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Managing to Stay in the Dark
In their article, Fast, Burris, and Bartel (2014) address the issue of managerial self-efficacy and its role in soliciting employee voice as an important aspect of successful management. The main idea the authors promote is that a lack of self-efficacy is a factor that reduces employee voice solicitation. To understand the construct, it is necessary to examine the definitions of the article’s key concepts. First of all, managerial self-efficacy is classically understood as the managers’ “perceived ability to perform their roles successfully” (Fast, Burris & Bartel 2014, p. 1014). Further, it is argued that the perception of noncompliance with standards promotes ego defensiveness, which is primarily expressed in the unwillingness of managers to admit their mistakes or vulnerabilities. Since employee voice may serve as a source of criticism, managers with low self-efficacy tend to avoid creating environments where employee voice is welcomed and encouraged.
The authors’ hypothesis is confirmed in two studies. In the first one, it was shown that people in managerial positions with low self-efficacy are less likely than those with high self-efficacy to solicit employee input, which creates a situation where employee voice is not heard. The second study identified that such situations feature employee voice aversion, i.e. the practice in which employees who speak up about problems are discouraged, receive poor evaluation, and their feedback is not taken into consideration by the management. Also, it was declared in the second study that the main reason for employee voice aversion was ego defensiveness of managers with low self-efficacy. Such managers perceive critical judgement from their subordinates as a threat, which makes them reluctant to encourage feedback or incorporate it into their decision-making processes.
Fast, Burris, and Bartel (2014) appeal to various theories of managerial psychology to justify their hypothesis and conduct actual studies to confirm it. This approach is scientific, as it relies on both theoretical and practical research, and it makes the results valid and reliable (Northouse 2012). To make their arguments clearer and more intelligible, the authors identify four main components of their research: low managerial self-efficacy, managerial voice aversion, improvement-oriented employee voice, and ego threat. Further, the correlations among these four components are established. Lower self-efficacy means higher voice aversion and higher ego threat. Higher voice aversion means lower employee voice. This simple explanation illustrates the authors’ argument and allows analysing what should be improved in a managerial system to ensure better evaluation and continuous development, which are promoted by improvement-oriented employee voice.
In their arguments, the authors rely on the findings of many other theorists and researchers. For example, it is stressed that speaking up in organisations can be associated with both risks and benefits for an employee (Burris 2012), which is relevant to the article because voice aversion as an instrument adopted by managers with low self-efficacy is a risk for employees who can experience oppression or even be dismissed (Morrison 2014). Also, the issue of what employees are likely to speak up is addressed, and it is shown that a stronger position in an organisation, i.e. the lack of fear to be dismissed, is a primary factor that makes employees speak up (Liang, Farh & Farh 2012). Finally, it is argued that employee voice is beneficial for organisations because it improves employee performance and reduces turnover (McClean, Detert & Burris 2013). However, Fast, Burris, and Bartel (2014) go on to argue that the number of benefits is higher, as there are various aspects of an organisation’s success that can be potentially improved by soliciting employee voice and reflecting on feedback.
Concerning practical implications, several recommendations are proposed to employees who are willing to speak up in their organisation but refrain from doing so due to their apprehension about possible risks. One of the recommendations is to talk to their managers in private instead of in front of other employees. In such a situation, ego defensiveness mechanisms in managers with low self-efficacy are weaker (Fast, Burris & Bartel 2014). Also, it is recommended to ‘wrap’ criticism in praise, i.e. talk about suggestions after a compliment and before another one, which has been proposed by many other researchers, too (Aguinis, Gottfredson & Joo 2012). One more technique is expressing gratitude to a manager in order to minimise his or her feeling of threat (Cho & Fast 2012). With such an approach, an employee is more likely to be heard by the management, which is ultimately beneficial for an organisation.
From the Editors
Van Knippenberg et al. (2015) wrote an introduction to a new issue of the Academy of Management Magazine and highlighted the main subjects covered by various authors in it. However, the authors also managed to find a common theme explored in one way or another by all the articles they introduced. This theme is the role of information in management today. The main idea expressed in the editors’ foreword is that there is an abundance of information in the modern world that decision makers have to deal with, and this constitutes a principal difference from managerial models of the past and a major challenge for managers. Previously, the lack of information was an issue, which is why managers had to rely heavily on assumptions. Today, with the spread of the Internet and a more interactive model of communications, there is too much information, which emphasises the need to select relevant information and use it properly as opposed to the need to find it.
It is argued by van Knippenberg et al. (2015, p. 649) that “a key challenge in the information age is to manage this wealth of available information and channel it to productive ends.” Based on a review of academic literature, the authors claim that managers today have access to larger amounts of information than ever before in history (George, Haas & Pentland 2014). Information was always valued because it was believed that being more informed meant being able to make better decisions (Miller & Mork 2013). However, the authors state that fundamental processes of decision-making do not seem to have changed despite the growing access to information. The challenges persist because managers today have to process large amounts of information, and for that, they spend time and resources that previously went to finding information. Moreover, the issues of sorting out relevant data and identifying applicability make the process perhaps even more challenging.
Despite the fact that the article is an introduction from editors, it refers to academic sources published previously as well as those published in the issue for which the introduction was written. Citing sources makes the content reliable. Focusing on the changing role of information as the main subject, the authors also discuss such topics as technology, organisational levels, creativity, innovation, social processes, and workplace behaviour. The vastness of the addressed issues may be overwhelming, but the authors manage to structure them into an intelligible system describing the most topical issues in the context of information and management.
One of the main aspects of the effect that the development of information had on the modern world is that the extended capacities to obtain, store, process, and retrieve information have been modifying the way organisations and individuals work (Pentland 2014). One of the aspects of this change is the growing attention to selecting sources of information, and organisations have demonstrated an uneven approach to this process (Piezunka & Dahlander 2015). Work-related and nonwork issues intertwine due to wider opportunities for generating content and sharing information (Becker, Butts & Boswell 2015), which complicated the work of managers who face the need to communicate with employees more effectively. Lam, Huang, and Chan (2015) argue that proper information sharing contributes to participatory leadership, which, in turn, improves employee performance.
Upon reflecting on all these findings, van Knippenberg et al. (2015) conclude that today’s decision makers do not experience a scarcity of information; instead, their main challenge is to justify their decision under the circumstances of information overload. Since the article is an introduction, it does not feature definitive practical recommendations, but the authors stress that finding practical implications of information studies is one of the relevant topics in management today (Smets et al. 2015). One of the main challenges in this area is that the information is not only abundant but also diverse, and defining what is valid and pertinent becomes a major managerial task. A better understanding of how information works today can contribute to creating better managerial models.
The Power of Organisation and the Organisation of Power
In their article, Knights and Roberts (1982) examine the managerial understanding of the concept of power. It is argued that power is often understood as something that belongs to a person or a group of people, which, according to the authors, creates a confusion that negatively affects the internal operation of organisations. By assuming that there is possession of power, one mistakes authority for power and subsequently regards power in the context of hierarchies. Throughout the article, the authors argue that power is rather something that is in the relationships among people; particularly, between management and staff. Failure to link power to relationships leads to underestimating the role of employees in an organisation.
Many scholars have addressed the issue of power relations in the managerial context, and one of the outstanding achievements of researchers is discovering various understandings of power, some of which are considerably less beneficial for organisations than other. The confusion addressed by Knights and Roberts (1982) is linked to the theory developed by Reason (1998) that differentiates the ability to directly affect events from the ability to control the framework within which events are interpreted. The latter is a more profound understanding of power, but it is also significantly more complex, as it involves more components. If a manager sees his or her function as making decisions and enforcing them, this is a limited perspective because it overlooks various considerations of an organisation’s operation that a manager may not be aware of or be able to control. It is argued by the authors that a manager should acknowledge the role and potential contribution of employees in achieving common goals instead of regarding them as mere functions and striving for controlling them. Therefore, power is something expressed and executed in the relations and interactions between management and staff as opposed to something that is held by the management and executed through imposing regulations on the staff.
To support their arguments, Knights and Roberts reflect on relevant academic literature, including classical works on organisational psychology and division of labour. For example, an influential sociological work by Durkheim (1964) was addressed to explain the nature of coercive relations in the context of labour division. On the one hand, it makes the arguments stronger and more reliable. On the other hand, a significant consideration in the analysis of this article is that it was published 35 years ago, i.e. when the technological and informational aspects of the world were remarkably different from today’s. Although the authors logically follow the presented understanding of power relations, it can be assessed that their perspective requires reconsideration in the 21st century due to the advancements in management theory. Since 1982, many organisations have adopted the model of power that does not imply concentration or possession of power, but those organisations still face difficulties, and improving their power relations is a more topical issue today than reflecting on previous understandings of power.
However, the view proposed by Knights and Roberts (1982) remains influential, as it has inspired many studies in the area of managerial power. For example, Ahonen et al. (2013) explored power in the context of diversity and managing it. Diverse systems particularly highlight that regarding power as possession fails to promote effective relations. Another example is that some scholars have turned to the issue of compassion in the context of power and discovered that emotion and compassion is an aspect of power relations that is often overlooked when analysing the causes of decisions made by managers (Simpson, Clegg & Freeder 2013). Moreover, it is argued that failure to understand power relations and distribution misguides compassion and reduces the quality of decision-making (Simpson 2014). The idea of reconsidering the concept of power has proved to be inspirational among social scientists.
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Concerning practical implications of the article, it is noteworthy that the differences between organisations in the early 1980s and today are remarkable, which is why particular guidelines that might have been proposed by Knights and Roberts (1982) may not be easily employed or directly applied in the modern context. Recent studies have been focusing on discovering hidden aspects of power and the ways in which power can be executed through shaping the context (Cutlip 2013). These subjects were not profoundly addressed before, and it is still constantly stressed by researchers that the nature of power is still far from being fully understood. There are many other things that need to be studied in order to explain how power is distributed in systems that involve human interactions and how cooperation is carried out in those systems. Future research in the area is particularly important for managers because they are those people who need to understand how power works in order to ensure better decision-making, distribution and allocation of resources, and building relations in the most effective and efficient way.
Finding the Organisation in the Communication
In their article, Taylor and Robichaud (2004) address discursive approaches to management. ‘Discursive’ means related to discourse, i.e. how people talk and what they say to one another. The role of discourses in the information age has been widely acknowledged as crucial, but it can be further argued that this role is not limited to the common understanding of effective communication. By effective communication, it is normally meant that a person or a group of people manages to convey messages explaining their thoughts or intentions to another party in a way that the messages are clear, not distorted, and the opportunities for their misinterpretation are minimal (Fielding 2006). However, this perspective posits that the communicating party initially possesses thoughts and intentions, which is why communication is seen as a process of delivery. The perspective suggested by Taylor and Robichaud is different.
Following the philosophical understanding of discourse, to which a large contribution was made by Michel Foucault, the authors argue that discourse should not be seen as a process of expression solely; rather, it should be seen also as a process of creating. When people talk, they do not only exchange content but also engage in sensemaking that may change their behaviours (Fairclough 2013). This notion of discourse as action is what the authors posit in their article, which allows examining the ways in which discourse may affect organisations and the process of organising. Taylor and Robichaud (2004, p. 395) identify two ways: first, agents, i.e. people who play the implementation role, engage in various communicative activities, which is seen as “the site where organizing occurs” and agency is actually carried out. Second, there are interpretations that underlie organising and encompass purposes of operation and definitions needed to operate, and such interpretations exist in the form of texts, i.e. in a discursive form. It is also stressed that texts are generated through the agents’ conversations, but at the same time, texts create the environment where conversations occur, so the two are highly interconnected.
In their arguments, the authors rely on advanced achievements of social sciences that are not always taken into consideration by management researchers. It is particularly important to acknowledge that, when talking to each other, people are limited to the meanings of the words that they use, although they may not realise that such limitations are in place (Dreyfus & Rabinow 2014). Therefore, communication cannot be seen as a process of information exchange; instead, it should be addressed as a process of creating meanings (Dzidowski 2014). By addressing various aspects of language and organisation, including the establishment of relations, the authors manage to provide a profound and reliable view on the discursive perspective on organisations supported by many theoretical sources.
Taylor and Robichaud (2004) show that organisations are largely affected by discursive practices of their members; some researchers went further to state that organisations are in a way products of discourses (Holman & Thorpe 2003) and should be explored as such. Although the article is more theoretical, some practical implications can be proposed. A major one is that managers should acknowledge the role of their words and the role of texts that underlie the operation of their organisations. By adopting discursive approaches, managers may gain a more profound understanding of what forces and processes affect their organisations, which ultimately contributes to improvement.
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