What drives an employee to lobby for his/her initiatives within the organization?

In an article in the Journal of Management Studies, we examine the determinants of initiative selling or lobbying within organizations.  Past research has focused on the selling of strategic issues within organizations, that is, events or trends in the organizational environment which the individual thinks they might have an effect in the organization and thus should be examined (Ansoff, 1980). But very little is known about the internal lobbying for actual proposals for action or change, what we call entrepreneurial ideas or initiatives (Van de Ven, 1986).

Most research on strategic issue selling or influence efforts in general draws on expectancy theory (Vroom, 1964) and posits that the expectation of success in selling and the valence (value) of that success determines individual’s influence or selling effort (e.g. Mowday, 1978). Several individual features such as experience and social capital as well as top management openness to new ideas are supposed to determine an individual’s perception of his/her success expectancy in selling the issue (Dutton & Ashford, 1993). Interestingly, most research has examined controversial issues (e.g. Dutton et al, 1997; 2001; 2002) and thus has not assessed how the nature of the issue or initiative (i.e. its expected benefits and costs) might influence an individual’s expectancy and value perception and thus lobbying effort. Relatedly, in our research we also investigate the role of extrinsic rewards (compensation, promotion or recognition) for initiative sellers as a component of their perception of the value of internal lobbying. Further,  we go beyond the issue/initiative specific context and we also consider the role of individual satisfaction with the organizational direction and performance. More precisely, drawing from the behavioral theory of the firm (e.g. March & Simon, 1958; Cyert & March, 1963), we expect that dissatisfaction will trigger greater lobbying effort.

We tested our hypotheses with data from a survey in a Mexican mail service firm for which we obtained responses for 192 managers, that is, 96 % of all managers (the average respondent is 36 years old and has a bachelor’s degree; 82% are men). We asked them to report on an entrepreneurial initiative they had proposed in the last year. Examples of the initiatives proposed include offering new services to customers (e.g., overnight delivery), creating a new internal role or function (e.g., international sales manager), and redesigning organizational procedures (e.g., incentive structure for event managers).

We find that individuals’ reported intensity of their initiative selling efforts to peers, superiors and subordinates is greater when they (1) believe that the organizational benefits of the initiative are high, (2) perceive that the initiative is consistent with current organizational practices, (3) believe that their immediate organizational environment provides extrinsic rewards for initiatives, (4) are satisfied with the current organizational situation and (5) their organizational and industry experience is greater. In contrast, we found that social capital (i.e. friendship ties with the immediate superior) and the individual’s risk orientation did not significantly affect initiative selling.

Therefore, if organizations want to encourage their employees to lobby for their initiatives and thus share ideas for change they should make sure that employees know and are satisfied with the current organizational direction and clearly perceive that their immediate organizational environment provides extrinsic rewards for initiative selling.

De Clercq, D., Castañer, X. and Belausteguigoitia, I. (in press). “Explaining Initiative Selling within Organizations: Towards a More Comprehensive Motivational Framework”. Journal of Management Studies.

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