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83 Seiten, Note: 16/20
Part I: A View of the Literature
Chapter 1: Selling Issues to Top Management: A Review of the Literature
1.1. Theoretical Background of Dutton & Ashford (1993)’s framework
1.2. Dutton & Ashford (1993)’s framework
1.3. Conclusion Chapter
Chapter 2: Categorizing Strategic Environmental Issues
2.1. Review of the Literature on Cognitive Categorization Theory
2.2. Categorizing Environmental Issues: From Labeling to Organizational Actions
2.3. Conclusion Chapter
Chapter 3: Top management’s Interpretation and Response to Environmental Sustainability Issues: Creation of a General Model
3.1. The Model - Explanation & Justification
3.2. Implications of the Model for Issue-Selling
Part II: Empirical Research
Chapter 1: Study
1.1. Goal of Study
Chapter 2: Study
2.1. Goal of Study
Conclusion of This Master Thesis
I would like to use the next few lines to thank all the people who contributed in one way or another to the redaction of this master thesis. First, I would like to thank my brothers and my parents for surrounding me with this great familial atmosphere that contributed to my motivation. I would like also to thank my dear friends Jo and Garry for correcting my spelling and my friend Barak for his constructive remarks on my structured questionnaire. I am grateful to all the interviewees and organizations that contributed with their time and thoughtful insights to my thesis, to Benjamin Banier who created my online survey and to all the Alumni who have responded to it. And, last but certainly not least, I would really like to thank my promoter, Ms Patricia Garcia-Prieto, who helped me at every stage of my research and whose teaching has enriched me both as an individual and as a future professional.
Since the Industrial Revolution, organizations have been intensively - and increasingly - exploiting the different natural resources offered by the Earth without really paying attention to the environmental side-effects that they might cause. Consequences are numerous and include environmental problems such as global warming, deforestation, ozone depletion, acid rain, toxic wastes or declining biodiversity. The last 50 years though have been witnesses of an increase of the awareness all around the world of those environmental issues by governments, policy makers, advocacy NGOs and the general public. As a result, the ecological sustainability of organizational practices has been more and more opened to discussion leading many companies to create or to adapt their environmental strategy (Banerjee, 2001; Shrivastava, 1995).
When confronted to environmental issues, organizations have a very large spectrum of environmental strategy choices. Indeed, they can decide to conform to regulations in that area or they can decide to act proactively and voluntarily in order to preserve the environment. The adopted strategy appears to be strongly influenced by the managerial cognitive interpretation of environmental issues as opportunities or threats. Research on issue categorization has found that managers who see environmental issues as opportunities are more likely to undertake a voluntary environmental strategy while those who see environmental issues as threats are more likely to adopt a compliance environmental strategy (Sharma, 2000).
Given this importance of decision-makers' cognitive perception when responding to the issues they face, I will try to understand what are the key factors from the organizational context that issue-sellers have to focus on when trying to sell an environmental issue (what I also refer as the "green issue") to top management as an opportunity rather than a threat.
The interest of this topic is multiple. On the psychological field, the extension of the existing literature on issue-selling to the specific "green issue" permits to better understand the cognitive processes occurring when selling that particular and important issue. Results of my study can also be interesting for green issue-sellers to adapt their strategy to take the organizational context into account. Organizations may then in turn also benefit from the results as past studies have shown the positive link between economic performance and environmental performance (Fouts & Russo, 1997).
This master thesis is divided into three major parts:
The first part of my thesis offers the theoretical background on which is based the empirical research I have conducted as part of this thesis. Therefore, this section consists - for a major fraction - in a review of Dutton and her colleagues' work. The section begins with an overview of the literature on issue-selling to top management followed by a review of the cognitive categorization theory. Using these two major theoretical sources as well as other relevant findings from the academic literature, I then suggest a general model linking organizational context, top management's interpretation and emotional response to environmental sustainability issues and the subsequent organizational response to those issues. The theoretical background and my individual extension to the existing literature will be the basis for the second part of my work.
The second part of my thesis consists in an empirical research based mostly on Dutton and her colleagues' framework that I have extended to the specific issue of environmental sustainability. The goal of this research was to identify the elements of the organizational context playing an important role in the prediction of top management's interpretation of environmental sustainability issues. The research involved two consecutive studies. The first study (Study 1) consisted in few semi-structured and repertory grids interviews to distinguish what elements from the organizational context might help to foresee how top management would interpret an environmental sustainability issue. Hypotheses on how the organizational context could help to predict top management's categorization outcome were then designed according to the results. The second study (Study 2) consisted in a short online questionnaire sent to a large poll of top managers in order to verify the hypotheses elicited by study 1 on how (and which) contextual elements predict top management's interpretation of green issues.
The third part of my thesis represents a general conclusion on my final year thesis. It includes my research question, a general overview of the different theories I used to answer it, the different findings and the limitations of my empirical research.
The first part of my thesis is dedicated to arm the reader with the theoretical knowledge and information necessary to understand the purpose and implications of my empirical research. Chapter 1 offers a review of the issue-selling literature and of its own theoretical background. Emphasis is put on Dutton and colleagues' work and on their study of the role of organizational context as a potential cue for success or failure of issue-selling attempts. Chapter 2 completes the puzzle by offering a review of the cognitive categorization theory and by applying it to the categorization of environmental issues by top management. Finally, chapter 3 offers a general model linking organizational context, issue- seller's filtering of that context, top management's cognitive and affective processes and organizational responses to environmental issues.
Issue-selling is the general process by which organizational members adopt a set of particular behaviors in order to hopefully influence the organizational agenda by affecting upper managers' awareness and understanding of issues that matter to them (Dutton & Ashford, 1993). Top management is an important decisions-maker. As such, it is continuously "bombarded" by issues that are important to some stakeholders and that may potentially impact the performance of the company. Top managers must therefore be able to select within those numerous issues those that they perceive as strategic issues, i.e. as having a potential impact on the performance of their organization (Dutton, Abrahamson & Walton, 1989; Ansoff, 1980). Chapter 1 reviews the academic literature on issue-selling with a particular emphasis on the work of Dutton and Ashford (1993). First, the theoretical and empirical background of their work is briefly reviewed. Then, I review the general theoretical framework they have conceptualized to describe the process of selling issues to top management.
In order to "develop and embellish" her understanding of the issue-selling process, Dutton and Ashford have used three different literatures, namely social problem theory, impression management and upward influence (Dutton & Ashford, 1993).
Each one of these literatures analyses the issue-selling process from a theoretically different point of view, highlighting consequently other facets of the selling. A review of their basic insights is therefore a first but important step to ground the knowledge necessary for a good understanding of the issue-selling literature.
Social problem theory is a subdiscipline of sociology that studies the emergence of social problems in society. In order to do so, social problem theorists focus on how and why, in the first place, some conditions become labeled as "problems" (Dutton & Ashford, 1993; Spector & Kitsuse, 1973). Social problems have always been a topic of strong sociological attention. However, sociology had to wait for the work of Blumer (1971) and of Spector & Kituse (1973) to see the development of "a theoretically integrated and empirical viable tradition of writing" in that field (Schneider, 1985, p. 209). The work of these authors led to a particular view on social problems known as the constructionist perspective.
The constructionist perspective from social problem theory argues that sociologists of social problems should focus on the viability rather than the validity of claims. As explained by Schneider (1985) "social problems are socially constructed, both in terms of the particular acts and interactions problem participants pursue, and in terms of the process of such activities through time" (p. 209). From the constructionist point of view, the evidence that there is, for example, an environmental problem in a company, is not that there is a high or increasing level of polluting substances produced. The evidence is rather that there are many stakeholders of that company complaining about numerous characteristics of pollution - contaminated rivers, smog, asthma, etc. - and that there are many agencies which are mandated to act on those complaints. The so-called green issue, as a social problem, is "generated and sustained by the activities of complaining groups and institutional responses to them" (Spector & Kitsuse, 1973, p. 158).
From the constructionist view, the point should not be then to test if a claim is true or not but to understand how and why a claim comes to existence. Social problems are not objective conditions but "products of a process of collective definition" (Blumer, 1971, p. 298); they are outputs from "the activities of groups making assertions of grievances and claims with respect to some putative conditions" (Spector & Kitsuse, 1973, p. 146, emphasis in original). The constructionist perspective highlights therefore a particularity of labels: meanings are independent from the objects to which they are or may be attached (Schneider, 1985).
Thus, according to social problem theory, an issue (such as the rising of environmental sustainability) becomes strategic for an organization only if individuals succeed in making claims that these conditions are central to the company, and others are convinced by those claims and buy into them. The social problem theory shows the issueselling process from the point of view of a claiming behavior. Thus, social problem theory emphasizes that the characteristics of an issue, of its seller and the way these two interact in a particular social context would all impact the viability of the issue.
Applying findings from research surrounding the social problem area, it is then possible to assume that top management's perception of a particular issue is linked to its perception that the issue is credible, viable and worth paying attention to. How top management perceives the issue is, in turn, linked to the legitimacy of the issue and the context surrounding the selling (Dutton & Ashford, 1993).
The impression that an individual makes on others impacts the way others perceive and behave with that person (Goffman, 1959). As a result, an individual will tend to adopt a particular behavior that, he or she expects, will create the desired impression on others (Leary & Kowalski, 1990). Impression management (also discussed as self-presentation) regroups a large set of theories from social psychology describing the behaviors an individual exhibits to ensure that others generate and sustain desired images of him or her (Schlenker, 1980).
The impression management literature is a very relevant source of knowledge for anyone trying to have a better understanding of the issue-selling process and why people decide to enter it (or not). Indeed, it highlights the fact that the issue-selling process may engender tangible and intangible rewards for individuals (Dutton & Ashford, 1993). Camaraderie, influence and approval are examples of social outcomes that one may gain from a successful impression management strategy (Leary & Kowalski, 1990).
Likewise, people are unlikely to behave in ways that may damage the impressions that others have of them (Ashford & Northcraft, 1992). Therefore, because of two important impression-management risks, many individuals prefer not to enter an issue-selling process. First, many potential sellers may be afraid that their names suddenly become associated with issues judged inappropriate or destructive for the company by other organizational members (Dutton & Ashford, 1993). For example, an individual raising the green issue in an organization may risk encountering strong resistance from other members who are more suspicious (or who just don't care) about the necessity for environmental sustainability. Moreover, because the issue-selling process reflects some characteristics of the seller with regards to his or her interpersonal and political savoir-faire, a selling attempt ending up by a failure may result in others seeing the seller as disloyal or incompetent (Ashford et al., 1998).
Impression management can have a strong impact on a company's long-term performance (Crane & Crane, 2002). Another risk arises then from the actions launched by a company in order to respond to an individual's claim. Indeed, if those actions have negative impacts on the organization, the person who convinced the company to act on the issue may find his or her credibility at stake. The issue seller may then be punished for his or her initiative by being dismissed, degraded or rejected by other members of the organization (Dutton & Ashford, 1993).
Clearly, the usefulness of impression management to understand the issue-selling process goes beyond the simple observation of which strategies lead to the approval or the disapproval of an issue. It also studies how this approval or disapproval reshapes (sometimes drastically) impressions that other organizational members have of the issue-seller. Consequently, potential issue-sellers will take the image risk into account in their cognitive evaluation of the probability to sell successfully an issue to top management (Ashford et al., 1998).
Upward influence refers to the "influence that is directed by subordinates toward their immediate superiors" (Farmer, Maslyn, Fedor & Goodman, 1997, p. 18). Historically, the academic literature on influence in organizations has used most of its conceptual and empirical attention on downward influence (i.e. the methods used by upper managers to influence their subordinates) rather than on upward influence (Porter, Allen & Angle, 1981; Schilit & Locke, 1982).
Fortunately, since thirty years, an increasing interest for upward influence has appeared; reflecting important shifts in power distribution. Indeed, the increasing use of flatter hierarchical models to conduct business has led to employees being empowered with more decision-making authority. Those employees have consequently more motives and occasions to influence their superiors (Farmer et al., 1997). Their ability to influence their superiors may be "an essential ingredient of organizational effectiveness" (Schilit & Locke, 1982, p. 304).
Many findings from the upward influence literature are highly relevant to complete our understanding of the nature of issue-selling. Mowday (1978) has for example looked at the strategic choices that organizational members have to make with regards to (1) whether or not entering an upward influence process, (2) who is to be influenced for a specific decision and (3) what method of influence to apply. In another article, he concludes that the method of influence used by a subordinate is directly linked to the influencer's characteristics (such as self-confidence) and to leader characteristics (such as need for power) (Mowday, 1979).
Diverse researches have also looked at the impact of the context on the upward influence process. Those studies have highlighted organizational factors that may act as important situational predictors of the upward influence tactics used by employees. Such factors include for example the goals of the influence attempt, the importance of the resources the influencer attempts to acquire, the expectation of success or the anticipation of an opposition to the attempt (Kipnis, Schmidt, & Wilkinson, 1980; Kipnis & Schmidt, 1983). Research has also highlighted numerous "structural, individual and situational factors associated with success and failure in upward influence activity" (Schilit & Locke, 1982, p. 304).
Thus, using the upward influence perspective on issue-selling can emphasize how the characteristics of the issue-seller, the target and organizational context intermingle with each other to determine both the sort of influence strategies that subordinates use and the relative chance of success of these influence attempts. Upward influence contributes therefore greatly to our understanding of issue-selling by linking this particular process to important social persuasion and attitude change ideas from social psychology (Dutton & Ashford, 1993).
Using elements from the three literatures I just reviewed, Dutton & Ashford (1993) have constructed a general model depicting the process of selling issues to top management. The following section reviews the main ideas and the significance of their framework. Figure 1 permits to visualize the issue-selling framework as described by its authors. As in the original article, the figure is discussed herein from right to left.
Issue Packaging - Issue content framing
Abbildung in dieser Leseprobe nicht enthalten
Choice of channel
Characteristics of Щ . Formal vs. Informal tactics the Issue Seller l
(e.g. structural location, functional orientation)
Figure 1: The Issue-Selling Process to Top Management. Based on "Figure 2: Choices in Issue Selling" in Dutton & Jackson (1997, p. 405).
Abbildung in dieser Leseprobe nicht enthalten
The authors start their discussion on the issue-selling framework by eliciting two major indicators of selling success: (1) top management's allocation of attention and (2) issue-seller's credibility. Top management's allocation of time and attention is a compulsory step toward substantive actions to solve an issue. It is reflected by behavior cues such as naming the issue, conversing about it, gathering data on it, requiring others organizational members to devote time to solve the issue, etc. The impact of top management's attention on subsequent actions is an iterative and dynamic process. Indeed, the legitimation of an issue within an organization can lead to other selling attempts from people who also care about that issue. For example, if a successful selling attempt leads to the legitimation of an environmental issue in a company, it may drive subsequently other people to try selling other environmental issues to top management.
Credibility enhancement is the second indicator of selling success. Indeed, according to the impression-management literature, a person will try to create and maintain desired perceptions that others have of him or herself. In order to sustain their image, people will then take into account the impact on their credibility (as viewed by top management) before deciding to enter or not the selling process. Studies on persuasion have highlighted, for example, that the source's credibility affects the believability of the sellers' messages (McGuire, 1985). Organizational members who believe they are viewed as more credible by top management are thus more likely to initiate a selling attempt than those who do not (Dutton & Ashford, 1993).
The two selling success indicators are often in opposition with each other. Issue sellers might be torn between a desire to catch top management's attention with regards to an issue and an opposite desire to stay "out of trouble" and to stay therefore away from top managers' line of sight. According to Dutton & Ashford (1993), this tension among the two outcomes may be felt "in the choices that sellers must make in terms of (a) whether or not to initiate selling, (b) how to package an issue, and (c) what process to use in selling" (p. 406). These different choices are subsequently discussed.
Two important factors influence the choice for an individual to initiate or not the selling process: the stake of the issue for the potential seller and his/her beliefs that selling the attempt would be successful. Indeed, research on upward influence suggests that people will be more likely to initiate a selling attempt when they believe it will be successful or when the personal value they attached to the issue counterbalances the efforts they have to give to sell it (Mowday, 1978). The upward influence literature also demonstrates that seller's structural location is one of the key factors influencing seller's evaluation of the probability of success. Organizational members' willingness to enter the selling process appears to be more important when the issue is directly related to their function in the organization (Schilit & Paine, 1987).
The upward influence literature also suggests that issue-sellers pay attention to the supposed characteristics of top management before initiating an issue selling. Indeed, top management's perceived supportiveness and openness may affect issue sellers' motivation to initiate issue selling as the situation appears less risky and the probability of success seems greater than if top management was unsupportive or narrow-minded towards the issue (Schilit & Locke, 1982; Dutton & Ashford, 1993).
According to social problem theory, the decision to initiate issue selling may also be influenced by the seller's ability to find a solution to the problem he/she is pointing out. Indeed, sellers appear to have more confidence that their selling would be successful - or, at least, that top management would pay greater attention to their selling attempt - when they already have a solution to solve the issue they are selling (Spector & Kitsuse, 1973; Dutton & Ashford, 1993). In many cases though, it may be better for the seller to sell the issue without a solution. Indeed, an existing solution does not always exist or can take a lot of time to be found if the seller looks for it on his/her own; creating therefore a time lag between the issue diagnosis and the organizational reaction to solve it. It might be more efficient to put the issue on the organizational agenda so that many brains work together to shape a better, faster response. Putting the issue on the collective agenda may also be beneficial when the issue has a strong emotional or value-laden dimension. In these cases, the issue seller may sell more easily the issue without solution; insisting on the importance of the issue rather than on any potential solution to resolve it. The solution might then be more easily accepted if it is found collectively rather than imposed by the issue-seller (Dutton & Ashford, 1993).
Choices about issue packaging also matter. As explained by Dutton and Ashford (1993), "issue packaging refers to how an issue is linguistically framed, the way an issue is presented, and how an issue's boundaries are established" (p. 410). These authors assume that issue sellers do make discretional choices about issue packaging in order, sometimes, to enhance their credibility within the organization or, other times, to respond to their concerns about particular values or goals they wish the company to fulfill. This section outlined three packaging options discussed in Dutton & Ashford (1993) and that issue sellers may face when deciding to sell an issue. These options are about (1) the issue content framing, (2) the issue presentation and (3) the issue bundling.
Even though the linguistic labels used to frame a particular issue depend on numerous actors having a stake in the issue, social problem theory offers evidences that issue sellers can have an impact on how an issue is framed, on how it is then perceived by top management and thus, on the subsequent organizational actions undertaken to deal with the issue. Issue sellers influence the framing of an issue by insisting on some characteristics of the issue over other so that top management sees higher pay-off out of that issue and thus allocates more attention to resolve it (Dutton & Ashford, 1993): "By the frame imposed on circumstances, a problem definition highlights some aspects of the situation, throwing other aspects into shadow" (Weiss, 1989, p. 97). Chapter 2.2 will offer a deeper discussion on the relevance and importance of issue framing with a particular focus on the use of the threat-opportunity labels and its consequences for environmental issues.
Social problem theory also highlights the importance of issue presentation for selling attempts success. Two dimensions are usually referred to in the literature when discussing an issue presentation: its drama and its succinctness. The drama dimension refers to the emotional and passion intensity injected into the issue. Emotional attributes give the issue a sense of urgency that canalized top management's attention toward the issue (Dutton & Ashford, 1993). However, top management is more likely to pay attention to any issue when the emotions surrounding the dramatic event that gave life to the issue are supported by more statistical and data-based descriptions of the issue (McCoskey, 1972).
Also according to social problem theory, the succinctness of the selling message is another important factor influencing the probability of success of a selling attempt. The succinctness of an issue refers to the efficiency that the issue can be expressed with (Dutton & Ashford, 1993). Top managers have limits in the way they can access and digest information. Therefore, an issue packaged with a succinct message may require less attention allocation from top management for initial understanding and issue updates. Top management might thus invest more attention in such issues than in issues requiring more time and comprehension efforts (Dutton & Ashford, 1993).
When reviewing their different options with regard to issue packaging, issue sellers can also decide to bundle their issue with other issues. Dutton and Ashford (1993) describe issue bundling as "the degree to which an issue is portrayed as related to and interconnected with other issues" (p. 416). When different issues are bundled together in a selling attempt, more individuals are likely to be involved. Being in larger numbers, issue sellers can thus increase their influence on top management and reduce their impressionmanagement risks. The counterparts of these advantages are one's loss of identification with the issue he/she has a stake in and a dilution of the succinctness advantage for issue selling. Issue sellers must realize a trade-off between these advantages that appear to be in opposition (Dutton & Ashford, 1993).
Finally, Dutton and Ashford (1993) have also included into their framework an analysis of the different options offered to issue sellers with regards to how to sell their issues. These choices can be made explicitly or implicitly and aim at increasing the chances of selling success. Three options discussed by the authors are reviewed in this section: (1) choice about the breadth of involvement of the issue seller, (2) choice about the channel used for its selling efforts and (3) choice between the uses of formal or informal selling tactics.
A first process option encountered by issue sellers concerns the breadth of involvement he/she decides to take. An issue seller can indeed choose between conducting the selling process by him or herself or with others. On the basis of previous studies (Burgelman & Sayles, 1986; Dean, 1987), Dutton and Ashford (1993) affirm that "selling with others is related to the political necessity of building a stronger coalition to articulate and motivate the investment of attention in an issue" (p. 418).
Selling with others increases the visibility of the selling attempt and thus increases the likelihood that top management would allocate attention to it. Moreover, a group should more than likely have a greater influence on top management than an individual on its own. The authors also point out that selling with others may help issue sellers to tap greater amount of time and money that may in turn help them convincing top management of the legitimation and importance of the issue for the company.
Of course, the link between the size of an issue coalition and the attention paid by top management to the issue is neither immediate nor guaranteed: it depends on the coalition's overall credibility (depending in turn on the credibility of coalition members) and on the coalition's ability to access and mobilize resources in an effective way.
Additionally, the authors also explain that the choice of selling with others may reflect a desire to reduce the individual impression-management risk linked with issue selling. A selling coalition reduces indeed individuals' risk of credibility and image losses in case of both unsuccessful selling and successful selling with negative organizational results. The logical counterpart of such strategy is that, in case of successful selling with positive organizational results, individuals have to share possible credibility gain with the other members of the coalition (Dutton & Ashford, 1993).
A second choice opened to issue sellers, with regards to the selling process, relates to the channel they would use to sell their issue. Dutton and Ashford (1993) discuss several implications of choosing among public or private channels to deliver the selling message to top management. Once again, each strategy has pros and cons: issue sellers have therefore to realize a trade-off when deciding which channel to use.
When using a public channel, the impression-management literature explains that top managers may feel they have to pay attention to the issue to show that they are concerned by what matters to their employees. However, top management may feel uncomfortable about being obliged to act on an issue they might not have paid attention to if the issue seller would have used a more private channel. Thus, when using a public channel, there is a possible risk that the image top management has of the issue seller would be negatively impacted.
Oppositely, when an issue seller uses a more private channel to try to convince its top management, top management do not have such an impression-management burden on its shoulders and may therefore be less likely to act on that issue. However, using a private channel diminishes the risk for an issue seller of seeing his/her image being strongly negatively impacted because of his/her selling attempt.
This being said, both channels can enhance or detract an issue seller's credibility toward its top management. According to Dutton and Ashford (1993) the fact that an issue would enhance or detract a seller's credibility depends on different factors such as the issue outcome, the seller status and the seller's relationship with its top management. The important point is that the width and likelihood of credibility changes would be more important when using a public channel rather than a private channel.
The third selling process option discussed by Dutton and Ashford (1993) concerns the choice by issue sellers between formal versus informal tactics in order to influence the outcome of their selling attempts. Basing their discussion on the ground of research on upward influence (e.g. Ansari & Kapoor, 1987; Kipnis, Schmidt, & Wilkinson, 1980), the authors explain that informal tactics "might involve personal appeals, behind-the-scenes negotiations, or discussions in halls and at company functions" while formal tactics might involve "generating a formal report, making a scheduled formal presentation to top management, or formally setting up private one-on-one meetings with others" (Dutton & Ashford, 1993, pp. 419-420).
According to the authors, the choice between formal or informal tactics for selling attempts must be done in light of the cultural norms of the organization. Indeed, they assert that a tactic that fit with the organizational norms is more likely to be successful than a tactic that is inconsistent with these norms. In other words, in an informal culture, selling attempts are more likely to be successful using informal tactics while, in a formal culture, selling attempts are more likely to be successful using formal tactics. Moreover, the authors also assert that issue sellers using normative selling attempts take smaller impressionmanagement risks than those using counternormative selling attempts. Therefore, they are more likely to sustain or increase their credibility toward top management for their future selling efforts.
Chapter 1 aimed at giving the reader a brief review of the literature on issue-selling. The theoretical and empirical tradition on which is based the literature was first explored. Three literatures appear to have a particular importance to understand issue-selling; namely the social problem theory literature, the impression management literature and the upward influence literature. After reviewing their main concepts, I described how Dutton and Ashford used them to create a general framework to describe the process of selling issues to top management. Issue-selling appears to be a complex process and its outcome is dependent on numerous factors. A good understanding of how this process works can be an incredible advantage for an issue-seller as he/she could then adapt his/her selling strategy in order to make it fit better to the particular context surrounding an organization. The seller could thus maximize his/her chances to see top management calling for substantive actions to solve the issue...
Academic research has always been interested in strategic issues. A quick look at the existing literature on strategic issue management proves the great interest of academicians for the topic. There is indeed an important descriptive and prescriptive literature on the processes (Quinn, 1978), socio-political behaviors (Guth, 1976) and analytical difficulties (Lorange, 1980) involved in strategic issue management within organizational settings.
However, how issues become strategic has long been neglected. Dutton and her colleagues have contributed to making up to this oversight. Their work has extended the strategic issue literature by looking at how strategic issues get diagnosed in the first place (Dutton & Ashford, 1993; Dutton & Duncan, 1987; Dutton, Fahey, & Narayanan, 1983).
Following Ansoff (1980), Dutton and her colleagues define a strategic issue as "an emerging development which, in the judgment of some strategic decision makers, is likely to have a significant impact on the organization's present or future strategies" (Dutton, Fahey, & Narayanan, 1983, p. 308). Strategic Issue Diagnosis (SID) deals with the very first steps involved in the strategic decision making process such as issue identification and characteristics assessment (Schwenk, 1995).
The SID literature emphasizes the fact that the data, stimuli and perceptions over an issue must be gathered, organized and infused with meanings by decision-makers (Dutton, Fahey, & Narayanan, 1983). Diagnosis outputs are important as they will obviously influence the following stages of the strategic decision making process. Importantly, when looking at diagnosis outputs, it is important to pay attention not only to their "substantive elements", such as the assumptions and predictions made by decision-makers, but also to their final "symbolic elements", such as the labels used to characterized these outputs.
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