Albert Dunlap Style Likability: Those Who Seek Flattery Get Enemies

[The following post is re-blogged from Organizational Musings. Click here to view the original article. It is a commentary based on a recently published article in Administrative Science Quarterly entitled “Those Closest Wield the Sharpest Knife: How Ingratiation Leads to Resentment and Social Undermining of the CEO,” co-authored by Gareth D. Keeves, James D. Westphal, and Michael L. McDonald. From Organizational Musings:] 

I will start this post with an old story. CEO of Sunbeam Corp., Albert Dunlap, known as an expert in turning around troubled firms and selling them for a profit, was sued by the SEC in 2001 for accounting fraud. He was eventually barred from serving as an officer or director in any company, plus ordered to pay investors defrauded money in a class-action lawsuit.  Albert Dunlap was clearly someone in need of flattery, not just money, as he had the classical flattery-sickness symptom of a book written to celebrate his successes (see also his picture!). How he managed things internally in each firm he led is disputed, but much was said about his intimidation of other managers, who probably would conclude that a lot of flattery and ingratiation might help their career. Of course, managers still did better than employees, because his signature move in turning firms around was mass layoffs.

An interesting detail of his downfall was that managers around him were quick to release information that helped the investigation, which is distinct from the many firms with management teams that do all they can to deter and obstruct investigators. Is there a systematic reason for this difference? Possibly. A recent article in Administrative Science Quarterly by Gareth Keeves, James Westphal, and Michael McDonald looks at what happens when managers ingratiate their CEO through flattery and other tools. Their findings are interesting. First, managers who flatter lose their liking of the CEO. Somehow when people artificially put others on a pedestal they also start looking down on them.

Second, managers who flatter may go on to undermine the CEO. The light-handed version of this is to undermine the CEO’s messages to journalists, as this research showed. The heavy-handed version is what happened to Albert Dunlap. Among other events, his comptroller reported that he had been pushing for accounting practices that crossed the legal boundary, and sales people were quick to report “channel stuffing.” Channel stuffing is to sell too many goods and selling them too early, which is not illegal in itself (the sales channel can return unsold goods, so it is safe for them), but it is illegal when the sales are accounted as if they were final.  Those were practices that the SEC (and some investors) suspected, and that meant that what looked like a turnaround in sales and profits was actually a fraudulent scheme.

Seeking flattery is never thought of as a good thing. What we now know is that it also triggers undermining, and for those who have real weaknesses – like a CEO engaged in fraud – that undermining can be very consequential.

Employees and the Environment: Promoting Eco-Friendly Behavior in the Workplace

blue-truck-recycle[We’re pleased to welcome Jennifer Tosti-Kharas of Babson College. Jennifer recently published an article in Organization & Environment with co-authors Eric Lamm and Tom E. Thomas entitled “Organization OR Environment? Disentangling Employees’ Rationales Behind Organizational Citizenship Behavior Toward the Environment.” From Jennifer:]

The origin of this paper came from bridging two different research projects. My co-authors, Tom Thomas and Eric Lamm of SFSU, published a theoretical paper regarding how individuals develop attitudes toward organizational sustainability. Meanwhile, Eric and I have performed research on what motivates employees to perform sustainable behaviors. We look at what we term organizational citizenship behaviors toward the environment ­ OCB-Es for short ­ which are voluntary actions at work that help conserve resources, things like recycling, printing double-sided, etc. This paper joined these two streams of inquiry to examine how the reasons why people think it is important to act sustainably at work relates to their performance of OCB-Es and we tested it empirically.

Most past research on this topic has used a measure of how important people think O&E_Mar_2012_vol26_no1_Cover_Final.inddsustainability is in general, meaning for broad ecological reasons, but never contextualized within a work organization. In the paper we distinguish between believing sustainability is important in and of itself, what we term an ³eco-centric rationale,² and believing it is important as a means to an end, specifically a business end, which we term an ³organization-centric rationale.² We also differentiate employees¹ own rationales about why it is important for their companies to operate sustainably from their perceptions about why their organizations believe it is important. Perhaps the most surprising finding when we surveyed 489 working adults across a wide range of organizations and occupations was that people were more likely to perform OCB-Es when they believed their organizations valued sustainability, regardless of their own personal beliefs about the importance of sustainability. These findings held for both eco-centric and organization-centric rationales. This to us was surprising, as lots of research would lead us to predict that personal values would trump perceived organizational values. Yet, we find the opposite, which suggests that perhaps people perform voluntary sustainability behaviors at work not just because they think it¹s important, but because their company believes it is important. It is worth noting that we included in our OCB-E measure not only simple, everyday tasks, but also ³higher-level² behaviors, like collaborating with other employees or making suggestions to supervisors to increase organizational sustainability.

These findings raise several interesting and timely implications for organizational leaders looking to increase employee sustainability behaviors. Since employee perceptions of organizational rationales for sustainability were so important in motivating OCB-Es, we advise communicating corporate values around sustainability and resource conservation as clearly as possible. By contrast, trying to screen employees for pro-environmental values seemed to be less important in a company that clearly communicated these values, since even employees who didn¹t buy in on their own behaved more sustainably when they believed their employers cared about the environment.

The abstract for the article:

Scholars and managers have raised the question of how to encourage employees to perform discretionary pro-environmental behaviors at work, termed organizational citizenship behaviors toward the environment (OCB-Es). This study examined how rationales for organizational sustainability relate to employees’ OCB-Es. We considered two rationales—eco-centric and organization-centric—and two sources—employees’ rationales and their perceptions of their employers’ rationales. Results from 489 working adults across a variety of organizations and occupations revealed that both eco-centric and organization-centric rationales at both individual and perceived organizational levels related to employees’ OCB-Es. Furthermore, we found interactive effects, such that employees’ perceptions of their organizations’ rationales were more important than their own rationales in determining OCB-Es. These findings contribute to a theoretical understanding of the complex and interrelated factors motivating employees to perform voluntary sustainability behaviors in organizations. In addition, our results are valuable for managers looking to increase employee sustainability behaviors.

You can read the article “Organization OR Environment? Disentangling Employees’ Rationales Behind Organizational Citizenship Behavior Toward the Environment” from Organization & Environment free for the next two weeks by clicking here.

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*Truck image attributed to MIKI Yoshihito (CC)

A Broader Look at Firms’ Corporate Social Performance in 2000-2010

 

10310820984_fb57a27068_z[We’re pleased to welcome Elise Perrault of College of Charleston. Elise recently published an article in Business & Society, entitled “What have firms been doing? Exploring what KLD data report about firms’ corporate social performance (CSP) in the period 2000-2010,” with co-author Michael Quinn of Bentley University.]

With a strong interest for firms’ relationship with stakeholders and, more broadly, society, we constantly read about how firms address – or not – a wide variety of social issues. However, this stream of research generally provides anecdotal evidence or analyzes antecedents and consequences of firms’ involvement in a targeted issue (such as philanthrophy or environmental management, for example). In short, we felt the need for a broad, 30,000 ft, view of how firms generally engage with stakeholders through addressing social issues. At the same time, with the soaring popularity of KLD data in the field, we wanted to gain a more precise appreciation of how this data source pictured firms’ actions in society.

We find our results quite revealing and at times surprising. For instance, the results show that firms are increasingly attending to secondary stakeholders, even while garnering more concerns on primary stakeholder dimensions. This points us to question whether managers are experiencing shifting beliefs regarding the value of BAS CoverCSR; specifically that it represents less a mechanism to attract stakeholder support and more a cornerstone to their risk management approach in terms of how society values the firm’s existence. We also find, as expected, that firms generally nurture strengths in the same dimensions in which they present concerns.

The most surprising finding is the extent to which prior corporate social performance (CSP) in a given dimension is linked to CSP in other dimensions over time. This suggests that as firms engage in CSP, they find rewards that drives them to further invest in yet other dimensions of CSP. As a result, we are led to reconsider the notion of a “virtuous circle” (Waddock & Graves, 1997) and suggest that future research examines in greater depth the real benefits that firms perceive from CSP and the motives that drive their increasing commitment to CSP.

Having provided this broader view of firms’ involvement with stakeholders and social issues, we hope this research will serve as a foundation for future research in several ways. For starters, we note the significance of industry dummies in the analysis. This finding confirms what previous research indicates, that industry matters to CSP strenghts and concerns. However, the extent to which industry affiliation predisposes a population of firms to certain CSP strenghts or concerns remains unaddressed. Pushing further in this direction would be to explore how industry affiliation affects stakeholders’ perceptions, and whether stakeholders are more forgiving or scrutinizing of firms in certain industries, for example.

Another insight from our analyses is the importance of using a long time frame when analyzing firms’ CSP, which has seldom been used in previous research. Doing so would enable researchers to see patterns and connections between various dimensions of CSP, answering questions such as “Do strengths (concerns) on certain dimensions of CSP generally prompt firms to subsequently perform better or worse on these and other dimensions?” While this would shed light on the ways in which firms can be primed to address certin social issues, on a broader scale, these analyses contribute to the conversation debating the fundamental question regarding the purpose of the firm and its obligations to shareholders and stakeholders.

The abstract for the paper:

With the blossoming of research on corporate social performance (CSP), the data produced by Kinder, Lydenberg, Domini (KLD) have become the standard to measure firms’ social and stakeholder actions. However, to date, only a few studies have focused on examining the data directly, and have done so largely in terms of validating the concepts and methods in the data set’s construction. The present study seeks to complement these efforts by contributing knowledge about what the KLD data report on firms’ actions toward primary and secondary stakeholders, and the dimensions of CSP that firms generally engage in, together or sequentially. With data on 3,073 firms over the period 2000-2010, results show that firms expend more resources on garnering strengths in primary stakeholder dimensions, although this trend is sharply deteriorating to the benefit of secondary stakeholders—notably the natural environment. Results also show that firms generally approach CSP with a mixed behavior, with strengths and concerns in the same dimensions, especially as it pertains to secondary stakeholders. These are the same dimensions in which firms show the longer, more intrinsic commitments, suggesting that secondary stakeholder strengths and concerns may be structural in nature. However, there is also evidence of relationships across dimensions, indicating that firms’ involvement in CSP can generate momentum. The rich implications of these findings are discussed.

You can read “What have firms been doing? Exploring what KLD data report about firms’ corporate social performance (CSP) in the period 2000-2010” from Business & Society free for the next two weeks by clicking here. Want to stay current on the latest research published by Business & SocietyClick here to sign up for e-alerts!

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*Conference sponsorship image attributed to Fortune Live Media (CC)

Does Social Activism Disrupt Corporate Political Activity?

The use and efficacy of corporate political activity has been well researched in the past, but a new paper published in Administrative Science Quarterly from authors Mary-Hunter McDonnell and Timothy Werner is taking a new perspective of corporate political activity. The paper, entitled “Blacklisted Businesses: Social Activists’ Challenges and the Disruption of Corporate Political Activity,” focuses on how large scale activist protests disrupt corporations’ ability to influence political stakeholders. Mary-Hunter McDonnell dives into the findings of the paper in the video below:

The abstract for the paper:

This paper explores whether and how social activists’ challenges affect politicians’ willingness to associate with targeted firms. We study the effect of public protest on corporate political activity using a unique database that allows us to analyze empirically the Current Issue Coverimpact of social movement boycotts on three proxies for associations with political stakeholders: the proportion of campaign contributions that are rejected, the number of times a firm is invited to give testimony in congressional hearings, and the number of government procurement contracts awarded to a firm. We show that boycotts lead to significant increases in the proportion of refunded contributions, as well as decreases in invited congressional appearances and awarded government contracts. These results highlight the importance of considering how a firm’s sociopolitical environment shapes the receptivity of critical non-market stakeholders. We supplement this analysis by drawing from social movement theory to extrapolate and test three key mechanisms that moderate the extent to which activists’ challenges effectively disrupt corporate political activity: the media attention a boycott attracts, the political salience of the contested issue, and the status of the targeted firm.

You can read “Blacklisted Businesses: Social Activists’ Challenges and the Disruption of Corporate Political Activity” from Administrative Science Quarterly free for the next two weeks by clicking here. Want to keep current on all of the latest research from Administrative Science QuarterlyClick here to sign up for e-alerts!

Book Review: The Globalization of Inequality

The Globalization of Inequality. By François Bourguignon . Translated by Thomas Scott-Railton . Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2015. 224 pp. ISBN 978-0691160528, $27.95 (Cloth).

Gary Fields of Cornell University recently wrote a book review in ILR Review for The Globalization of Inequality. An excerpt from the book review:

In this book, he [François Bourguignon] has produced a concise and nontechnical masterpiece of exceptional analytical and policy clarity. His professional expertise and policy involvement shine through in every chapter. Although the book is written for concerned global citizens, professional economists and other social scientists can learn much from reading it.

Current Issue Cover

Bourguignon begins by posing some provocative questions. Is globalization responsible for rising inequality in the world? Does this represent the death knell for equality? If it continues, will the quest for social justice be squelched?

His analysis makes a crucial distinction between three types of inequality in standards of living: inequality between countries, inequality within countries, and inequality among the world’s people. It is the last of these—what he terms “global inequality”—that is his primary concern and is at the heart of the book.

You can read the full review from ILR Review by clicking here. Like what you read? Click here to sign up for e-alerts and have all the research and reviews like this sent directly to your inbox!

How Do Small Businesses in Developing Countries Participate in Social Irresponsibility?

10127264163_3280e1b6e0_z[We’re pleased to welcome Vivek Soundararajan of Birmingham Business School. Vivek recently published an article in Business & Society entitled “Small Business and Social Irresponsibility in Developing Countries: Working Conditions and ‘Evasion’ Institutional Work” with co-authors Laura J. Spence and Chris Rees of University of London.]

This article is an outcome of my ongoing research about working conditions in developing country supplier facilities. My fieldwork observations in small knitwear exporting facilities located in Tirupur, India shook numerous assumptions drawn largely from a developed country perspective that we usually work with when dealing with small businesses. This prompted me to write this article along with my co-authors Prof. Laura J. Spence and Prof. Chris Rees. A prevailing notion among scholars BAS Coverand policy makers about developing country small suppliers of developed country buyers is that they are resource dependent, powerless and passive. Indeed, small suppliers are resource dependent and may hesitate to retaliate against multinational corporations’ requirements or other institutional demands related to working conditions. But, they do not simply agree with everything or abandon the relationship. They discreetly bypass various institutional demands by engaging in numerous irresponsible business practices which we refer to as ‘evasion work’ – a form of institutional work. In this article, we illustrate numerous ways in which they engage in ‘evasion work’ and the conditions that enable them to engage in such work. We believe that our study highlights the need for a more critical research on the organization of working conditions in small businesses that are part of global supply chains. Our study also adds to the ongoing conversation about the agency of resource-dependent and powerless actors. In terms of practical implications, we emphasize the need for sustainability initiatives tailored to meet the capabilities and characteristics of suppliers in developing countries.

The abstract for the paper:

Small businesses in developing countries, as part of global supply chains, are sometimes assumed to respond in a straightforward manner to institutional demands for improved working conditions. This article problematizes this perspective. Drawing upon extensive qualitative data from Tirupur’s knitwear export industry in India, we highlight owner-managers’ agency in avoiding or circumventing these demands. The small businesses here actively engage in irresponsible business practices and “evasion” institutional work to disrupt institutional demands in three ways: undermining assumptions and values, dissociating consequences, and accumulating autonomy and political strength. This “evasion” work is supported by three conditions: void (in labor welfare mechanisms), distance (from institutional monitors), and contradictions(between value systems). Through detailed empirical findings, the article contributes to research on both small business social responsibility and institutional work.

You can read “Small Business and Social Irresponsibility in Developing Countries: Working Conditions and ‘Evasion’ Institutional Work” from Business & Society free for the next two weeks by clicking here. Want to know about all of the latest research from Business & Society? Click here to sign up for e-alerts!

*Bazar image attributed to michael_swan (CC)

Vivek Soundararajan (PhD, Royal Holloway, University of London) is a research fellow at Birmingham Business School, University of Birmingham, United Kingdom and a visiting lecturer at Royal Holloway University of London. His research interests include corporate responsibility, multistakeholder initiatives, labor and environmental standards, sustainable global supply chains, small business responsibility, and emerging country contexts. He has obtained various grants, honors and awards for excellence in research, including two prestigious awards for his doctoral dissertation, namely, “Best Dissertation Award, Social Issues in Management (SIM) Division, the Academy of Management, USA” and “Honourable Mention, Thomas A. Kochan & Stephen R. Sleigh Best Dissertation Competition, Labor and Employment Relations Association (LERA), USA.”

Laura J. Spence (PhD, Brunel University/Buckinghamshire College) is professor of business ethics in the School of Management at Royal Holloway, University of London. Her research includes a wide range of critical approaches to understanding corporate social responsibility and business ethics. In particular, she is known for her work on small- and medium-sized enterprises and the emerging concept of small business social responsibility. Her articles have been published in Accounting, Organizations and Society; Business Ethics Quarterly; California Management Review; and Organization Studies.

Chris Rees (PhD, University of Warwick) is professor of employment relations in the School of Management at Royal Holloway, University of London. His research interests include the sociology of work, employee voice, and transnational and European labor regulation. His work has appeared in journals such as European Journal of Industrial Relations, Human Resource Management Journal, Transfer: European Review of Labour and Research, and Public Management Review.

How Coca-Cola Uses Social Media to Promote Corporate Social Initiatives

19792301106_fa09faba36_zWhat is the most effective way for companies to implement corporate social marketing (CSM)? In the Social Marketing Quarterly article “Examining Public Response to Corporate Social Initiative Types: A Quantitative Content Analysis of Coca-Cola’s Social Media,” authors Lucinda L. Austin and Barbara Miller Gaither suggest that the effectiveness depends upon the the corporate social initiative (CSI) type and the message content more than anything else. The abstract for the paper:

Corporate social initiatives (CSIs) are increasingly important in boosting public acceptance for companies, and emerging research suggests corporate social marketing (CSM) could be Current Issue Coverthe most effective type of CSI. However, scholars caution that CSM is not a one-size-fits-all. Through a content analysis of Coca-Cola’s social media posts on potentially controversial topics related to sustainability, health, and social change, this study explores how CSI type and message content influence public response to an organization’s social media corporate social responsibility posts. Posts emphasizing socially responsible business practices generally received the most favorable public response, while posts focused on cause promotion were received the most negatively. Findings also suggest that CSM is less effective when the issue and advocated behavior change appears to be acting against the company’s interests.

You can read “Examining Public Response to Corporate Social Initiative Types: A Quantitative Content Analysis of Coca-Cola’s Social Media” from Social Marketing Quarterly free for the next two weeks by clicking here. Want to know all about the latest research from Social Marketing Quarterly? Click here to sign up for e-alerts!

*Coca-Cola image attributed to Aranami (CC)