Effect of employee's upward influence tactics on managerial decision making.

Author:Dhiman, Amit


Employees are not passive recipients of the decisions at the work place, but are active players in influencing decisions, especially those decisions which are related to their self interests (Ferris & Judge, 1991). There has been a lot of research on the manager's attempts to influence subordinate, called downward influence, to accomplish the organizational goals. Leadership research is one example of this stream of study. In the last twenty five years or so, research has also focused more attention on the question of 'managing your boss' (Gabarro & Kotter, 1980) or subordinate's upward influence attempts to achieve personal or organizational goals. This research can be divided into two parts; one identifying the situational, leader, and subordinate related antecedents of the upward influence tactics (e.g., Ansari & Kapoor, 1987; Kumar, 1990), and the second studying the consequences of upward influence attempts (e.g., Gardner & Martinko, 1988). This paper focuses on the latter issue, and specifically on managerial decision making. What is the effect of upward influence tactics on managerial decision making? And how does this effect take place? The paper analyses above issues with reference to manager-subordinate dyad in the context of subordinate's personal goals.

The influence attempts are broadly classified into hard, soft, and rational tactics. While the soft tactics, like ingratiation, have been substantially investigated in the past similar investigation of hard tactics such as upward appeal, and coalition, has relatively lagged, even though the latter have been discussed elsewhere in other contexts e.g. union-management negotiations/interactions (Varman & Bhatnagar, 1999), or influential mentor-protege dyads (Fagenson, 1989). It is important to understand the combination of these tactics also, because past evidence suggests that individuals use multiple tactics in combination to achieve their personal or organizational ends (e.g. Kipnis & Schmidt, 1988). The current paper contributes to the influence theory by addressing these issues.

Political Perspective

The rationalist-objective view of organization is too simplistic and naive, especially in decision making situations where there exists considerable ambiguity and subjectivity. According to Thompson (1967), the search for certainty led theorists to consider organizations to be closed systems. The goal of economic efficiency is sought to be achieved through control in the form of structure, rules, and staffing. But organizations are open systems too because of uncertainty due to lack of complete understanding and control on variables inside the organizations, due to interdependency of various parts, and due to organization's interaction with the environment. Both the closed and open forms are evident in complex organizations (Thompson, 1967).

In accordance with the open system view, Pfeffer (1981:6) conceptualized organizations as political entities as against mere rational entities, and stated that, "politics involved how differing preferences are resolved in conflicts over the allocation of scarce resources". Also, political activities are "attempt to influence decisions over critical issues that are not readily resolved through the introduction of new data and in which there are differing views" (Pfeffer, 1981: 6). Thus, resolution of different preferences cannot be completely accomplished by means of objective data when the decision involves complexity and ambiguity. The political metaphor presumes that "it is the relative power of the various social actors that provides both the sufficient and necessary way of resolving the decision" (Pfeffer, 1981:30).

Not only does political behaviors achieve tangible material ends, but also involves symbolism. Managers seek symbolic-psychological rewards in addition to the tangible material rewards e.g. seek approval of significant others. Specifically, Tetlock (1985:308-09) posited that managers' actions are initiated by three underlying motives, "motivation to protect and enhance one's social image"; "motivation to protect and enhance one's self image"; and "desire to gain control of desirable material resources". Further, these three motives are interlinked such that attainment of one is associated with attainment of the other.

Political behaviors are means to achieve above ends, and can take both covert and overt forms. In its explicit, overt form, it is study of power in action (Pfeffer, 1981). In its subtle, covert form "political behaviors involve management of shared meaning in such a way as to produce desired, self serving responses or outcomes" (Ferris, Fedor & King, 1994: 4). These shared meanings provide guidelines for future interpretations and organizational behaviors. Thus organization politics has dual nature, both in terms of means and ends. It is pervasive feature of organization due to diversity of managerial interests, and scarcity of resources. Political behaviors are deliberate attempts to influence decisions. But at the same time, which behaviors are political is a difficult question as it is highly organization context specific, as in case of power, which is difficult to define sometimes, but there is an agreement as to who possesses it (Wayne & Liden, 1995).

Upward Influence (UI)

Organization politics (OP) manifests at different levels. It may be exercised at inter-organizational levels, intra-organizational levels (e.g. between departments), or at individual levels (e.g. supervisor-subordinate dyads). In this paper we focus on the last form of OP variously termed as influence tactics and impression management. Influence tactics represents political behavior which people at work use to influence their colleagues, subordinates or superiors to obtain personal benefits or to fulfill organizational goals (Kipnis, Schmidt & Wilkinson, 1980). Influence tactics can be exercised in upward, downward and lateral directions. Upward influence behavior refers to the manager-subordinate dyadic level and is defined as "attempts to influence someone in formal hierarchy of authority in organization" (Liden & Mitchell, 1988:572). Like other forms of political behaviors, UI can also take overt or covert forms. For example, whereas pressure tactics are explicit and belong to first category, ingratiation falls in the latter category.

Influence tactics classification has been shaped by following notable contributions--Gardner & Martinko (1988), Kipnis et al. (1980), Tedeschi & Melburg (1984) and Yukl & Falbe (1990). Tedeschi & Melburg (1984) proposed a categorization scheme (Fig.1) which provides a convenient framework to classify influence tactics.

Influence behaviors can be strategic or long term, and tactical or short term along one dimension. On the other dimension, the behavior can be defensive or aggressive. Strategic assertive behaviors refer to those which enhance prestige, status, credibility, trustworthiness and reputation over a period of time. These are more long term in nature and not necessarily focused on individual's immediate concerns. Such behaviors include series of actions aimed towards achieving long term goals. Strategic defensive behaviors include alcoholism, drug abuse, and learned helplessness, and these are individual's reactions to situations where they feel helpless over a period of time. These are of not much interest here. Tactical defensive behaviors mostly refer to reactive influence behaviors to handle negative outcomes such as poor performance, and include excuses, justifications, and disclaimers. These again are of not much interest here, because these are ex-post explanations, which are relatively less political. The last category, i.e. tactical assertive behaviors are the focus of present paper because these are proactively used by employees to influence immediate or short term decisions affecting them (Ferris & Judge, 1991). This is the category which has been extensively investigated as well in the influence literature.

Kipnis et al. (1980); Kipnis & Schmidt (1988); Schriesheim & Hinkin (1990); and Yukl & Falbe (1990) conducted empirical studies and identified following upward influence tactics: assertiveness, ingratiation, rationality, exchange, upward appeal and coalitions (see table 1 for definitions). Further Yukl & Tracey (1992) and Yukl, Falbe & Yuon (1993) suggested and found empirical support for more tactics- personal appeal, legitimating, consultation and inspirational appeals. They found that while first two...

To continue reading

Request your trial