Stages of Corporate Sustainability: Integrating the Strong Sustainability Worldview

[We’re pleased to welcome author Nancy E. Landrum of Loyola University Chicago. Landrum recently published an article in Stages of Corporate Sustainability: Integrating the Strong Sustainability Worldview,” which is currently free to read for a limited time. Below, Landrum reflects on the inspiration for conducting her research and her contribution to the field:]

O&E_72ppiRGB_powerpointI recently read sustainability reports produced by mining companies.  The reports stated the companies were balancing economic, social, and environmental responsibilities, their environmental impact was minimized while their social benefits were maximized, and they were striving to be environmental leaders.  Yet the dictionary describes sustainability as using a resource in a way that it is not depleted or permanently damaged.  I thought it was ironic that mining companies could claim they were operating sustainably since resource depletion is the purpose of mining.

I went back to the literature on the sustainability spectrum which suggests that sustainability is a continuum that ranges from weak to strong sustainability.  It occurred to me that while the mining companies’ activities did not match my understanding of sustainability, there could, in fact, be multiple interpretations of sustainability.  Companies’ activities could be placed along the sustainability spectrum to define whether they were following the principles of weak sustainability, strong sustainability, or somewhere in between.

This lead to the integration of 22 micro- and macro-level models of stages of development in corporate sustainability which were then aligned with the sustainability spectrum.  I found that existing models had numerous stages that aligned with weak sustainability but did not include stages that aligned with strong sustainability.  The integration of existing models and subsequent alignment with the sustainability spectrum resulted in the creation of a new unified model for stages of corporate sustainability that now included strong sustainability.

This new model allows us to see that companies can be at varying points along the sustainability spectrum and reveals multiple interpretations of sustainability.  While mining companies might be at one end of the spectrum, more progressive companies might be further along the spectrum; they are at different stages based upon their differing interpretations of corporate sustainability.  Most importantly, with the inclusion of strong sustainability, this new model expands our view beyond what currently defines corporate sustainability and opens new territory for the pursuit of a more sustainable future.

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Leaders as Heroes: Can They Liberate Themselves?

[We’re pleased to welcome author Gerardo D. Abreu Pederzini of the University of  Bath, UK. Pederzini recently published an article in the Journal of Management Inquiry entitled “Leaders, Power and the Paradoxical Position: Fantasies for Leaders’ Liberation. Below, Pederzini reflects on the inspiration for conducting this research:]

3042794481_1300140a3c_z.jpgOur world of illusions, sooner or later crumbles in front us. The dreams and fantasies that move us are doomed to show their true colors at some point or another. And, within those fantasies, that of the paternalistic leader is perhaps the most powerful. Since the times of the Romance of Leadership, we have known that people love a good hero story. Yet, finding out that the paternal figure, whoever that might be for us, is not as almighty as we used to think, is one of those crucial points in life when we cross a threshold from which most of the times we cannot go back. However, there is sometimes no way to avoid this moment, as the fantasy of great leaders usually ends with their inevitable fall. When I first realized this, I realized as well that there was a missing element in the latter narrative. We calm our fears and sorrows forcing certain people -leaders- to pretend they control it all. But, how do leaders feel playing a role that is probably doomed to fail?

It is like this that Leaders, Power and the Paradoxical Position: Fantasies for Leaders’ Liberation emerged from my curiosity to answer a perennial question: how do normal limited human beings (i.e. leaders) cope with the challenge of having to pretend that, for some magical reason, they know better than any of us what they are doing? Fantasy is the answer that my paper in the Journal of Management Inquiry proposes for the aforementioned question. But, it is not fantasy as pure magic that is explored in this paper, but fantasy as a subtle socio-cognitive process to find ways to disguise magic in reality itself. In short, it is magical realism fantasizing that explains how a group of leaders that I studied, were able to escape that paradoxical position of having to pretend that they can do it all, when actually knowing they cannot. Like this, the paper contributes to one fundamental aim: to rethink leaders from those who have all power to those that are actually subjects of it.

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Chalkboard photo attributed to thinkpublic (CC).

Effects of Celebrity Endorsements on Brand Equity Dimensions

crca_11_3.cover.pngEndorsement of luxury brands by celebrities is not a new phenomenon. The role of celebrities in influencing modern culture as well as consumption patterns is gaining prominence. Celebrities act as arbiters of style, taste and public opinion all over the world. The celebrity endorsement enables brand managers to catch attention, add credibility and numerous intangible benefits to the brand in a way which are perhaps difficult to be attained through any other form of advertising.

The celebrity culture has followers across Asia. In Japan and South Korea, 70 per cent of commercials use a celebrity. However, the phenomenon is picking up in India and China where it has acquired momentum in a relatively short span of time. Celebrity power has taken off very rapidly in India, and firms are vying with each other to secure contracts for their brands with Bollywood actors and sportspersons. The Indian luxury goods market is not only unique but also a challenging one for international luxury brands seeking to establish their presence here. The luxury market was earlier driven primarily by the preferences of these ultra-rich households. However, in the recent past, rising incomes and aspirations have created a new segment of typically upper middle class aspirers who are potential luxury buyers. By launching entry-level luxury brands for this potential segment, luxury brands try to help these consumers move up the ‘consumption ladder’ by customizing the shopping experience. This is a significant opportunity for brands for establishing strong consumer relationships. Celebrities can be perhaps one of the ways companies can use to connect with the customer.

An article from the Journal of Creative Communications makes a contribution to understanding Indian luxury market by exploring the relationship between brand equity dimensions and celebrity endorsements. Brand awareness is first essential step in consumer purchase process. Therefore, the target market has to be made aware of a firm’s brand(s). This can be achieved through advertising or other form of communication. However, a celebrity along with the firm’s brand name will not only improve the likelihood of brand recall but also infuse the brand with charisma of the celebrity.

Managers need to understand that effectiveness of brand awareness is only up to a certain limit beyond which organizations need to build associations which are strong, favorable and unique in the potential customer’s mind so as to ensure brand purchase. This illustrates the importance of marketing of the brand beyond simply awareness and understanding simultaneously the important role of brand associations for building brand equity. Celebrities may, thus, help in generating consumer attention and recall of advertising campaigns if there is an appropriate fit between the brand and the celebrity. A proper congruence between the celebrity and the luxury brand can help not only a brand stand out of the clutter but also in better brand recall.

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Effect of Celebrity Endorsements on Dimensions of Customer-based Brand Equity: Empirical Evidence from Indian Luxury Market for free from the Journal of Creative Communications

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Website Stories in Times of Distress

[We’re pleased to welcome author Alexia Panayiotou  of the University of  Cyprus. Panayiotou recently published an article in Management Learning entitled “Website Stories in Times of Distress,” co-authored by George Kassinis. From Panayiotou:]

What inspired you to be interested in this topic? My co-author and I have been interested in tmlq.jpghe use of corporate websites as a powerful communication strategy for several years. I was mostly interested in the power of visuality and George interested in questions of greenwashing. We had been following the BP website since 2005, as part of a larger project on the use of green imagery by oil companies. A few weeks before the Deepwater Horizon disaster, we were ready to submit a paper about BP’s website arguing, in fact, that BP’s commitments offered a novel way through which oil exploration and environmental responsibility could co-exist. We even classified various problems that could have “warned” us about BP’s practices as “accidents.” When Deepwater Horizon happened, our ready-to-be-submitted draft became irrelevant. After the shock we underwent both as researchers and as dedicated environmentalists who had clearly misread the greenwashing signs, we decided to reframe our research question vis-à-vis the disaster to study how a company changes its visual story in times of distress. Our realization that even we could be “hijacked” by the corporate story—the corporate agenda had clearly overflown into our own act of research—forced us to refocus our assumptions and questions. It is in this context that corporate power, enabled through website use, became critical to our investigation as our experience highlighted the dangerous potential of becoming “accomplices” to this power.

Were there findings that were surprising to you? The most “surprising” finding was not only the change in the visual story told but the way in which this new story was constructed on the website. In addition, as noted above, we were shocked by how the “liquid organization” had co-opted us in the telling of its story through our own act of navigating the website, making us potential “accomplices” in the telling of its corporate story. We saw this as problematic for many reasons, but mainly because the co-telling of a story through website navigation could result in (paradoxically) solidifying what Zygmunt Bauman calls “liquid power” or “the art of escape from all forms of social responsibility,” especially in cases of corporate hypocrisy.

How do you see this study influencing future research and/or practice? Corporate websites are surprisingly under-explored in organization studies, despite the so-called “visual turn.”  There are several reasons why website study should feature in our research agenda on management learning: First, websites serve as corporate “storytellers” as they transmit both high-level management messages and the corporate identity to outsiders. Second, , websites differ from other forms of corporate communication since the website user is dynamically involved in the “telling” of the corporate story through his or her navigation act; as such, the user is less a recipient and more a co-constructor of this story. Third, websites, as the most ‘fluid’ of all organizational constructs, may be the most appropriate means through which to study the non-committal, shifting organization of “liquid modernity.” Mobilizing website study in management practice and education can provide a better understanding of “corporate hypocrisy” in a liquid, modern world, especially in times of distress!

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On SAGE Insight: How Does the Media Frame Corporate Scandals?

[The following post is re-blogged from SAGE Insight. Please click here to view the original post. ]

Article title: How Does the Media Frame Corporate Scandals? The Case of German Newspapers and the Volkswagen Diesel Scandal

From Journal of Management Inquiry
Despite the importance that the media has in regard to influencing people’s perceptions of wrongdoing, organizational scholars have paid little attention to how the media reports wrongdoing. This article starts to address this gap by considering how the media frames corporate scandals. To study the connection between media framing and organizational wrongdoing, authors turn to political and mass communication research. They empirically examine how four different German newspapers reported on the Volkswagen diesel scandal.  This article testifies to the importance of cross-fertilization between research on mass communication and political science on one side, and organizational research on the other side and, more generally, it calls for more attention to be given to the media in the study of scandals and organizational wrongdoing.

Abstract

Despite the importance that the media has in regard to influencing people’s perceptions of wrongdoing, organizational scholars have paid little attention to how the media reports wrongdoing. This article starts to address this gap by considering how the media frames corporate scandals. We empirically examine how four different German newspapers reported on the Volkswagen diesel scandal. We inductively identify the constitutive elements of a general corporate scandal frame. Then, we analyze how each newspaper framed the scandal through combinations of different elements. We identify from our dataset four frames of corporate scandals that newspapers applied: legalistic, contextual, reputational, and scapegoating. Our article testifies to the importance of cross-fertilization between research on mass communication and political science on one side, and organizational research on the other side and, more generally, it calls for more attention to be given to the media in the study of scandals and organizational wrongdoing.

Read the article for free

Article details
How Does the Media Frame Corporate Scandals? The Case of German Newspapers and the Volkswagen Diesel Scandal
Marco Clemente, Claudia Gabbioneta
First Published February 1, 2017
Journal of Management Inquiry
DOI: 10.1177/1056492616689304

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)