Introduction To Role Theory Management Essay

A theory is a set of fundamental explanatory concepts, which helps to guide structure and discipline a research. Indeed it is helpful to draw conclusions and compare our result to others investigators that have used the same systematic methodology. The controllability principle relies on role theory which has been widely used by psychology researchers to “explain and predict how management accounting practices such as budgeting and performance evaluation and their organizational context influence individuals’ minds and behaviour, in particular, decisions, judgments, satisfaction, and stress” (Birnberg et al., 2006, p. 114). This theory is not alone to explain the controllability principle, the motivational theories are important too, but Frink and Klimoski (1998, p. 34) argue that “[…] role theory perspective is a superior vehicle for understanding accountability forces in work organizations”.

Khan as defined a role stress as the situation experienced by the focal person because of their role (job) in an organization. The focal person is pressed by role senders who have expectations over him/her. Role stress comes when the focal person thinks he cannot accomplish what the role sender is expecting from him/her. Role stress comprises two factors: role conflict and role ambiguity (Kahn et al., 1964, pp. 18-26; 1966, pp. 277-278). Since the theory of organizational role dynamics was first introduced (Kahn et al., 1964), extensive and intensive research has examined the relationships between role ambiguity, role conflict and job satisfaction or job performance among many others (Trube and Collins, 2000, p. 155). A role is a pattern of behaviours perceived by an employee as behaviours that are expected, role ambiguity refers to the expectations surrounding a role, and role conflict involves the incompatibility of demands facing an individual (Ilgen & Hollenbeck, 1991).

An extensive body of research on the relationships between role ambiguity, role conflict and a variety of correlates like job satisfaction, absenteeism or job performance, which led in the construct of the most widely, used scale to measure organizational role stress developed by Rizzo in the seventies (Rizzo et al., 1970).

Role conflict could be defined as a « simultaneous occurrence of two or more sets of pressures such that compliance with one would make more difficult compliance with the other » (Kahn et al., 1964, p. 19). This definition is completed by Rizzo et al. (1970, p. 155) who see role conflict as « conflicting expectations and organizational demands in the form of incompatible policies, requests, standards ». To sum up Role Conflict occurs when the focal person is called upon to act in several roles at the same time, and they are incompatible

Kahn et al. (1964, pp.19-20) reveal four types of roles conflict. The first one is the intra-sender conflict which implies incompatible prescriptions from a single role sender. The second is the inter-sender conflict implying opposing pressures from different role senders. The third is the inter-role conflict which means that role pressure associated with the belonging to a specific group is in conflict with the pressure related to the adhesion in other group. The last one is the person-role conflict which appears when role requirements infringe the individual’s moral value, for instance when organization requirements clash with personal values and obligation to others. Sarbin and Allen (1968, pp. 540-541) say that a high degree of role conflict provokes an increase in the cognitive activity and cognitive strain for the focal person.

Role Ambiguity

The role ambiguity is a similar phenomenon and it takes place in the role sending. Role ambiguity comes up when the abilities and the needs of the focal person are not considered correctly. Kahn (1974, p. 59) defines it as the « discrepancy between the amount of information a person has and the amount he requires to perform his role adequately ». In other words, this matter of fact occurs when the results expected are unclear because of a lack of information. Rizzo and Lirtzman (1979) said in a generally accepted concept that role ambiguity occurs when individuals lack a clear definition of their role expectations, and the requirements or methods to complete their job tasks. This situation takes place because often the focal person do not know how wide or thin are its responsibilities, hence the focal person is somewhat lost in the functions expected by the role that he must practise. This may arise to the manager by a lack of clarity about how his performance is evaluated. These kinds of uncertainties arise because of an inconsistence in the definition of the role or it can be too the misunderstanding of the expectations required by the role senders, who sometimes are more than one with contradictory needs or intentions, what can be disquieting. When these kinds of events happen the focal person is uncertain about what way to use to solve the problem and annihilate the ambiguity. Subjective role ambiguity is an unwanted psychological state (Ilgen and Hollenbeck, 1991, p. 194). Generalising remarks above, the focal person is in a continuous doubt about its role and how the role senders evaluate its performance what creates anxiety and strain (House and Rizzo, 1972, p. 647).

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Application of the controllability principle on cognitive Mediators

Application of the controllability principle on Role Conflict

The non-application of the controllability principle can be seen as one of the characteristics creating role conflict among managers, even the application of the principle is made to improve and assist the management in their day – to -day activities. Jaworski and Young (1992) found that when there is a higher level of communication between managers (focal person) and superiors it leads to a reduction of information asymmetry and role conflict. So it’s expected that both sides can give their point of view and indeed reach a balanced view concerning de procedures or the rules. The management control system can affect the role conflict trough interdependencies which become more and tighter in the modern organisations. Wong et al. (2007, 288) said that it can be hypothesized that “the likelihood of encountering conflicting expectations greater when there is a larger set of interdependencies to coordinate […]. Feelings role conflict are likely to arise insofar as managers perceive that they have to struggle to reconcile opposing requirements from different interdependencies parties”. Role conflict appears because of the degree of controllability asked. The impact is related to performance required in the boundaries-spanning activities which are linked to the “coordination of highly differentiated constituencies that must be borne in order to achieve successful role performance” (Miles, 1976, p. 26). Managers in these positions must act with agents of different units who have different expectations and that situation can reach to a conflict. Empirical studies confirm that people having functions in boundary-spanning positions suffer from increased level of conflict than their peers (Bettencourt and Brown, 2003). Then authors like Burney and Widener (2007) suggest that role conflict is negatively associated with the control system when this last one is part of the corporate strategy. It comes from the fact that managers can understand better the needs of the firm and align their individual’s actions. Hence there seems logical to have less conflict because the different hierarchal levels know the corporate strategy and it provokes less noise through the agents. To sum up it can be said that role conflict experienced by managers depends on level of the application of the controllability principle but also the manner that it is designed. The application of the controllability principle in a formal way without flexibility sets up a dilemma in the manager’s mind. They are divided between what is formally required from them what they are able to control directly. The fundamentals of role theory notes that a lack of formal authority is a proxy for conflicting role expectations, potentially causing role conflict (Kahn et al., 1964). To illustrate these relation the study case of Dent’s (1987, p. 135) on the application of the controllability principle at a US technology company confirms that “managers find their responsibilities quite stressful” when they do not have enough formal authority (Burkert, 2011, p.5).

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Application of the controllability principle on Role Ambiguity

The implementation of the controllability principle tends to smooth role ambiguity among managers by involving them in the decision-making process. Participating in the decision-making process helps individual’s managers to acquire particular knowledge about a better effective ways to manage their job and clarify the expectations wanted by superiors and then decide the ones which will be quantified and scrutinized (Chenhall and Brownell, 1988, p. 227). For example scholars found that additional information and feedbacks is significantly correlated with a decrease in role ambiguity (Marginson, 2006). Managers need certainties about the cause and effects relationship to fulfil their lack expectations about their duties (Tubre and Collins, 2000). Hence when managers cannot influence their performance because of a lack in the understanding of the appraisal system, they lose part of the confidence that they have on the system (Hirst, 1981).

Relation of Role Conflict and Role Ambiguity on managerial performance

Role conflict and role ambiguity are two constructs related to managerial performance because organizations systems are guided by social interactions that occur throughout the role-system (Katz & Kahn, 1978). People on an organizational system communicate explicitly and implicitly their expectations and standards of behaviours for others. In case of this communication is non-existent or inefficient, role ambiguity is likely. In the same way, communications, or a lack of communication, can result in contradictory information that contributes to role conflict (Trube and Collins, 2000, p. 157).

Controllability principle is helpful to neutralize the effects of uncontrollable factors on a manager’s performance, to be the more realistic about the manager’s effort. It’s rather easy to understand that an organization is a social system which grows in complexity continuously. The complexity leads to a shifting organisational context, and some of those changes can have positive or negative effects on the efforts of the manager, even if he has done nothing to do so. Giraud et al. (2008) pointed out that neutralization of uncontrollable factors can take two forms; “ex-ante neutralization” and “ex-post neutralization”. They have the same result, which consist in neutralizing the effects of uncontrollable factors on the performance of the managers. The first one consist in the selection on the performance measures that exclude items that managers cannot control, the second one is an end-year adjustment that takes on board uncontrollable factors which have been included in the managers performance and remove them.

The establishment of work roles provide constancy and stability to organizations thus people may enter and quit but organizations remain intact because of roles that guide expected behaviours (Katz & Kahn, 1978). In nowadays complex work environments, boundaries between occupations, departments or organizations are often unidentifiable. Blurred roles are especially likely to occur in jobs where the responsibility and performance of job tasks is distributed among teams and none individual is directly responsible (Trube and Collins, 2000, p. 157). Hence both role ambiguity and role conflict are expected to have negative consequences on organizational outcomes for the reasons mentioned above.

The interviews led by Khan et al. (1964) showed that high degrees of role ambiguity were associated with an increase in tension, anxiety, fear, hostility and a decrease in job satisfaction and a loss of self-confidence and often a drop in productivity.

In their study Wispe and Thayer (1957) interviewed three hierarchal levels of managers in a life insurance company. They suggest that the most a role is ambiguous the most anxious is the managers.

Jackson and Schuler (1985) noted a negative relationship between role ambiguity, role conflict and managerial performance explained through cognitive and motivational processes. From a cognitive perspective, both role ambiguity and role conflict should result in lower levels of performance since they represent a lack of information and information overload, respectively. In the same way, from a motivational view, performance should be negatively related to both role ambiguity and role conflict since they tend to weaken effort-to-performance and performance-to-reward expectancies (Jackson and Schuler, 1985). The major part of the scholars supports the negative effect of role ambiguity on performance (Gilboa et al., 2008; Tubre and Collins, 2000).

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After saying that all, the controllability principle should be applied to avoid any stress in the organizations as explained by Ferrara (1986, p. 40): “[…] individuals or groups should be charged for (or given credit for) only those things that they control or significantly influence”. Even if this matter of fact is accepted several authors have discussed whether making managers responsible only for what they can control (or influence) is the optimal solution for the firm (e.g. Antle & Demski, 1988; Choudhury, 1986; Merchant & van der Stede, 2003; Simons, 2005). The operation of neutrality consist mainly the impact if unpredictable events or decisions taken by other managers, or by the predecessors (Demski 1976). The goal of this neutralization is to show an ability of pure performance, cleaned from all external elements. Nevertheless doing so is rather a paradox because we spring up a kind of abstract performance. At the end what is important is the ability of the manager (focal person) to manage with complex tasks, interdependencies or incertitude. Hence several authors think that the scope of the managers should not be limited and the controllability principle must not be applied fully (Choudhury 1986). They argue that when the controllability principle is strictly applied the manager becomes a simple object without inherent motivations and doing his job mechanically without thinking to improve processes. Thus the concept of controllability is criticized both in theory and in practise. As seen above the concept has defaults but even managers are against, they prefer a responsibility who takes into account uncontrollable factors (Giraud 2002, Merchant and van der Stede 2003, p.465). Giraud et al. (2008, p. 39) found that managers want to be protected from internal decisions (horizontal and hierarchical interdependencies) but accept that their results can be impacted from external elements. I their qualitative interview they discovered that managers accept that their responsibilities can incorporate both horizontal and hierarchical interdependencies. But only to a certain degree they don’t want to suffer the consequences from others decisions. For the third element about external factors they suggest two arguments emerged from the interviews, first exposes the subjectivity and the difficulty of the neutralization, and second one is more corporate, and seems to explain that managers see themselves like entrepreneurs and given that they must bear with and support external uncontrollable factors. They showed that some managers want even that external risk must be considered as manageable variable and not an independent variable. They say that a manager must consider his job in the environment in which he is acting (Giraud et al., 2008, p. 41). So as indicates the literature firms tend to hold managers responsible for factors that can influence but not fully control, and managers agree with this vision (Merchant, 1989). To complete we must distinguish different types of manager’s according to the hierarchal level that they exert. Cannella et al. (2008), Carpenter and Fredrickson (2001) depict top levels managers more incline to deal with high degrees of uncertainties. So high-levels managers are more prone to accept a lack of controllability that linked with the entrepreneur vision. In consequence the principle of controllability is not seen by the different categories of managers in the same way. When the top level managers prefer the principle not applied fully for reasons mentioned above but also personal motivations and a positive attitude to the risk, middle and low level mangers prefer the application for fairness and justice (Burkert et al., 2011, p. 12). Burkert et al. (2001) also said that the application of the principle of controllability is not directly linked with the performance mangers but indirectly through role ambiguity and role conflict. It explains that the top levels managers are more incline to a non-fully application of the controllability principle in the way that they manage better with ambiguity and conflict, as something which is part of their role in an organization.

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