Katzenberg has employed (Kotter, 1985; Hahn, 2009). For example, Jeffrey exercised his legitimate power when he wanted to make space for the live-action filmmaking. Thus, he sent a memo to the animation department that they were relocating to a different building (Hahn, 2009). Afterwards Katzenberg also used his legitimate power to personally edit ‘The Black Cauldron”, call animation meeting at six o’clock in the morning and pull off all advertising of ‘The Rescuers Down Under’, when it did not prove to be financially viable (Hahn, 2009).

Hodgett’s (1968) thus explains that legitimate power style enables executives to handle and structure the uncertainty of the business environment. Arguably, in this instance Jeffrey was often trying to handle with the ‘nobody knows’ principle, inherent in the creative industries, to follow his objective of making Disney animation department financially successful again (Hahn, 2009). However, these “strong” power strategies have left the animators feeling scared and frustrated, as they described Jeffrey as a “maniac at the wheel” (Raven, 1993, p. 242; Hahn, 2009). Thus, Lunenburg (2012) explains that if a manager constantly relies on one’s legitimate power that is not coincided with expert power, it may have adverse effects such as reduced productivity and increased resistance. In this case, Katzenberg did not wield any expert power, as the creatives explicitly told him: “you have no idea what you are doing” (Hahn, 2009). As a result, Jeffrey’s power styles and objectives have led to a number of resistive behaviours, as power and resistance are expressions of more fundamental conflicts (Fleming & Spicer, 2008). The creative industries are inherently characterised with a basic struggle between the creative and the commercial aspirations, which was evident between Katzenberg and his employees. For instance, Jeffrey frequently motivated his employees by appealing to his selfinterest. Throughout the documentary, he has been expressing strive for financial success and eagerness to get the credit, rather than adhering to the creative visions of his subordinates (Hackman & Johnson, 2009; Hahn, 2009). For example, Jeffrey was pictured saying the he was not interested in the Academy Awards but in ‘Bank of America’ awards (Hahn, 2009). Naturally, the creative workers have found this deeply demotivating due to authenticity being a major concern for them (Hahn, 2009; Abfalter, 2013).

Consequently, the creative workers have been expressing their dissent through the use of humour as a resistive tool. For example, the documentary frequently features cases of resistance through the subtle medium of caricatures. It could be argued that caricatures have given the creatives an anonymous “symbolic cloak through which resistance could be expressed”, while simultaneously decreasing the risk of managerial retribution (Ford, Ford & D'Amelio, 2008). Furthermore, the relocation out of the animation building was welcomed with the full-scale enactment of the ‘Apocalypse Now’ (Hahn, 2009). Ultimately, it could be suggested that the creatives have perceived the relocation memo as a breach of an implicit social contract, as that was the building, where Walt Disney was animating himself (Ford et al., 2008; Hahn, 2009). Ultimately, this led to a sense of resentment and need for retribution (Ford et al., 2008). Thus, this jocular reaction has acted as a “safety valve” allowing employees to let off their frustrations and tensions (Rodrigues & Collinson 1995, p. 743). Arguably, this resistance act has also served as a defensive and distancing strategy allowing continuation of a creative and productive input (Rodrigues & Collinson, 1995).

Subsequently, Katzenberg could be described as a job-centred transactional leader (Singh, 2009). Such leaders prefer the use of legitimate and coercive powers to avoid risks and focusing on efficiency of production and emphasizing setting of goals, such as making the animation division of Disney financially viable (Vera & Crossan, 2004; Hahn, 2009). Moreover, it was found that the use of coercive and legitimate powers often results from one’s lack of self-confidence (Raven, 1993). Consequently, this explains why Katzenberg has immediately resorted to the use of the coercive power after being brought into Disney, as he previously he has never occupied such a high executive position, rendering him lower in self-confidence (Hahn, 2009). However, the use of coercive power tends to have such undesirable effects as employees’ frustration, alienation and decreased productivity (Lunenburg, 2012). Although, it was also found that in large organisations, such as Disney, the existence of hierarchy and authority is an accepted norm, which diminishes the negative coercive power effects, while the creatives also “let off” their steam through the use of humour (Jayasingam et al., 2009). Consequently, this could explain why the creative workers’ productivity did not suffer. As a result, Jeffrey’s coercive actions were justified in the long run, as his tenacious goal-orientation has led to Disney Renaissance.

What is more, it was found that the segregation of roles between functional and project managers promotes greater productivity and increases the probability of creative outcomes (Jayasingam et al., 2009). Peter Schneider illustrates this: being the president of the animation department under Katzenberg, he has applied a different managerial approach (Hahn, 2009). Notably, closer affiliations with his subordinates allowed Schneider to act as a transformational leader. This type of leaders tends to search for new ways to change organisational culture and empower the subordinates to raise morale and motivation (Lowe, Kroek & Sivasubramaniam, 1996). For instance, Schneider’s initial goal was to “change the culture before it changes me” (Hahn, 2009). He sought to empower people, make them feel good about themselves and establish a more cohesive and friendly team environment (Hahn, 2009). Raven (2008) has subsequently observed that transformational leaders seek to establish rapport with their employees and tend to employ referent and reward powers. It is arguable that he has thus tried to enact a referent power style, which relies on shared culture, notions of trust and commitment and employees’ personal identification with the manager (Singh, 2009). However, executives only wield as much power as they are perceived to have (Turner & Schabram, 2012). Arguably, Schneider has unwittingly exercised negative referent power, as his subordinates perceived him rather an authoritarian figure or “The Man”, rather than the team member. Subsequently, the creatives frequently caricatured his behavioural or physical features, which worried or annoyed the workers (Hahn, 2009).

Moreover, Schneider has also exhibited cases of the successful implementation of the reward power, which is the power of approval and allocation of rewards, such as money, privileges or promotion to a valuable other (Singh, 2009). Nonetheless, it is frequently noted that reward power might have adverse effects if given merely for consent to do a task or acts strictly as the extrinsic motivator (Woodman, Sawyer & Griffin, 1993). However, in the knowledge economy sector this power style is claimed to be a powerful motivator if the incentive system encourages employees to generate and implement new innovative ideas (Jayasingam et al., 2009). In the case of Disney, after the success of the ‘Little Mermaid’, Schneider wanted to invest the gained capital back into the business, which has given the creative department the Computer Animation Post-Production System (CAPS) (Hahn, 2009). Ultimately, this has allowed the creative team to enhance its art and explore the new possibilities of this technology, honing their technical skills. Arguably, this has contributed to their intrinsic motivations leading to influx of creativity (Caves, 2000). Consequently, it could be speculated that CAPS, as a reward, has contributed to the successes of the animation features such as ‘Beauty and the Beast’, ‘Pocahontas’ and ‘The Lion King’, leading to the Disney Renaissance (Hahn, 2009).

Nevertheless, Lowe and colleagues (1996) have noted that the use of both transformational and transactional styles may be required to achieve the desired goals. Consequently, for commercial reasons, Schneider has employed the legitimate power to change the name of one of the animated features into the “The Great Mouse Detective”, without the prior consultation with the creative team (Hahn, 2009). In response, the creatives have sent out a fake cynical memo in Peter’s name about the name change of all the Disney animations (Hahn, 2009). Notably, satire and cynicism are a common method to thwart organisational and cultural changes (Fleming & Spicer, 2003). For example, it was noted that cynicism is used as defence method to “stave off corporate colonisation of identity” (Fleming & Spicer, 2003, p. 160). Ultimately, this gives the employees a sense of autonomy, also allowing the further practise of corporate mandates (Fleming & Spicer, 2003). This means that the fake memo has given the creative a specious sense of freedom, allowing them to cope with the circumstances, which were out of their reach. However, Schneider perceived this as undermining his authority while he was still trying to establish a positive reputation (Hahn, 2009). As a result, he has resorted to the use of the coercive power, berating his employees. Nonetheless, he tried fixing his relationship with employees by stating that they will still continue working as a team. Arguably, this has changed the creative’s perception of him, as they said that they started respecting him more, thus giving him more referent power in the end (Hahn, 2009).

However, the expert power is perceived to be superior to all the power styles as it generally leads to higher performance rates, establishes more favourable relationships and results in minimal resistance (Singh, 2009). Experts thus exert influence due to their recognised knowledge or skills, while being perceived credible and trustworthy (Singh, 2009). Notably, Howard Ashman (main lyricist and producer of ‘The Little Mermaid’) was exercising expert power due to his rich background in musicals and song writing (Singh, 2009). For example, during the production of ‘The Little Mermaid’ Katzenberg described Ashman as a “creative genius”, allowing him to add such novel ideas as making Sebastian Jamaican and directing Benson’s singing (Hahn, 2009). Particularly among the knowledge workers, leaders are expected to share their ‘knowhow’ and “thought-provoking ideas that leads to the acquisition and development of new knowledge for the benefit of the organisation” (Jayasingam et al., 2009, p. 147). For instance, Ashman’s work, novel ideas and enthusiasm acted as Glen Keane’s inspiration to draw Ariel (Hahn, 2009). As a result, this animation became a big success, getting Ashman two Oscars (Hahn, 2009). This award thus further served as a major indicator of one’s expertise to instil respect, subsequently further increasing Ashman’s expert power (Abfalter, 2013). Consequently, Ashman was able to pitch the idea of ‘Alladin’ animation and had strong influence over the casting of the voice actors (Ziebarth, 2005).

Nevertheless, the expert power is limited to rather specific areas and may not apply to other fields, as employees assess expert’s knowledge against their knowledge and absolute standards (Turner & Schabram, 2012). Therefore, if an expert has an inaccurate perception of his or her real status, it may exercise a negative expert power forcing the employees to resist and do the opposite of what suggested by an expert (Turner & Schabram, 2012). Arguably, this has occurred during the production of the ‘Beaty and The Beast’, where Ashman wanted to open the movie with a sequence that the directors found to be a “cheap shot” (Hahn, 2009). Nevertheless, Ashman was very opinionated, articulate and even intimidating, indicating he had an erroneous selfperception, particularly taking into account that Howard was an expert in music and not the visual fields (Hahn, 2009). Consequently, his expert power expression was met with the directors’ resistive feedback, who have explicitly voiced their disagreement (Hahn, 2009). That was met with a coercive reaction on Ashman’s account, which arguably diminished his referent power. According to Raven (1993) managers, when encountered with dismissive feedback, should attempt to reconsider their perceptions of the self, employees and the effectiveness of the power styles employed. Otherwise, coercive reaction, as exhibited by Ashman, leads to greater attribution of negative qualities and a further escalation of the conflict (Raven, 1993).

In conclusion, this essay has shown that various power styles have been implemented in Disney, largely affected by the situational circumstances, managers’ position and their personality factors. For example, being a higher executive, who had little time to establish personal relationships with his subordinates along with a strong focus on financial gain, prompted Katzenberg to use coercive and legitimate powers. In contrast, Schneider being a lower executive, worked with the animation people on a more regular basis. He has consequently sought to empower them to enhance organisational creativity through the use of reward and referent powers. Moreover, the separation of roles between functional and project managers resulted in the various power styles employed moderating and complementing each other’s impact. For example, Katzenberg’s strive for the commercial success was moderated by Schneider’s and Ashman’s focus on creatives’ empowerment and influx of creativity. Concurrently, most of the adverse power effects have been neutralised through employees’ jocular acts of resistance. Therefore, the combination of these elements has rendered the animations of the Disney Renaissance era both commercially successful and highly authentic and creative.

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