Perception is reality: change leadership and work engagement
Jay L. Caulfield and Anthony Senger Marquette University, Milwaukee, Wisconsin, USA
Abstract Purpose – The purpose of this paper is to investigate how employee perceptions of change and leadership might impact work engagement following major organizational change. Design/methodology/approach – Social media invited US workers recently experiencing major organizational change to anonymously complete a web-based survey requesting qualitative and quantitative responses. Values-based coding and thematic analysis were used to explore qualitative data. Hierarchical and linear regression, and bootstrapped mediation were used to analyze quantitative data. Findings – Analysis of qualitative data identified employees’ perceptions of ideal change and ideal leadership were well supported in the change leadership literature. Analysis of quantitative data indicated that employee perceptions of leadership fully mediated the relationship between employee perceptions of change and work engagement. Practical implications – Study findings imply that how employees perceive change is explained by how they perceive leadership during change, and that these perceptions impact work engagement. Although these findings appear commonsensical, the less than stellar statistics on major organizational change may encourage leaders to become more follower-focused throughout the change process. Originality/value – The study makes a contribution to an understudied area of organizational research, specifically applied information processing theory. This is the first study that identifies employee perceptions of leadership as a mediator for perceptions of change and work engagement. From a value perspective, leaders as successful change agents recognize significant cost savings in dollars and human welfare by maintaining healthy workplaces with highly engaged workers. Keywords Transformational leadership, Mediation, Work engagement, Change leadership, Organizational change, Employee perceptions Paper type Research paper
1. Introduction The world is dynamic. Globally, leaders assess the environment and enact organizational change to pursue opportunities and conquer challenges. Organizations that adapt and innovate remain viable. However, enacting change has had less than a stellar track record. Consider the following examples. The America Online/Time Warner Cable merger resulted in an estimated loss of $100 billion (Dumon, 2008; McGrath, 2015). Boeing’s 787 Dreamliner project with an estimated cost and development timeline of $6 billion over four years instead cost $32 billion over eight years (Ausick, 2014). The UK government canceled its largest civilian information technology (IT) project after spending $4 billion and ten years on it (Gibbons, 2015). Examples like this illustrate that failed change is costly with reported failure rates of 70 percent (Beer and Nohria, 2000) to 20 percent (Weiner et al., 2008).
Human welfare costs related to failed change (decreased engagement, job insecurity and increased stress) are less quantifiable, but equally important. Willis Towers Watson (2015) reports that employee engagement declines during major organizational change while Aon Hewitt (2013) asserts it takes years for engagement to fully recover. Competitively, this is concerning as studies report that disengaged employees are costly to organizations due to increased absenteeism, attrition and decreased productivity (Ghadi et al., 2013; Vance, 2006).
Research suggests the outcome of change is largely dependent upon leadership (Kotter and Cohen, 2002; Willis Towers Watson, 2015). Effective leaders enable followers to understand the reason for change and to see its personal and organizational benefits (Kotter and Cohen, 2002; Sinek, 2009). Over the past 30 years, the seminal work of Lord (1985) on information processing and Lord and Maher (1991) on leadership and information
Leadership & Organization Development Journal Vol. 38 No. 7, 2017
pp. 927-945 © Emerald Publishing Limited
0143-7739 DOI 10.1108/LODJ-07-2016-0166
Received 11 July 2016 Revised 21 July 2016
29 March 2017 Accepted 3 May 2017
The current issue and full text archive of this journal is available on Emerald Insight at: www.emeraldinsight.com/0143-7739.htm
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processing, in addition to research on implicit leadership theories (ILTs) (Shondrick et al., 2010; Shondrick and Lord, 2010) and on implicit followership theories (IFTs) (Shondrick and Lord, 2010; Sy, 2010; Whiteley et al., 2012), has contributed to the dominance of socio-cognitive research for several decades. In the context of leader and follower relationships, socio-cognitive theory (SCT) focuses on learning by observation of social interactions and by participating in them (Bandura, 1989). SCT includes under its umbrella information processing theories. To date, most studies of information processing have taken place in controlled settings outside the realm of organizations (Epitropaki et al., 2013), although the findings from those studies have significant application to leader-follower relationships, job attitudes and work performance within organizations (Epitropaki et al., 2013). Thus, the aim of this study is to make a contribution to an understudied area in organizational research by applying perception and information processing theories as a means of studying change leadership from a follower perspective, as followship has also been understudied (Baker, 2007). This goal is achieved by exploring follower perceptions of change leadership and their impact on work engagement. Gaining a better understanding of how follower perceptions influence change leadership through this study and future applied studies in information processing within organizations may lead to measurable improvement in organizational change outcomes.
2. Literature review and hypotheses The literature approaches change leadership from either an organizational change theory (OCT) or leadership theory perspective (Herold et al., 2008). OCT proposes the need for change as originating from external and internal drivers, thereby focusing on the relationship between the organization and its environment. Resource dependency theory (RDT) (Hillman et al., 2009) and IT (Scott, 2007) are two OCTs identifying change drivers.
The leadership theory perspective links specific leadership theories to change. Transformational leadership theory is most cited as its premise is transformation, and behaviors identified as transformational have been reported most effective during change (Bass and Riggio, 2006; Epitropaki et al., 2013, Kotter and Cohen, 2002).
2.1 RDT and IT as components of OCT RDT focuses on external drivers (Hillman et al., 2009). As an influential theory in organizational science, it suggests organizations are not self-sufficient; rather they function as open systems where viability depends on adapting to the external environment. Strategies that organizations take to reduce dependency include mergers and acquisitions, joint ventures, political action, composition of board membership and succession planning (Hillman et al., 2009). These strategies drive major organizational change, which is of prime interest in this study.
IT focuses on internal behaviors as drivers (Scott, 2007). IT is based on four major assumptions: institutions act as governance structures, establishing norms for behavior; those institutions abiding by norms are considered legitimate, enhancing long-term viability; institutions that resist change, threaten their long-term viability; and past institutional structures influence future innovation (Scott, 2004). IT suggests that organizations establish social identities through organizational structure, values, norms and culture (Scott, 2007). Though social identity is often viewed positively, it may become a barrier to change when employees perceive change as threatening organizational values, norms and culture (Jones et al., 2008). In a study of vanguard organizations, Kanter (2008) reports, “Values turn out to be the key ingredient in the most vibrant and successful of today’s multinationals […] They offer people a basis of engagement for their work, a sense of membership and a stability in the midst of constant change” (p. 45). Employees reaction to change depends upon how they perceive it ( Jones et al., 2008). Thus, follower perception is a key construct in this study.
2.2 Followership and follower perception Theoretical foundations of followship are evolving. What is emerging from the literature is that both followership and leadership are active and essential roles integral to organizations’ success (Baker, 2007). The roles may be interchangeable specific to the situation and expertise needed (Berg as cited in Baker, 2007); thus, followers and leaders should be studied in the context of their relationship with one another (Baker, 2007). This last point is relevant in that this study focuses on followers’ perceptions of leadership during change, exploring how those perceptions influence leadership, followership and the change process.
Lord’s (1985) seminal work on information processing approach to social perception identifies how employees recognize, encode, store and retrieve information. A cognitive schema refers to a system that organizes and stores information based upon past experience (Lord, 1985). During retrieval, judgment related to existing schemas influences perception (Lord, 1985). This rationale applies to change, and leadership during change, whereby followers form laymen implicit leadership theories (ILTs) (Shondrick and Lord, 2010) that are similar to the definition of schemas specific to leadership. These leadership schemas, now sometimes referred to as leadership prototypes, serve as a measuring stick for any future leadership encounters. Followers will either perceive change leadership positively or negatively dependent upon whether their perceptions of change leadership interactions align with their ideal prototypes of change leadership. How then are employees’ perceptions of change leadership measured? Because past studies have assessed employees’ perceptions of change by its influence on work engagement (Aon Hewitt, 2013; Willis Towers Watson, 2015), work engagement is of interest in this study.
2.3 Work engagement As a construct in the psychological literature, work engagement aligns with positive psychology, characterized by its focus on well-being and optimal functioning. Grounded theory derived from Kahn’s (1990) earlier research laid the foundation for more recent work in engagement theory. Kahn (1990) described personal engagement and disengagement in terms of role theory and social systems. Simply put, role theory proposes that organizations are social systems whereby individuals act upon socially defined roles and expect others to do the same (Lorette, 2016). Specifically, Kahn (1990) defines personal engagement as “harnessing of organization members’ selves to their work roles” while defining disengagement as “the uncoupling of selves from work roles” (p. 694).
Following Kahn’s (1990) work, Schaufeli et al. (2002) defined work engagement as “a positive, fulfilling, work-related state of mind that is characterized by vigor, dedication, and absorption” (p. 74). In a subsequent study (Schaufeli et al., 2006), vigor is described as possessing high levels of energy and mental resilience when working, with workers investing considerable effort and persistence despite road blocks. Dedication is characterized as being strongly involved with work, experiencing a sense of significance, enthusiasm, inspiration, pride and challenge. Finally, absorption is described as engrossed in work, where time passes quickly and it is difficult for one to detach. The change leadership literature reports that employee perceptions of change influence work engagement and that employees perceive leadership as pivotal to change (Aon Hewitt, 2013; Kotter and Cohen, 2002; Willis Towers Watson, 2015). As the purpose of this study is to determine whether follower perceptions of change might be explained by follower perceptions of leadership, work engagement was selected as the outcome variable.
2.4 RDT, IT and work engagement RDT and IT provide insight on varied reactions to change. If employees are aware of external changes driving the internal need for change and they perceive that it will ultimately benefit them and the organization, they embrace change. Conversely, if they are
Change leadership and work
unaware of the external forces driving change or do not perceive its benefits, they are likely to resist change as it disrupts organizational identity (Jones et al., 2008). When employees perceive change positively, it creates a positive, work-related state of mind, which Schaufeli et al. (2002) describe as work engagement. However, when employees perceive change negatively, it results in disengagement (Kahn, 1990; Vance, 2006). The perceived alignment between employees’ schemas or prototypes of change and their perceptions of observed change is referred to hereinafter as “employee perceived aligned change,” and according to past research (Aon Hewitt, 2013; Schaufeli et al., 2002; Willis Towers Watson, 2015), these employee perceptions influence work engagement, leading to our initial hypothesis:
H1. Employee perceived aligned change is directly related to work engagement.
2.5 Transformational leadership theory The change leadership literature identifies transformational leadership as highly beneficial during major change (Bass and Riggio, 2006; Epitropaki et al., 2013; Kotter and Cohen, 2002; Kegan and Lahey, 2009). Bass and Riggio (2006, p. 4) describe transformational leadership as “inspiring followers to commit to a shared vision and goals for an organization or unit, challenging them to be innovative problem solvers, and developing followers’ leadership capacity via coaching, mentoring, and provision of both challenge and support.” Notable transformational leadership behaviors include clearly communicating purpose, being respectful, portraying confidence in goal achievement, including followers in problem solving, supporting innovation that encourages learning and investing in followers’ development (Bass and Riggio, 2006). Transactional leadership behaviors differ in that they focus on providing incentives to followers to achieve specific goals that have been identified and agreed upon by leaders and followers (Bass and Riggio, 2006). Several leadership studies have reported findings that followers across cultures have more positive schemas or prototypes of leadership when exposed to leaders who predominantly practice transformational leadership behaviors (Bass and Riggio, 2006; Bass, 1997; Den Hartog et al., 1999; Judge and Piccolo, 2004)
2.6 Linking follower perceptions of organizational change to leadership Organizational change is a social process (Poole et al., 2000, p. 337) involving leaders and followers. SCT (Bandura, 1989) purports that individuals learn from observing and experiencing social interactions, including those of leaders and followers. Thus, followers categorize leaders according to how they have been socialized to understand and construct leadership (Shondrick and Lord, 2010), identifying individuals that exemplify their leadership prototypes, and judging the success or failure of leaders as change agents according to the degree of prototype alignment (Shondrick and Lord, 2010). Because leaders are viewed as change agents (Kotter and Cohen, 2002), followers associate change with leadership (Willis Towers Watson, 2015). This implies that employees’ perceived degree of aligned change is associated with how their leadership prototype aligns with their perception of observed leadership, hereinafter referred to as “employee perceived aligned leadership,” leading to the second hypothesis:
H2. Employee perceived aligned change is directly related to employee perceived aligned leadership.
2.7 Leadership and work engagement In the Willis Towers Watson (2015) study, employees identified leadership as the most significant driver of work engagement, with effective change leaders characterized by four attributes. Specifically, those attributes were communicating vision in engaging ways, such
as storytelling; involving employees in modeling the future; paying attention to barriers to change, addressing them promptly; and fostering trust and confidence by authenticity and role modeling the way. This study, as well as several others (Ghadi et al., 2013; Gözükara and Simsek, 2015; Persson, 2010; Salanova et al., 2011; Tims et al., 2011), reports findings indicating that transformational leadership is a predictor of work engagement. The findings further imply that when leaders demonstrate transformational leadership behaviors, followers perceive them positively as these transformational leadership behaviors exemplify existing leadership prototypes of ideal leaders (Epitropaki et al., 2013). Further implied is that this leadership alignment influences work engagement, leading to Hypothesis:
H3. Employee perceived aligned leadership is directly related to work engagement.
2.8 Leadership as a mediator A primary purpose of mediation is to investigate how an observed relationship between a predictor variable and an outcome variable occurs, referred to as an explanatory approach (MacKinnon, 2008). As previously noted, leaders are recognized as change agents (Kotter and Cohen, 2002), linking change to leadership, and leadership has been linked to work engagement (Aon Hewitt, 2013; Bass and Riggio, 2006; Bass, 1997; Den Hartog et al., 1999; Willis Towers Watson, 2015). Thus, an important explanatory link between change and work engagement is leadership.
Second, mediation explores variables that research identifies as having significant relationships with an outcome variable, referred to as a design approach (MacKinnon, 2008). Studies previously cited reported statistically significant relationships between change and work engagement (Aon Hewitt, 2013; Schaufeli et al., 2002; Kahn, 1990; Vance, 2006; Willis Towers Watson, 2015), change and leadership (Bass and Riggio, 2006; Epitropaki et al., 2013; Kotter and Cohen, 2002; Kegan and Lahey, 2009), and leadership and work engagement (Ghadi et al., 2013; Gözükara and Simsek, 2015; Persson, 2010; Salanova et al., 2011; Tims et al., 2011). Thus, based upon research supporting explanatory and design associations for mediation, the final hypothesis is proposed:
H4. Employee perceived aligned leadership mediates the association between employee perceived aligned change and work engagement.
The research model is portrayed in Figure 1.
Employee perceived aligned
leadership (M )
Work engagement (Y)
Employee perceived aligned
change (X )
Notes: Where: X= predictor variable; M= mediator; Y= outcome variable; a= direct relationship between X and M; b= direct relationship between M and Y; C= direct relationship between X and Y; Ć= indirect (mediated) relationship between X and Y
Figure 1. Direct/indirect
relationships of employee perceived aligned change to work engagement
Change leadership and work
3. Methods 3.1 Sample Anonymous, non-probability snowball sampling was used to recruit a heterogeneous employee sample from the USA. Age verification and consent were built into the survey. To be included, participants had to report experiencing a major organizational change during the past 24 months. Examples of major changes included forced changes in leadership, mergers, acquisitions, new product lines and geographical re-location. Within 30 days, 105 usable surveys were collected.
3.2 Demographic and organizational data summary 3.2.1 Demographics. In total, 61 percent reported being male. Age ranges reported: 26-30 (6.1 percent); 31-35 (8.8 percent) 36-40 (30.8 percent), 41-45 (20.2 percent), 46-50 (11.5 percent); 51-55 (10.6 percent); 56-60 (7.0 percent); 61-65 (2.6 percent) and 66-70 (less than 1 percent). In total, 69 percent reported working at for-profit organizations. Level of education reported: 12 percent held doctoral degrees; 39 percent held graduate degrees, over 20 percent completed graduate work and another 25 percent held bachelor’s degrees, notably a highly educated group as compared to US residents 25 years and older (United States Census Bureau, 2016).
3.2.2 Organizational data. Number of employees reported: 25 percent, 100 or less; 24 percent, W100 and o500; 21 percent, W500 and o1,000; 13 percent, W1,000 and o5,000 and 18 percent, W5,000. Number of organizational layers reported between the participant and the primary change agent: 22 percent, one layer; 37 percent, two layers; 14 percent, three layers; 15 percent, four layers and the remaining 12 percent reported over five layers. In total, 42 percent reported supervising employees. Average tenure reported was ten years. Average time since the change occurred was reported as nine months.
3.3 Qualitative measures First, qualitative data were collected for the purpose of determining whether participant responses were supported by change leadership research, thereby adding credibility to responses (Conway and Lance, 2010; Klenke, 2008). Second, qualitative data provided the means by which participants could compare existing schema to observation (Lord, 1985; Lord and Maher, 1991). Finally, qualitative data aided participants in reflecting upon the degree of alignment of existing schemas with observations (Lord, 1985; Lord and Maher, 1991), preparing them to numerically rank the degree of perceived alignment.
First, participants were asked to reflect upon the major change experienced. They were then instructed, “Around the time of the major organizational change that you have in mind, list the top three things you believe your organization really needed to change. These three things are your ideal changes for the organization. In other words, these are the things that you felt your organization really needed to change if you had been in charge.” Second, in precisely the same manner, participants were asked to list the top three ideal leadership behaviors. Responses comprised the qualitative data.
3.4 Quantitative measures 3.4.1 Predictor and mediator variable measures. Upon review of measures for personal alignment with a target, past studies in organizational research have employed Venn diagram scales. Bergami and Bagozzi (2000) used a Venn diagram scale to measure the alignment between employee perceptions of self-definition and organizational identity. Shamir and Kark (2004) used a Venn diagram scale to measure alignment between employee perceptions of self-identity with the identity of the organizational unit that employed them, and Van Quaquebeke et al. (2010) employed a Venn diagram scale to measure the alignment
between employee perceived leader and follower values. A major objective of this study was to measure alignment with a target as well, specifically employee perceived alignment of ideal changes with changes observed and employee perceived alignment of ideal leadership with leadership observed. Thus, one Venn diagram scale measured aligned change and a second Venn diagram scale measured aligned leadership. These self-reported measures were used based on the personal nature of the constructs. Past methodologists substantiate the use of self-reporting measures as appropriate for private events (Chan, 2009; Conway and Lance, 2010). As an example, Judge et al. (2000) used employee perceptions of job characteristics as a mediator in their study.
Steps were taken to clarify the use of Venn diagram scales and to focus participants on the definition of the predictor and mediator variables being measured. They were told that the changes and leadership behaviors they previously identified were not intended to limit their comparisons. In fact, participants were asked to consider as many ideal change and leadership conditions they recalled. Finally, a somewhat humorous scenario of what one might perceive as a “good night’s sleep” was applied to a Venn diagram scale, illustrating alignment and misalignment of that concept. A Venn diagram scale is depicted in Figure 2. Participants were instructed to select a numerical point on the scale that best represented their alignment with the target concept (ideal changes to changes observed); “7” indicated total alignment and “1” indicated total misalignment. This reported score measured “employee perceived aligned change.” Precisely, the same procedure was used to measure “employee perceived aligned leadership.”
3.4.2 Outcome variable measure. Although work engagement may fluctuate somewhat during change, it is reported as a relatively stable construct that does not show significant fluctuation for several years following major change (Aon Hewitt, 2013; Mauno et al., 2007), indicating that work engagement reported within a 24-month period after change did not vary substantially. The Utrecht Work Engagement Scale (UWES-17) was used to measure work engagement. The UWES-17 scale has a reported internal reliability, Cronbach’s α of 0.93, and has demonstrated test-retest reliability, stability coefficient rt, ranging from 0.63 to 0.72 (Schaufeli and Bakker, 2004). Validity investigations of the UWES-17 indicate work engagement appears to be a highly stable construct measuring what it is intended to measure (Seppälä et al., 2009). Sample statements from the UWES-17 include: “At my work I feel bursting with energy” (vigor); “I am enthusiastic about my job” (dedication); and “Time flies when I am working” (absorption) (Schaufeli and Bakker, 2004). Immediately following completion of the Venn diagram scales, participants completed the seven-point work engagement scale.
4. Results 4.1 Qualitative analysis Mostly, participant responses identified values and beliefs about change and leadership. Thus, values coding was applied to the data. Saldaña (2013) defines values coding as the application of codes to qualitative data that reflect participants’ values, attitudes,
Ideal changes that needed to
Changes that you observed
1 2 3 4 5 6 7
Figure 2. Venn diagram scale: alignment between ideal changes and observed changes
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and beliefs, representing their perspectives or worldviews (p. 268). Values coding is particularly relevant when exploring intrapersonal and interpersonal responses, such as those collected in this study (Saldaña, 2013). After coding the data and grouping codes according to association, themes were extracted (Saldaña, 2013). Change and leadership themes that follow are ordered by number of associated codes, highest to lowest.
4.2 Ideal change themes 4.2.1 Communication. According to past studies (Bass and Riggio, 2006; Elving, 2005; Lewis, 1999), frequent communication throughout the change process is vital. Major change events often generate chaos and uncertainty, which increases resistance to change (Elving, 2005). Communication is a major tool with the potential to decrease resistance. Example participant responses included, “better communication between departments” and “timely communication.”
4.2.2 Planning. An important planning step emphasized in the change management literature is to include an internal assessment regarding the organization’s readiness for change (Weiner et al., 2008). None of the participants mentioned such an assessment, but participants did identify planning as important. Examples of responses included, “better planning for team changes” and “plan for employee development.”
4.2.3 Values-driven change. Participants spoke to values-driven change. Examples included “trust our peers,” “commitment,” and “pride in doing good work.” As previously noted, Kanter (2008, p. 45) states, “Values turn out to be the key ingredient in the most vibrant and successful of today’s multinationals […] They offer people a basis of engagement for their work” (emphasis added). IT, too, emphasizes values as being important to social identity.
4.2.4 Inclusivity. Miller (1998) defines inclusion during change as identifying who is permitted to participate and contribute. Barriers to inclusion may be subtle or not. Regardless, perceptions of exclusion result in decreased commitment and decreased contributions (Glaser, 2013; Miller, 1998). Example participant phrases included, “avoid top down process” and “feedback from primary members involved.”
4.2.5 Quality. According to Strebel (1996), during change employees need to be part of redefining quality of services and products, or companies will be unsuccessful in meeting change objectives. Examples of quality responses included, “use our people and skills to achieve better product” and “deliver products that resonate well with customers.”
4.2.6 Training. Uma (2013) reports that employee training improves morale and increases productivity and performance, which surpasses the cost of training. However, some employees find training for new job roles nearly …
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ORIGINAL RESEARCH published: 10 July 2018
Edited by: Gabriela Topa,
Universidad Nacional de Educación a Distancia (UNED), Spain
Reviewed by: Maria Luisa Farnese,
Sapienza Università di Roma, Italy Francisco D. Bretones,
Universidad de Granada, Spain
*Correspondence: Elodie Arnéguy
Specialty section: This article was submitted to
Organizational Psychology, a section of the journal Frontiers in Psychology
Received: 22 December 2017 Accepted: 18 June 2018 Published: 10 July 2018
Citation: Arnéguy E, Ohana M and
Stinglhamber F (2018) Organizational Justice and Readiness for Change: A Concomitant Examination of the
Mediating Role of Perceived Organizational Support
and Identification. Front. Psychol. 9:1172.
Organizational Justice and Readiness for Change: A Concomitant Examination of the Mediating Role of Perceived Organizational Support and Identification Elodie Arnéguy1,2* , Marc Ohana3 and Florence Stinglhamber2
1 Centre de Recherche et d’Études en Gestion, Université de Pau et des Pays de l’Adour, Pau, France, 2 Psychological Sciences Research Institute, Université catholique de Louvain, Louvain-la-Neuve, Belgium, 3 Kedge Business School, Talence, France
Survival in today’s global economy requires organizations to be flexible and adapt readily to the ever-changing marketplace. However, more than 70% of organizational change initiatives fail, mostly due to employees’ resistance to change. The literature has identified readiness for change (RFC) as an important cognitive precursor of resistance. A body of research has accordingly investigated the determinants of employees’ RFC. In particular, RFC has been shown to be positively predicted by employees’ perceptions of fair treatment. Little is known, however, on the mechanisms underlying this relationship. Relying on social exchange theory and social identity theory, this paper investigates the concomitant mediating role of perceived organizational support (POS) and organizational identification (OID) between overall justice and RFC. One hundred and forty-five employees of a company located in France participated in a survey- based study. Results of the path analyses indicated that POS mediates the positive effect of organizational justice on RFC, while OID does not act as a mediator in this relationship. As a whole, these results show the relevance of social exchange theory to better understand how employees become ready to change in organizational settings.
Keywords: readiness for change, overall justice, justice, perceived organizational support, organizational identification, organizational change
As a decisive factor for long-term success and survival of an organization, change has become an inherent and integral part of organizational life (By, 2005). However, about two-thirds of organizational efforts to implement planned change fail (Beer and Nohria, 2000; Meaney and Pung, 2008). Employees’ attitudes are a central cause for change projects failure (Choi, 2011). Extending knowledge about the psychological mechanisms of employees’ reactions to specific change initiatives is thus invaluable to both scholars and practitioners.
Abbreviations: Fht, fairness heuristic theory; Oid, organizational identification; Pos, perceived organizational support; Rfc, readiness for change.
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Readiness for change is recognized as a cognitive precursor of resistance to change and, conversely, of change support (Armenakis et al., 1993). It refers to employees’ beliefs, attitudes, and intentions regarding the extent to which changes are needed and the organization is capable to successfully implement those changes (Armenakis et al., 1993). Given the crucial role that RFC plays in organizational changes successes (Neves, 2009; Haffar et al., 2013; McKay et al., 2013; Santhidran et al., 2013), it has received a growing attention from scholars and is therefore currently viewed as a key change attitudinal variable (Choi, 2011). The present study aims at contributing to the examination of the antecedents of RFC by addressing three important research questions that have received relatively little attention.
First, we draw on Lind (2001) FHT to suggest that overall justice influences RFC. Although one study has showed that distributive and procedural justice affect RFC (Shah, 2011), further examination is required to examine the impact of overall justice on RFC. According to the FHT, employees develop an overall and initial fairness judgment that stays stable over time. This fairness evaluation is of importance since it influences employees’ reactions to subsequent events and guides their behaviors (Lind, 2001). Justice scholars have echoed such an argument by calling for more research on overall justice (Greenberg, 2001; Shapiro, 2001; Ambrose and Schminke, 2009). Yet, to date, limited empirical work has examined the effect of overall justice in the context of change (Rodell and Colquitt, 2009; Marzucco et al., 2014). To address this issue, we propose to examine the effect of overall justice on RFC.
Second, we propose a much-needed empirical investigation of the FHT underlying mechanisms, by investigating the impact of overall justice on RFC through two major theories, i.e., the social identity theory and the social exchange theory. As noted by Blader and Tyler (2005), the mechanisms explaining the justice-outcomes relationship within the FHT framework remain an open question. More precisely, this study addresses this important research question by simultaneously investigating the mediating role of POS and OID in the overall justice-RFC relationship. Substantial theoretical developments and empirical evidence argue for the decisive mediating role of these two variables. However, to the best of our knowledge, no study has considered the mediating role of POS in the justice-change responses relationship. Furthermore, research has shown mixed results concerning the mediating role of OID between justice dimensions and change-related variables (Michel et al., 2010; Fuchs and Edwards, 2012).
Third, the concomitant examination of these two central processes permits a closer examination of their relative effect, and thus advances prior empirical findings examining their concurrent contribution in the explanation of relationships (Cho and Treadway, 2011). Despite the key role played by social identity and social exchange processes in the development of prosocial reactions, these theories have been either studied separately (Olkkonen and Lipponen, 2006), sequentially (Edwards, 2009; Marique et al., 2013; Caesens et al., 2014; Stinglhamber et al., 2015) or treated interactively (Van Knippenberg et al., 2007; Tavares et al., 2016). The only exception is one recent study of Cho and Treadway (2011) who found
that, when considering simultaneously the mediating role of POS and OID, OID mediates the relationship between procedural justice and organizational citizenship behavior whereas POS did not. The present study follows the same logic by proposing to examine the concomitant role of these two mediators treated in parallel. We assume that the two mechanisms they embody may complement each other instead of competing with one another.
In the following sections, we explain the theoretical processes of the model in more detail. Next, we describe the study design. Finally, we present the results and its implications for research and practice.
Justice and Readiness for Change According to Lewin (1952) landmark field theory and three-step model, behavior is the product of the interaction of two types of forces: the driving forces, which push for change, and the restraining forces, which press in the opposite direction. When both forces are equal, the ongoing behavior is maintained at a quasi-stationary equilibrium. Behavioral change results from the alteration of these forces and should gradually proceed through the stages of unfreezing, moving and refreezing, in order to be successful.
As the opening step of the change process, unfreezing is a decisive stage for the development of change. Accordingly, it has been argued that change failures often result from an ineffective unfreezing process before moving to the other change steps (Schein, 1987, 1999; Kotter, 1995, 1996). Schein (1996) identified three forces prompting the individual to shift from the status quo to the unfreezing stage: the induction of guilt or survival anxiety, the disconfirmation of the validity of the status quo, and the creation of psychological safety. People will thus respond to change only if they perceive that quitting their current situation is unavoidable. They also need to be comforted to know that the foreseen change will not threat them and that the required means to achieve it are present. Otherwise, they will defend themselves by preserving the status quo.
As numerous researchers pointed out, RFC captures this critical stage by revealing if the altering forces of the unfreezing stage are in progress (Armenakis et al., 1993; Holt et al., 2007b; Choi and Ruona, 2011; Ford and Foster-Fishman, 2012; Vakola, 2013). In other words, it shows whether employees are successfully passing through the unfreezing stage and thus will be prepared to face the upcoming change. This progression is likely to be successful if employees perceive the relevance of change to the goal attainment (disconfirmation of the validity of the status quo) and the impasse of the company current situation (induction of guilt or survival anxiety). Employees will not resist these forces to the extent that they perceive no threat related to the change thanks to securing mechanisms signaling them that the change will turn out well (creation of psychological safety).
Given this decisive role of RFC in the change process, a growing number of conceptual and operational definitions has been suggested (Choi, 2011). Most of them tend, however,
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to shed light on similar dimensions (Armenakis et al., 2007; Holt et al., 2007b; Choi, 2011). Building both on an integrated conceptual framework and the development of a measure instrument, Holt et al. (2007a) have provided a definition and an operationalization of RFC which are certainly considered as one of the most comprehensive and robust in the readiness literature (Ford and Foster-Fishman, 2012; Stevens, 2013). More specifically, they proposed that RFC “reflects the extent to which an individual or individuals are cognitively and emotionally inclined to accept, embrace, and adopt a particular plan to purposefully alter the status quo” (Holt et al., 2007a, p. 235). As such, it is considered as “the cognitive precursor to the behaviors of either resistance to, or support for, a change effort” (Armenakis et al., 1993, p. 681).
Within this framework, RFC consists of four dimensions: (a) appropriateness; (b) management support perception; (c) change self-efficacy; (d) personal valence perception (Holt et al., 2007a). Appropriateness refers to the employee’s assessment of the change adequacy for resolving the issues faced by the organization. More specifically, when a specific change is introduced by their organization, individuals evaluate whether a change is required by estimating whether the current situation prevents their organization from reaching a more desirable state. The proposed change is considered as appropriate if the employee feels it corresponds to the right response to the situation faced by the organization. The second dimension, i.e., management support, refers to individual’s beliefs that key organizational members, such as top decision-makers and senior leaders, are fully supportive of the particular change and committed to the proposed change and its success by, for example, emphasizing its importance and encouraging employees to adopt it. Change self-efficacy is defined as employees’ perceptions that they are capable to implement the proposed change. It thus refers to their assurance that they will effectively cope with the prospective change by possessing the level of skills associated with the implementation of the change. Finally, personal valence refers to employees’ perception that the proposed change is beneficial to them. This latter dimension is thus related to the personal gains one may obtain from the successful implementation of the change. It stands for the “what is in it for me” question. For example, employees might assess whether the change will improve their status, their relationship and their future in the company.
Given the significance of RFC for the change success, it is no surprise that a growing body of empirical research has evidenced the impact of RFC on change success-related outcomes, including resistance (McKay et al., 2013) and employees’ level of individual change (Neves, 2009). Organizational change scholars have also explored the antecedents of RFC and showed that it is driven by change-related factors, such as communication adequacy and participation (McKay et al., 2013) and organizational factors, including distributive and procedural justice (Shah, 2011).
Organizational justice refers to employees’ perception of fair treatment by their organization. Researchers have traditionally considered that organizational justice is best represented by four distinct dimensions, namely distributive, procedural, interpersonal, and informational justice. Distributive justice
refers to the perceived fairness of outcomes. Procedural justice concerns the perceived fairness of the allocation process which leads to outcome decisions. Interpersonal justice refers to the perceived fairness of the extent to which one is treated with dignity and respect and informational justice reflects the perceived fairness of the extent to which one is provided with adequate information for decisions (Colquitt, 2001). Although empirical evidence supports the multidimensionality of justice and demonstrates the relationship between each form of justice and a wide range of employees’ attitudes and behaviors (Colquitt et al., 2013), some scholars advocated that the dimensions of justice may not accurately represent the individual’s justice experience in the workplace. They thus suggested a shift in attention to a more holistic appreciation of the justice judgments (Greenberg, 2001; Shapiro, 2001). This overall judgment of justice is argued to ultimately drive behavior and thus to be the main central mechanism, compared to the dimensions of justice (Ambrose and Schminke, 2009). In their seminal article, Ambrose and Schminke (2009) provided a definition of overall justice along with its measure. Overall justice reflects a global evaluation of the fairness of the treatment received by an entity and it is based on personal experiences as well as those of other group members (Ambrose and Schminke, 2009). Accordingly, empirical evidence has showed that although individuals can differentiate between the types of justice when prompted, this “overall justice” is a more proximal predictor of outcomes compared to the dimensions of justice (Ambrose and Schminke, 2009).
In a related vein, Lind (2001) FHT posits that employees rely on a cognitive shortcut or heuristic, referring to “a global impression of fair treatment” (Lind and van den Bos, 2002, p. 196). Moreover FHT provides a valuable conceptual framework for explaining the part played by a perception of overall justice in guiding employees when facing workplace changes. A central tenet of FHT is that this justice perception is a key element for individuals in deciding whether or not to cooperate with organizational authorities, because it helps them to resolve a fundamental social dilemma: either they cooperate with the authorities at the risk of being exploited, either they do not and renounce any benefit that may arise from cooperation. This dilemma is particularly acute during uncertain times, such as organizational changes (Lind, 2001; Lind and van den Bos, 2002). Consequently, employees have to choose whether to cooperate or not, while they are unsure about what lies ahead. Hence, they will especially rely on their overall justice perception to guide their responses to the forthcoming change.
Not surprisingly, an extensive number of empirical studies have provided evidence for the role of justice in shaping individuals’ responses to change (Fuchs and Edwards, 2012; Mitchell et al., 2012), including RFC (Shah, 2011). However, to our knowledge, only two studies have examined the effect of fairness as a global perception in change setting (Rodell and Colquitt, 2009; Marzucco et al., 2014). In line with this growing evidence of the influence of justice on employees’ attitudes and behaviors toward change, one can reasonably assume that overall justice will be positively related to RFC. More importantly, research exploring the underlying mechanisms of this relationship is scarce (Michel et al., 2010; Fuchs and Edwards,
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2012). We suggest to rely on two theories – i.e., social exchange and social identity theories – which have been evidenced as relevant frameworks to explain the effects of justice (Tyler and Blader, 2003; Kurtessis et al., 2015). Theoretically speaking, there are at least two reasons why social identity and social exchange processes should complement each other to foster RFC. First, the core assumption of the FHT is that people use justice perceptions in order to resolve a fundamental social dilemma, by helping them decide whether to cooperate with the entity who has authority over them. More specifically, this dilemma raises two major concerns: “One aspect of the fundamental social dilemma (. . .) reflects a tension between the material rewards of organizational life and the possibility of exploitation. The source of the concern is that, by allowing one’s own outcomes to depend on the actions and choices of others, we run the risk that those others will take more than they give (. . .). If one chooses to behave cooperatively, one would like some guarantee – or at least some expectation – that others will not exploit that cooperative behavior. The other aspect of the fundamental social dilemma is the concern about linking one’s identity in a relationship, role, or organization and the danger or rejection that can threaten that identity” (Lind, 2001, pp. 62–63). Thus, according to the FHT framework, social exchange and social identity should be the core mechanisms explaining the effect of justice on beneficial reactions toward the organization. Second, social identity theory and social exchange theory are based on distinct assumptions, yet complementary (Van Knippenberg et al., 2007; He et al., 2014). As noted by Van Knippenberg et al. (2007), “social exchange processes imply a relationship in which the individual and the organization are separate entities psychologically [while] identification implies that the individual and the organization are one” (p. 463). Indeed, social exchange theory suggests that relationships are driven by reciprocation, implying that the two exchange partners are distinct. On the contrary, by inferring that the individual can merge one’s self with the organization, the social identity theory depicts the mechanisms leading to this union. As a whole, it clearly appears that the two theoretical frameworks rely on very different processes which may complement each other instead of competing with one another. Accordingly, our objective in the present study will be to examine how these two mechanisms may play a concomitant role in the relationship between overall justice and RFC. Concretely, POS and OID were used in the present study to capture social exchange and social identity, respectively. Below, we argue why these two variables may both mediate the overall justice-RFC relationship.
Perceived Organizational Support as a Mediator Over the past decade, social exchange theory has emerged as an important theoretical framework to shed light on the effects of justice (Colquitt et al., 2013). Drawing on Gouldner (1960) and Blau (1964) seminal works, social exchange theory explains relationships through the lens of transaction. Exchanges generate a mutual sense of obligation between the two parties of the relationship, through the norm of reciprocity, which implies an equivalent amount exchanged by both sides (Gouldner, 1960).
In contrast with economic exchange which is based on rather explicit appreciation of each party’s duties, social exchange entails more unspecified obligations and involves less tangible resources (Blau, 1964).
Previous research indicates that POS is a meaningful concept for capturing social exchange between workers and their organization. POS refers to employees’ general beliefs concerning the extent to which the organization values their contributions and cares about their well-being (Rhoades and Eisenberger, 2002; Eisenberger and Stinglhamber, 2011). More specifically, POS captures the obligatory dynamics at play in exchange relationships (Cropanzano and Byrne, 2000; Colquitt et al., 2013), because it expresses the perception of a beneficial treatment which, as suggested by the reciprocity norm (Gouldner, 1960), generates afterward a feeling of obligation toward the source of this beneficial treatment.
In this study, we argue that POS mediates the positive relationship between overall justice and RFC. Firstly, employees’ justice perceptions are likely to foster a sense of being supported by the organization. When people feel that the organization acts fairly, they interpret such fair actions as signals indicating that the organization cares about them and values them (Eisenberger et al., 1986). There is abundant evidence that justice enhances POS (Rhoades and Eisenberger, 2002; Colquitt et al., 2013; Kurtessis et al., 2015). However, these previous studies have focused on the relationships between specific justice dimensions and POS (Edwards, 2009). Given that overall justice represents a general perception of the fair treatment received from the organization, overall justice may also influence POS.
Secondly, literature on social exchange provides arguments for a relationship between POS and RFC. Organizational support theory (Eisenberger and Stinglhamber, 2011) suggests that once people feel supported, they feel indebted to their organization through the activation of the norm of reciprocity (Gouldner, 1960). They are then more inclined to help their organization to reach its goals (Eisenberger et al., 1986; Shore and Shore, 1995). Empirical research shows that POS indeed induces a felt obligation toward the organization (Kurtessis et al., 2015) and, finally, positive work attitudes and behaviors (Rhoades and Eisenberger, 2002; Eisenberger and Stinglhamber, 2011; Kurtessis et al., 2015).
In line with the above, several studies demonstrate that POS mediates the relationship between fairness and beneficial attitudes and behaviors (Masterson et al., 2000). Surprisingly, no study has considered the potential mediating effect of POS in the justice-beneficial outcomes relationship in organizational change context. A few studies have nevertheless examined the effect of POS during organizational change. POS was for example found to relate to the perception of organizational capability to handle a team-based change (Eby et al., 2000), intention to use a new IT system (Magni and Pennarola, 2008; Mitchell et al., 2012), the enjoyment when using a new IT system, acceptance and use of a new IT system (Mitchell et al., 2012).
Building on the above development of the mediating role of POS between fairness and positive organizational outcomes, it is thus reasonable to assume that when workers perceive fairness in the organization they will feel supported by this organization,
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which in turn fosters a felt obligation to repay the organization through positive attitudes toward change. Thus, we hypothesize:
Hypothesis 1: POS mediates the positive relationship between overall justice and RFC (appropriateness, management support, self-efficacy, personal valence).
Organizational Identification as a Mediator Another approach, based on social identity, could explain why people engage more easily in changing environment when they feel treated with justice. Social identity theory assumes that people derive their identity from both individual identity and social identity. The latter comes from the feeling of belonging to one or several social groups. More precisely, it reflects “that part of an individual’s self-concept which derives from his knowledge of his membership of a social group (or groups) together with the value and emotional significance attached to that membership” (Tajfel, 1978, p. 78). A central assumption of social identity theory is that identification, especially with a valued group, satisfies individuals’ needs for achieving and maintaining a positive self-esteem (Ashforth et al., 2008).
Organizational identification is defined as “the perception of oneness with or belongingness to an organization, where the individual defines him or herself in terms of the organization(s) in which he or she is a member” (Mael and Ashforth, 1992, p. 104). In fact, when people identify themselves with a group, a part of their identity is blended into the group identity, so that “OID aligns individual interests and behaviors with interests and behaviors that benefit organization” (Dutton et al., 1994, p. 256). A solid body of empirical studies shows the positive effects of identification on desirable attitudes and behaviors toward the organization, such as job involvement, in-role performance and extra-role behaviors (Riketta, 2005; Lee et al., 2015).
In this study, we argue that OID mediates the positive relationship between overall justice and RFC. Firstly, justice perceptions may contribute to the development of identification. Theoretical support for this argument comes from the group engagement model proposed by Tyler and Blader (2003). This model proposes that the perception of being treated fairly gives information to people about the nature of their relationship with the group. They feel that they are treated with respect, and that they can be proud of belonging to the group. Thus, these feelings contribute to identification with the group (Tyler and Blader, 2003). Empirical studies have confirmed the effect of both the specific dimensions of justice (Olkkonen and Lipponen, 2006; Blader and Tyler, 2009; Fuchs and Edwards, 2012) and overall justice (Patel et al., 2012) on OID.
Secondly, OID may contribute to RFC. The alignment mechanism between individual and organizational interests carried by OID may be especially important in the context of organizational change, since employees’ attitudes and behaviors are expected to evolve in a way that will help the organization to reach its new objectives (Rousseau, 1998). Moreover, employees can make sense of the organizational change by relying on the meanings provided by the organization they identify with (Ashforth et al., 2008). Two different streams of empirical
research have addressed identification in the context of change. In the field of mergers and acquisitions, studies have notably focused on the intergroup processes (Edwards and Edwards, 2012). The present study refers to the other line of research that has examined the relationship between OID and employees’ responses toward organizational change. Previous …