How Do Individuals Judge Organizational Legitimacy?

[We’re pleased to welcome author Melanie Eichhorn of the ESCP Europe Business School. Eichhorn recently published an article in Business and Society entitled “How Do Individuals Judge Organizational Legitimacy? Effects of Attributed Motives and Credibility on Organizational Legitimacy,” which is currently free to read for a limited time. Below, Eichhorn reflects on the inspiration for conducting this research:

 

BAS_v50_72ppiRGB_powerpointWhat motivated you to pursue this research?

Almost all of the leading scholars in the field of organizational legitimacy perpetually emphasize the need for empirical studies that investigate how individuals judge whether or not organizations are legitimate, i.e. whether they are perceived to comply with social norms and values. The current lack of such studies creates an unpleasant situation. Our knowledge about what goes on in our minds when judging the legitimacy of corporate behavior basically rests on theoretical models. To close this gap there is hardly a way around insights from social psychology research. Social psychological reasoning does not only allow comprehending cognitive processes of individuals but also demonstrates how individuals influence institutions.

At the end of the day it was the match between the given research gap and our interest in psychological research that motivated us to work on this project.

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

The belief-attitude approach applied in our study explains that collective and individual judgments are not necessarily congruent and that two individual beliefs—attributed motives and the perceived credibility of the organization—lead to a change in individuals’ legitimacy judgment.

Being cautiously optimistic we hope that our study will be only one out of many future studies that experimentally investigate individual legitimacy judgements in organizational research. Experimental vignette studies are a promising data collection technique because they combine the advantages of a laboratory experiment—high internal validity—with those of a field experiment—high external validity. Currently such studies are quite rare in business and society research. Hence, our study hopefully promotes the use of experiments in studies dealing with such issues. Thereby, legitimacy is only one out of many fascinating objects of research.

What is the most important/ influential piece of scholarship you’ve read in the last year?

We would like to seize this opportunity and highlight a recently published article by Finch et al. (2015). For our research area we regard this study as important. It deals with individual legitimacy judgements in regard to the oil sands industry in Canada. Even so the study was overlooked by recent reviews—we deem it the most promising approach to further explore how people judge organizational legitimacy.

The key element of their study is the definition of legitimacy as an attitude. This allows for applying an abundance of scholarly work from decades of social psychology research to the investigation of individual legitimacy judgments. These various existing insights on attitude formation and attitude change as well as those on belief building and belief adjustment provide several fruitful avenues for future research.

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