Theories in Action

Theories in Action, Coercive and Reward Power, Week 3: July 20-24

While spending time in the campaign office I have observed what Bertram H. Raven refers to as coercive and reward power, one of the six types of social power identified by Raven in his piece Social influence and power. Public dependent influence comes in two forms: (1) coercion and (2) reward, both of which are mediated by the influencing agent. We have learned that Coercive power stems from the ability of the agent to mediate punishment for the influencee. So, for example, this could result from the campaign director dismissing a volunteer or intern for behaving inappropriately in the office. Reward power results from the ability of the agent to mediate rewards.
While the campaign director’s use of coercive power is more subtle, it is clear that whenever he arrives, everyone begins to work a little harder and mess around a bit less than before he walked in the door.
I have observed Kris, the campaign director using reward power in order to meet the team’s goals and keep the unpaid interns focused. The first week the interns came in, they were amazing on the phones, breaking statewide records and impressing a lot of higher-ups. But, unfortunately, after setting this high bar, the interns became noticeably less effective and I could see them no longer making calls the second a supervisor walked out. They were becoming almost too comfortable. I mentioned something to Kris and he came up with the idea that he was going to start setting goals for each week, turning the phone calls into a sort of competition.
So, each week, on Monday, when the interns come in, Kris has begun offering up cash prizes for the individual with the most calls that week, or most completed surveys for the week, or what have you. The prizes range from $100 to $25 gift cards and usually go out to the top three callers of the week.
It is really quite miraculous how large of an impact this reward has had on the office environment. Although the reward is not that large when considering these people are working without pay, for 30+ hours a week (and should be making much more than the grand prize per week, hahaha), this small has really re-focused the interns. Kris is able to continually monitor the group’s calls and can see that the influencees (in this case, the volunteer interns) have responded positively to the reward.