Management, Social Sustainability, Reputation, and Financial Performance Relationships

[We’re pleased to welcome authors, Dr. Robert Sroufe of Duquesne University Pittsburgh and Dr. Venugopal Gopalakrishna-Remani of The University of Texas at Tyler. They recently published an article in Organization & Environment entitled “Management, Social Sustainability, Reputation, and Financial Performance Relationships: An Empirical Examination of U.S. Firms,” which is currently free to read for a limited time. Below, Dr. Sroufe discusses the motivations for this research:]

O&E_72ppiRGB_powerpointThe motivation for this study on Management, Social Sustainability and Reputation can be found in our profound interest in how innovative organizations integrate sustainability. We developed a unique sample of top ranked Fortune 500 multinational companies to better understand how sustainability practices lead to improved performance. In doing so, we propose new constructs and item development while testing relationships to tradition measures of financial performance. This study looks at exemplary MNCs as identified by Newsweek, The Corporate Knights, and Best Corporate Citizens rankings. Firm level performance is assessed during the time of country level cuts to GHG emissions set by the Kyoto Protocol, and during a period of time in which there was a difficult recession in the U.S. The uniqueness of our study and the results operationalize multiple dimensions of sustainability and ask the question has social performance lived up to the promises made on its behalf?

A challenging aspect of this study is the development of new sustainability constructs involving management, social performance and reputation. We were able to utilize multiple measures from both Newsweek and Bloomberg to develop and assess new constructs. We found there are significant benefits to sustainability management practices, yet there is more to explore and learn about the practices and relationships involving social sustainability performance. We hope this study provides a foundation for future research into social sustainability and evolving management practices.

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Argument Complexity and Discussions of Political/Religious Issues

[We’re pleased to welcome authors, Dr. Lyn M. Van Swol of the University of Wisconsin–Madison, Dr. Cassandra L. Carlson-Hill Carolina of Coastal Universit, and Dr. Emily Elizabeth Acosta Lewis of Sonoma State University. They recently published an article in Small Group Research entitled “Integrative Complexity, Participation, and Agreement in Group Discussions,” which is currently free to read for a limited time. Below, Dr. Van Swol discusses some of the findings of this research:]

SGR_72ppiRGB_powerpointPolitical and religious issues can be difficult to discuss in a group, and it can be especially difficult to convince others who disagree with your viewpoint. This paper examined the role of complexity of arguments in a group discussion of a political/religious issue. Groups discussed whether or not the words “under God” should be in the United States Pledge of Allegiance. We had hypothesized that group members whose opinion were more similar to their fellow group members would increase the complexity of their contributions to the group when they were exposed to group members with more fringe opinions, but this was not supported. However, members with more fringe opinions in the group were more successful in influencing the group towards their opinion when they used more complex arguments. Argument complexity did not matter for group members with more mainstream views in terms of how much they influenced the group decision. Because group members with more fringe and discrepant opinions cannot appeal to their opinion being normative and aligned with the majority in the group, it may be important for them to have complex arguments to be persuasive. Complex arguments tend to be more nuanced and less dogmatic, which may make someone with an opinion more different from others in the group seem more flexible and informed. Finally, arguments used by members in the group discussion were more complex when the group had a longer discussion. This highlights the benefits of extending group discussion to let more nuances of the topic of discussion get expressed.

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High Quality Through Transformational Leadership

[We’re pleased to welcome authors Lotte Bøgh Andersen of Aarhus University, Bente Bjørnholt of VIVE–The Danish National Welfare Research and Analysis Center, Louise Ladegaard Bro of Aarhus University, and Christina Holm-Petersen of VIVE–The Danish National Welfare Research and Analysis Center. They recently published a paper in Public Personnel Management entitled, “Achieving High Quality Through Transformational Leadership: A Qualitative Multilevel Analysis of Transformational Leadership and Perceived Professional Quality,” which is free to read for a limited time. Below, Dr. Andersen reflects on the motivation for pursuing this research:]

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What motivated you to pursue this research?

The purpose of many public organizations is to deliver services to citizens and users. As suppliers of (e.g.) daycare, education and elderly care, public organizations play an important role for the welfare and development of individual users – and for the society at large. It is therefore not unreasonable to request high-quality services, or to expect that “good leadership” matters in this regard. But what is professional quality? Does all professionals in an organization have to have the same understanding of “quality” in order for the quality-level to be high? And what can leaders actually do to increase a shared understanding – and high levels – of quality? These are some of the questions that we strive to answer in our research.

Were there any specific external events—political, social, or economic—that influenced your decision to pursue this research?

While the understanding and levels of professional quality were central to our paper, we were also interested in the number of employees which a given leader oversees (also known as span of control). This is because many (Danish) leaders in later years have experienced merges, resulting in fewer leaders and broader spans of control. The article thus contributes with knowledge about whether span of control is important for the effects of leadership.

What has been the most challenging aspect of conducting your research? Were there any surprising findings?

We wanted to understand the quality concept as seen by the leaders and employees; to explore the daily lives and interaction of leaders and employees; and to examine the potential importance of the number of employees per leader. We therefore decided to conduct interviews and observations in a number of public service institutions with varying sizes of spans of control. We find that shared understandings of quality matters for the levels of quality; but also that this understanding does not necessarily have to be in terms of specific output- or outcome measures. In most of the organizations with high levels of quality, there is a shared focus on the work-processes – such as reflected practice and professional discussions. Furthermore, we see a more shared understandings of professional quality and higher quality when leaders use transformational leadership. This type of leadership is, however, most prevalent in organizations with medium-sized spans of control.

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The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly of Organizational Rankings

film-price-2930591_1920[We’re pleased to welcome authors Violina P. Rindova of the University of Southern California, Luis L. Martins, Santosh B. Srinivas of the University of Texas at Austin, and David Chandler of the University of Colorado Denver. They recently published an article in the Journal of Management entitled “The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly of Organizational Rankings: A Multidisciplinary Review of the Literature and Directions for Future,” which is currently free to read for a limited time. Below, they discuss their motivations and findings:]


What motivated you to pursue this research?

In recent years, pressures on organizations for greater accountability, to a wider range of stakeholders, have increased. One of the most salient examples of this new culture of accountability is organizational rankings, such as rankings of best business schools, and best places to work. However, while rankings have grown in prevalence and popularity, and in spite of growing attention from scholars, there is much that we still do not know about how they are produced and, subsequently, consumed. This is particularly so in management research, where there is great interest in related constructs, such as reputation and status, but where a major review of the literature to identify exactly where we stand, and in what directions we need to conduct future research, remains notable by its absence. This paper is intended to fill this gap in the literature.

In what ways is your research innovative, and how do you think it will impact the field?

Our review is unique in that it takes a multi-disciplinary view of rankings. Rankings have been researched in many disciplines that do not often talk to each other, leading to a fragmentary understanding of the phenomenon. Our analysis of published work in the fields of management, sociology (including social, political, and cultural anthropology), education, and law reveals that research into rankings can be characterized by three perspectives: (i) rankings as forms of information intermediation, whereby they make information about organizations available, accessible, and comprehensible to stakeholders; (ii) comparative orderings, in that they confer reputation and/or status to organizations, thereby affecting resource exchanges; and (iii) means for surveillance and control, in that they serve a political purpose and impose a discipline on organizations. For each of these perspectives we identify core contributions, as well as additional questions that extend the current body of research. In addition to identifying potential avenues for future research within the existing three dominant perspectives, we also identify a new perspective: rankings entrepreneurship. This additional perspective has been largely overlooked to date, but promises exciting new avenues for investigating the motivations and characteristics of the actors who produce rankings, how they position and market their rankings, and how they influence stakeholders to grant their rankings legitimacy. Our comprehensive review of the literature on rankings across multiple disciplines provides researchers with a good starting point to quickly get a sense for the received knowledge on the topic, and our suggestions for future research provide guidance on where additional research could address important unanswered questions about rankings.

What did not make it into your published manuscript that you would like to share with us?

As a supplement to our paper, we present the detailed listing of all the relevant papers we identified in an online appendix. This appendix collects and orders these papers in a coherent table, as well as presents the complete reference list, which we were unable to fit into our published paper. We hope the comprehensive nature of our review will be informative to our colleagues, as well as encourage future research into this ever-important area of organization theory. The online appendix, along with our published article, should be very useful to doctoral students preparing for comprehensive exams and for scholars interested in entering this field of inquiry.

What advice would you give to new scholars and incoming researchers in this particular field of study?

Our examination of the literature across multiple disciplines identified some core theoretical foundations that can be used to build coherence within this area of research, but also a large proliferation of work that does not build well on existing research. We believe that our collective understanding of the phenomenon will be advanced in a more systematic fashion if researchers entering the field are cognizant of the multitude of lenses through which the phenomena of rankings can be understood, and clearly build on existing theoretical foundations. Importantly, despite the very large number of papers and books on the topic, there is tremendous room for new research on rankings. In particular, we believe that the entrepreneurial processes behind the production of rankings holds great potential for future research that can inform not just research but also the general public on some tricky realities behind the production and distribution of rankings and their role in markets in societies. As we note in our article, there are many questions on the motives, resources, and practices of rankings entrepreneurs that remain to be answered. Also, research on how organizations can come up with strategic responses to overcome the perverse influence that rankings can often wield over organizations would produce important guidelines for managers and organizations dealing with rankings.

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Top 10 photo attributed to Fotomek. (CC)

Individuals’ Personal Resistance to Change

overcoming-2127669_1920[We’re pleased to welcome author Shaul Oreg of The Hebrew University of Jerusalem. He recently published an article in the Journal of Applied Behavioral Science entitled “Resistance to Change and Performance: Toward a More Even-Handed View of Dispositional Resistance,” which is currently free to read for a limited time. Below, Dr. Oreg reflect on the inspiration for conducting this research:]

JABS_72ppiRGB_powerpointMy interest in this project derived from my desire to counter the negative view of the resistance to change concept in general, and the notion of individuals’ personal resistance to change more specifically. As a rule, resistance to change is considered to be bad, irrational, and harmful. Accordingly, individuals who are predisposed to resist change are typically viewed in a negative light. They are seen as inferior to those individuals who seek out change and thrive in dynamic environments. This is unfortunate given that there are many situations in our lives in which it is the routine and stable environment that dominates and that requires our attention. We are often required to maintain high levels of motivation and performance in environments that are routine and often monotonous. As such, individuals who shy away from change and prefer routines may actually have an advantage over change-seekers in such stable environments. This is what I set out to demonstrate in this project.

One of the challenges in the project was to devise routine and dynamic environments in the lab that would capture the essence of these environments in real life. Another challenge was obtaining evidence from both laboratory and field settings.

The findings nicely demonstrate both the advantages and disadvantages of dispositional resistance to change in the context of task performance. Whereas high-resistors perform more poorly on dynamic tasks, they outperform their change-loving counterparts when performing routine tasks. Of the four dimensions of the dispositional resistance to change trait, it is the routine-seeking dimension that yields this pattern most consistently.

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Resistance tag photo attributed to NeuPaddy. (CC)

Evaluating Social Marketing Campaigns

[We’re pleased to welcome author Diogo Veríssimo of Johns Hopkins University. He recently published an article in Social Marketing Quarterly entitled “Does It Work for Biodiversity? Experiences and Challenges in the Evaluation of Social Marketing Campaigns,” which is currently free to read for a limited time. Below, Dr. Veríssimo provides insight on impact evaluation and behaviour change:]

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Measuring change is hard. But it is also critical to programs hoping to influence human behaviour towards more positive societal outcomes. In a newly published paper, Does It Work for Biodiversity? Experiences and Challenges in the Evaluation of Social Marketing Campaigns, we tackle the challenge of evaluating social marketing campaigns targeting fishing communities in the Philippines with the goal of driving the adoption of more sustainable fishing practices at the community level.

Research on impact evaluation is vital to improve implementation, particularly in high uncertainty high complexity environment such as those in which social marketing operates. By measuring our impact we can first ensure we do no harm and then learn what works, to improve with each iteration. This is even more pressing in the environmental context, as we have lagged far behind sectors such as public health or international development in impact evaluation. Therefore, our goal with this paper was to showcase how we can raise the bar on the evaluation of behaviour change efforts, in this case social marketing, in a particularly changing subject, that of fisheries management in the tropics.

Our work focused on the evaluation of three social marketing campaigns in the Philippines, using a quasi-experiments design of match campaign and control sites. We measured both social indicators through surveys and biological indicators using underwater ecological surveys. We found limited evidence of behaviour change amongst fisherman and no evidence of change in fish biomass as a result of the campaigns. Yet, we also discussed the fact that this last result is fully expected, given how long fisheries take to recover, a timeline often measured in decades, not years. This has implications not only for the way that we plan and implement social marketing campaigns but also for donors who should be aware that expecting biological change in the often short project cycles may just be unrealistic.

Moreover, our research hopes to highlight the difficulties of carrying out competent impact evaluations in a context where both social and biological indicators need to be measured and where both terrestrial and in-water data is needed. This has obvious implications in terms of cost, not only in terms of money, time and staff but also in terms of required technical expertise. Project budgets need to reflect this reality if we are to be truly evidence-based and take responsibility for the interventions we implement. After all it is not about success and failure, it should most of all be about learning.