Dec 19, 2017 in Book Report

Ropes to Skip and Ropes to Know Book Report

Ropes to Skip and Ropes to Know Book Report

Book Review/Report on the Ropes to Skip and Ropes to Know: Power, Stratification and Managerial Mobility

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  • 1. What are the themes and ideas of the assigned theory pages in Ropes? Explain. Make sure that you cover such descriptive ideas such as Informal power, Power of lower level participants, Mobility tournament and Cooling out the mark.

Informal Power

The authors of The Ropes state that organizations are systems of power and status. They write that “Not unlike society, organizations have class systems that act to restrict and maintain the structure of power and privilege” (Pg. 222). Power is the ability to change or influence the course of events. There exists formal power an informal power. The example of chair persons of crucial committees in the US congress is given to illustrate informal power as legislation cannot be enacted without their backing. The chairpersons don’t make the final decision but they have the power to convince a group of people to back the proposed law.
Informal power operates by the rules that if someone does something for another person; the person must do something for him or her in return. Formal power does not require reciprocity but reciprocity is very crucial in informal power. Informal power involves being in a position to exercise a degree of control over particular important outcomes; and presence of a network of people who will adhere to reciprocity and who stand to gain or lose something from the outcomes. The most important relationships in an organization are the ones which are not derived from the hierarchical structure of the organization.

Informal power is exercised in an organization within the diagonal and lateral relationships established between various managerial departments. It is exercised through exchange of favors. If the production manager wants the HR manager to bend the company’s policy, it is not possible to do so through the formal power structures. The request will be granted by the HR manager if the production manager has previously done a favor for the manager or is expected to do so in the future. It takes networking and skills to build a network of informal power relationships as formal power relationships are easily established by the organizational hierarchy. The lateral and diagonal informal relationships are the key to leadership success. The relationships affect promotions within an organization and they determine those who make it big from those who do not. Formal power is established by the management structure hierarchy and it involves the right to issue punishments and rewards to subordinates.

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Informal power is like beauty since it is in the eye of the beholder. An individual must recognize that he or she has the power to influence a certain outcome. The other essential factor is a network of friends for whom one has done favors and they are willing to do similar favors for each other. Building such a network requires a proven record of trust and loyalty as people must understand that they can count on the person wielding the informal power. Nothing should be given without an implicit or explicit understanding of an IOU. Power is not a popularity contest and those who break the trust or loyalty should never go unpunished. Knowledge that punishment will be meted for "disloyal" acts strengthens the trust within an informal power network.

Mobility Tournament

Mobility refers to the opportunity to advance within the managerial levels in an organization. Mobility is a major factor in preservation of the class system within an organization since it is directly linked to informal power. Superiors have significant power over mobile upwardly subordinates. The authors of the ropes use the example of Ted Shelby to illustrate the concept. Ted is an upwardly mobile subordinate and is likely to toe the line because he thinks that one day he will make it to the top-most level of the organization. Ted will therefore do whatever is required to keep himself in the good books of superiors. The truth of the matter is that Ted will never reach the very top but mobility serves as a great motivator which is why Ted and other people like him unwittingly participate in the mobility tournament.

On the other hand, there are workers in an organization who know they are not going anywhere; others who simply don’t care; and others who like the prevailing status quo. Due to their laidback/ don’t-care-attitude, superiors do not have much power over them. So long as they work reasonably well, the people who are not interested in upward mobility can get away with transgressions.
Young upwardly mobile professionals work overtime to enhance the possibility of being promoted and consequently enhance the prospects for higher pay and more prestige in the future. They are motivated by the expectation of future rewards.

When hardworking employees and middle level managers do not get promoted, they feel betrayed by the failure of the organization to fulfill the implicit promise that they would get promoted. They lose commitment to the organization. Such people reach a plateau in their career and they lack the desire to work harder. It is called a tournament because once somebody loses a tournament, he or she is out. There is no opportunity for a second chance. When people realize they will never get promoted to high positions, they opt out of the mobility tournament.

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Such people lack the motivation to advance further. At every level of management, there are people who will give up on attaining promotions and quit their quest to advance up the formal ladder of privilege, power, and pay. Since formal power comes from the ability to issue punishment and rewards, managers who fail to get promoted seek other alternatives. They know that they will never get promoted but on the other hand, they also know that they can’t get fired. They don’t produce stellar results like they used to when they were hoping for a promotion but since they work reasonably well, there is no justification for firing them. There are also other managers in key positions who voluntarily choose not to engage in the mobility tournament. For instance, there are plant managers who may not wish to work in corporate or division. Such people cannot be controlled by senior managers and the senior managers cannot issue threats or offer them any incentives.

The un-promoted managers and the ones who are comfortable with their positions are usually people who have worked for a long time. During the duration of their careers, they develop extensive networks of relationships which give them substantive informal power. They wield a lot of power and people in upper-level management positions find it difficult to deal with them. The management tries as much as possible to move them laterally or up the hierarchy.

Power of Lower Level Participants

Lower level participants are those people at the lower levels of the organizational structure. People tend to underestimate them but even though they don’t wield substantive formal power, they wield immense informal power. Corporate organizations also have class systems. In companies, distinctions are made on basis of academic papers and qualifications. For a system to work, those of lower ranks in society must recognize its legitimacy.

The lower level participants know their rank in the organization. They do not trust the formal management structure. They carve out career ladders on their own to the extent that they eventually grow to wield substantive level of powers. They do not even attempt to participate in the mobility tournament because they know that they will never get anywhere. They are not given any incentives to participate in the tournament in the first place. Their opportunity presents itself during times of economic recession since there are a lot of similar jobs in various organizations. They don’t have much to lose from walking away from an organization because they are not committed neither do they invest in the mobility tournament. Superiors therefore have very limited power over lower level participants.

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Lower level participants are also in strategic positions to wield significant informal power. People like purchasing clerks, computer operators, dispatching clerks, and executive secretaries have unlimited opportunities to amass informal power. Most of them hold their jobs for a long period and they see several bosses coming and leaving. They are supervised by people who are too keen participating in the mobility tournament. Their bosses and supervisors engage in administrative duties and make decisions. The job description of the lower level managers enables them to send orders and memos; and schedule appointments. Due to long work experience, they have irreplaceable expertise and specialization in critical areas. Due to participation in the mobility tournament, their bosses do not bother with performing the daily tasks. Lower level participants are thus in a position to do special favors for people within and outside the organization, in return for any other favors that they may want.

Lower level participants have the privilege of having a central position. The authors of the ropes state that, “just because they are not in the competition of the mobility tournament, they are allowed access to organizational secrets that their bosses would never willingly share with potential competitors”. (Pg. 230). Secretaries and personal assistants type sensitive memos and minutes involving high-profile secrets and high-profile people. Even though, they don’t attend the meetings, knowledge is power. They can use the information to influence outcomes by sharing the information with outside competitors and internal rivals. Superiors who offend lower participants through arrogance don’t go unpunished. The lower level participants use the knowledge obtained from working closely with the supervisor and the extensive network of relationships to destroy the superior.

Cooling out the Mark

In corporate circles, a mark is a person who is deprived of their position or status. Coolers are the people who are sent to convince the marks to accept their loss without anger or protest. Coolers are people who understand corporate values, motives, and attitudes. The purpose of cooling out the mark is to maintain the stratification system and preserve the structure of privilege and power. Coolers are everywhere and their main duty is to provide the mark with explanations that are meant to convince the mark to save his or her face. The need to cool out the mark arises because there are too many people who lose the mobility tournament. The losers of the mobility tournament present problems to management. There are also productive managers who don’t play along to the desires of those in the upper-level cadres of management. There are also managers who ally themselves with political factions which are not in favor with the upper-level management. Other people are rendered obsolete by time or technology. Such people are marks and they have to be cooled by being demoted or transferred.

The principal of leadership attribution discussed in the previous paper comes into play because leaders are held to be personally accountable for the successes and failures of the company. Firing and demotion of workers and managers is viewed as a personal short-coming of the leaders holding the top-level positions. Cooling out the mark is done to preserve the culture of organization and the myth that merit and effort translates into performance which in turn translates into advancement. The writers illustrate the concept of cooling out by giving the illustration of Ben Franklyn who was moved from the position of Plant Manager to the position of Corporate Safety Director.

There is a myth that any move to the company’s headquarters is a move up the ladder so Ben was under the illusion that he had been promoted. In reality, the position of Plant Manager is more important than that of Corporate Safety Director. Ben, the mark, was cooled out into believing that he had been promoted. He was told that he was more suited for the position and it would be more rewarding since it would give him time to spend with family or friends. Cooling out the mark is usually accomplished through: offering the mark a position of similar rank but in a less important department such as moving the mark from finance to public relations; offering a position that sounds more prestigious but with no significant power such as creating a position of “Distinguished Company Scientist” and assigning it to the President of engineering; Creating a new illustrious post without real power in the corporate headquarters and assigning it to the mark; and allowing the mark to perform the same functions in a less powerful position. The mark is made to feel as if he or she is in charge of the decision. In the end marks are made to feel as winners but it is the company which wins.

  • 2. Summarize the key aspects of one of the assigned chapters 47-60. Explain how the ideas of the theory pages apply to the case, as you answer the chapter’s discussion questions.


The chapter begins with Ted using multimedia paraphernalia including animation, Dolby Sound, and charts to present an orientation seminar on new technical personnel. The general understanding among the new technical personnel was that they were there to learn about the company’s HR policies as well as new scheme dubbed, “The Dual Ladder of Management Opportunity.” Ted was unusually crisp and appealing having come from touring the plant in his capacity as Human Resources Manager of The Research Laboratory. The company had several new technical recruits all of them college graduates who expected that one day they would become laboratory managers.

Since it was impossible for all of them to become managers’ “The Dual Ladder” of management Opportunity” was introduced. In his presentation, Ted told the recruiters that they were top notch and the company could not remain number one without them. He added that superior performance has to be recognized through rewarding it. He further added that all of them were management material and they would be managers in five or six years. He cautioned that in most companies, management focuses on supervision leading to stagnation in technical innovation. The multimedia equipment blitzed and the voice claimed,” We in the company must ensure that our “individual contributors’ don’t get saddled with the supervisory drudgery that usually goes with management. That’s why we have developed the dual ladder management opportunity. What we show you today represents the distillation of the most recent innovative management ideas available” (Pg. 270).

The audio background featured heroic sounding music and graphics showing little boxes below and little boxes above indicating parallel management systems. The graphics showed the ordinary pre-management positions of entry grade, engineer, and associate engineer. The graphics further showed three additional levels of management opportunity; three levels of professional achievement; and three levels of achievement for staff management. It was explained that the re-arrangement was done so that people don’t have to get into supervisory administration to get recognized for management positions. The strong technical people (individual contributors) would keep their innovation specialties but still get professional management positions. Music was being used intermittently to produce the desired effect on the new recruits. The Job descriptions were listed as Engineer Consultant (Staff management) and Division Engineer (Supervisory management). The position of Division Engineer would entail aspects such as directing the efforts of others after having previous experience on supervisory positions. It would require the potential candidate to have a rare level of technical achievement, 10 years of experience, and a PHD or its equivalent.

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Ted then began fielding questions as the formal presentation was over. His response to the answer on salary scales was that in most instances the salary scales were equal. He answered that it was possible to switch from supervisory to staff management. Stanley had sat in the back of the room taking notes so as to give Ted comprehensive feedback. Soon afterwards Ted and Stanley retreated to the Portland HR Manager’s office. Ted’s administrative assistant announced that a man by the name Calvin Kulas was there to see him. The man had a complaint about a promotion he was bound to receive. His manager had directed him that the complaint could only be resolved by a representative of the company’s human resource department. Kulas’s manager has just told him that he would be promoted to the position of first level staff manager during the next month. Kulas was disappointed in the turn of events.

After a brief discussion with Ted, both of them returned to the office of Kulas’s manager. Upon entering the office, the manager re-introduced Ted to Kulas and told Ted that Kulas had some questions about the dual management system. He explained that before responding to the complaint, it was imperative for Kulas to understand the new promotion system. Nevertheless Kulas delved into his complaint. He said that he did not want a promotion to the position of staff manager as he wanted to remain on the pre-management ladder until he could get a real management position. He explained that he knew that once he was in the staff side, his chances of getting a position as a real manager were diminished.

Ted began his explanation by telling Kulas that it did not matter whether one was a staff manager or a supervisory manager because both positions were equal. Cal Kulas rebuffed Ted’s explanation saying that it was not possible to be in management if one was not managing anything. Ted could not understand why Kulas could not comprehend the difference between supervision and management. Kulas’s manager intervened by telling Kulas he could not understand why he was insinuating that being promoted to staff management was tantamount to being branded a failure. He further explained that Calvin Kulas had misunderstood the logic of the company since the main aim was to achieve flexibility by assigning a position to the person who was best suited for it. Kulas intervened by citing the fact that the explanation did not hold water as the all the Engineer Consultants (Top-most management level) had not worked as staff managers. Ted interrupted that one of the Engineer Consultants in the Portland department was a technical genius. Kulas responded that the manager was weird and that the dual management system was a lot of baloney. He also cited the case of a Drew Bolt whose office was taken away.

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Stanley ran into Dr. Faust who expressed sentiments that the dual management opportunity system would not work and that it was a sham that should be stopped immediately. Stanley explained that the system was logical since the people had been hired to be technical guys and not managers. Dr. Fauss countered that the logical thing to do was to pay everybody what they were worth.
Stanley explained that people who graduated from college had a legitimate expectation that they would end up in management. If they don’t get management positions, they themselves, their families, and friends feel like they are not progressing in their career and they feel as if they are failures. It became clear to Stanley that the dual opportunity management system was not a sham. The staff management option was created to dump those who aspired to be managers but could not make the cut according to the organizational practices (the marks). It was just a strategy to cool them out. By introducing the dual system, those who ascended to staff management positions would think of themselves as successes rather than think of themselves as failures. They would have thought of themselves as failures if they did not get any management position at all. Stanley’s view point was correct since the dual management system would cool out the graduates who could not become Engineer Consultants into thinking that they had an equal managerial position.

Discussion question 1 is about articulating an argument in favor of Ted’s position. Discussion question 2 is about articulating an argument in favor of Carl Kulas’s question while discussion question 3 is about whether I aspire to managerial responsibilities. Ted cannot comprehend why Carl cannot understand that there is no difference between a staff manager and a supervisory manager because according to him both positions are equal. Ted has bought the idea that the Dual Management System was a noble idea meant to promote all the recruits in the company so as to ensure that the innovative talent is not wasted in administration tasks. Ted is caught up in the mobility tournament and follows orders without questioning the logic behind the strategy. He is already in a managerial position and is eyeing a higher position. He is desperate to please his superiors so that he can get a position in the upper-most levels of management. Due to his loyalty to the company and his commitment to the company’s values and attitudes, he is the perfect person to use as a cooler. Ted carries out his duties carefully and does not realize that he was serving as a cooler to cool out the marks (new recruits) through introducing a dubious promotion strategy.

On the other hand, Carl is brilliant and he understands the logic behind introduction of the new dual management system. He knows that people who do not get managerial positions in the company are branded as failures. He knows that the executive power of the company vests with the Engineer Consultants and that none of the Engineer Consultants had ever held the position of a staff manager. He wants to work in the highest levels of the company and he knows that the only way to get there is by being a supervisory manager. He is very disappointed in being appointed as a staff manager because he knows that once he gets that position his career will reach a plateau and it will be almost impossible to advance further in his career. He knows that the dual management system is a hoax meant to dupe the people who would not have been promoted to managerial levels believe that they had landed managerial roles by being appointed as staff managers, while in reality the position of staff manager did not hold any real power. He knows that the engineers in the technical department had been identified as marks because they were college graduates and they expected to be promoted to managerial level; the dual management system was being used to cool them out with Ted serving as the cooler by use of a fancy orientation presentation.

On the question of whether I have managerial aspirations, I would respond to it in the affirmative and state that I would like to become a manager at some point in my career. However, if I don’t get a managerial position, I will not brand myself a failure because I will have contributed to innovative developments in the company. I would be happy and content to know that I have used my intellectual capabilities in other fulfilling ways as becoming a manager is not the sole indicator of career progress and achievement.

  • 3. Option 1

Describe an instance in your experience where the theory in Ropes was “spot on” with something that you have experienced or observed in an organizational setting , such as work, school, sports teams, fraternity/sorority, or other organization (please disguise the names of the participants, to protect their anonymity). 

Explain how the theory in Ropes applies to your experience or observation

The experience that I recall in which the ‘Ropes’ was “spot on” is in regards to “cooling out the mark”. The incidence relates to a soccer team which I will not name for purposes of anonymity. A star team player got injured during a match in which he had scored several goals for the team propelling the team into winning the championship. The injury was severe and the soccer player had to take some time of absence from the team. The injury healed after some time but the player never went back to his stellar form. Whenever, he was fielded for a match, he never scored for the team. He had become clumsy and always succumbed to accidents on the pitch. Eventually, the team stopped fielding him. The player was depressed and bitterly blamed the team for punishing him for an injury over which he did not have any control.

The player had a big name and his international fans still loved him. He was a brand and people could pay for a match just to see him. The team got into negotiations with a foreign team in an oil-rich country. He was sold to the foreign team and he was to earn thrice the amount of money he was earning at his team. The catch was that the soccer league in the foreign country did not have international following. His international fans would be flattered by his high fee which would be covered by the international media but they would never see him play again.

He felt that his team was using an alternative strategy to dump him. However, an assistant coach with whom the player was very close since the coach had trained him since he was a child convinced the player that it was probably for the best. He convinced him that if he stayed on the current him his salary would be reduced due to the growing animosity between him and the high officials in the team management. He also told him that it was impossible to get a better deal elsewhere and since there was a possibility that his physical condition could worsen, it was plausible to take the deal as soon as possible. After the session with the assistant coach, the player began seeing the logical sense of the decision. He agreed to transfer to the foreign team and though he left his team half-heartedly his relations with the management had improved. The management even held a farewell party for him. What he didn’t realize was the fact that when the team stopped fielding him due to the consequences of the injury, he became a mark. The assistant coach was the cooler who was sent to convince him that moving to the foreign team was the best option. He had been cooled out since his glamorous career would die slowly in the oil-rich foreign country.

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