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The current issue and full text archive of this journal is available at www.emeraldinsight.com/0268-3946.htm

The current issue and full text archive of this journal is available at

www.emeraldinsight.com/0268-3946.htm

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290

Received February 2006 Revised October 2006 Accepted October 2006

Abstract

Impression management behavior: effects of the organizational system

Amos Drory and Nurit Zaidman

Ben Gurion University of the Negev, Beer-Sheva, Israel

Purpose – The purpose of this paper is to compare patterns of impression management in two organizational systems, namely, organic and mechanistic.

Design/methodology/approach – Qualitative data were gathered from 23 employees by means of in-depth, semi-structured interviews. In addition, questionnaires pertaining to the use of impression management strategies toward superiors and peers were given to 208 employees from military and R&D organizations.

Findings – The results suggest that employees in mechanistic systems engage more in impression management behavior and direct their efforts more often toward their superiors than toward their peers, most frequently by using the strategy of “Ingratiation”. On the other hand, employees in the organic system sample use impression management to a lesser extent, and they direct it more equally toward superiors and peers. Their predominant strategy is “Initiation.” These results are discussed in light of the differences in the norms and structural characteristics of the two organizational systems.

Research limitations/implications – The mechanistic system was represented by a military organization and there is disproportionate representation of males in the survey sample.

Originality/value – The paper demonstrates the importance of the specific characteristics of an organizational system in shaping employees’ impression management behavior.

Keywords Organizations, Organizational structures, Employee behaviour Paper type Research paper

The current issue and full text archive of this journal is available at www.emeraldinsight.com/0268-3946.htm JMP 22,3

Journal of Managerial Psychology Vol. 22 No. 3, 2007 pp. 290-308 q Emerald Group Publishing Limited

0268-3946

DOI 10.1108/02683940710733106

Impression management is the process by which people attempt to influence the image others have of them (Rosenfeld et al., 2002). Impression management is used when a person wishes to create and maintain a specific identity. This goal is achieved by intentionally exhibiting certain behaviors, both verbal and nonverbal, that will lead others to view the actor as desired (Bozeman and Kacmar, 1997). Existing research about impression management can be divided into two main approaches. The universal approach focuses on the individual actor. It includes studies that discuss impression management in a culture-free or context-free environment (e.g. Jones, 1964; Jones and Pittman, 1982; Schlenker, 1980; Tedeschi and Melburg, 1984; Vonk, 1999). The second approach includes studies that discuss impression

management as constructed within several contexts, such as national culture (e.g. Pandey, 1986; Rosenfeld et al., 2002; Zaidman and Drory, 2001; Xin, 2004); group socioeconomic and demographic characteristics and specific circumstances (e.g. Barsness et al., 2005; Bachman and O’Malley, 1984; Gardner and Martinko, 1988; Pandey, 1986; Zaidman and Drory, 2001) and organizational characteristics such as organizational roles and occupational status (e.g. Foley, 2005; Leary and Kowalski, 1990; Rao et al., 1995).

It has been argued that impression management is a dynamic process that occurs continuously during interpersonal interactions. As individuals interact with one another, they often search for cues or signals that indicate how others perceive them (Leary and Kowalski, 1990; Roberts, 2005; Rosenfeld et al., 2002). Symbolic interaction is a theoretical framework that follows this line of thinking. For example, Goffman (1959) places weight on the power of social rules or social scripts in determining behavior. Gardner and Martinko (1988) suggest a conceptual framework of the impression management process. Their view of the environment includes a discussion of the organizational culture, which provides powerful cues for impression management. Research also shows that individuals are more likely to engage in impression management when the benefits they receive from pleasing others are greater. For example, people tend to be more motivated to engage in impression management when interacting with high-status, powerful people, given the chances of valued outcomes and resources from such people (Pandey, 1986; Roberts, 2005). People are more likely to ingratiate themselves to these authority figures when they have greater power to dispense valued outcomes (Stires and Jones, 1969), or when desired resources are scarce (Beck, 1983; Pandey and Rastagi, 1979). Past research links impression management in the work organization in relation to interviewing and job application (Ellis et al., 2002; Stevens and Kristof, 1995; Tsai et al. 2004; Varma et al., 2006), performance appraisal (Wayne and Ferris, 1990), feedback (Ashford and Northcraft, 1992), competency demands (McFarland et al., 2005), promotion opportunities and career advancement at work (Feldman and Klich, 1991; Gilmore et al., 1999; Gould and Plenley, 1984; Judge and Bretz, 1994; Kacmar et al. 1992; Zivnuska et al., 2004). Yet, Rosenfeld et al. (2002) maintain that except for the above specific areas of organizational research, the role of impression management has often been overlooked. Further research in the organizational context can considerably improve our understanding of the role impression management plays in the way employees in organizations work and interact. Knowledge about normative impression management behavior in a specific type of organization can assist managers in improving their evaluation of external candidates. This knowledge can also help individuals who are looking for a new job or who want to determine the right steps to take in advancing their career. Therefore, the purpose of this research is to further advance the study of impression management in the organizational context by exploring the relationship between organizational characteristics and employees’ expressions of impression management tactics. There are three underlying assumptions to this study:

(1)

In the context of their work environment, individuals choose their impression management strategies to maximize their personal gain, assuming that a more favorable impression will eventually yield positive outcomes.

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(2) Organizational systems differ in the way they utilize their human resources. Various approaches in this regard are associated with different sets of values and assumptions about human nature and with different expectations of their employees. The definition of desirable behavior, competence and excellence constitutes a part of these expectations; these expectations affect and determine what impressions are considered desirable.

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(3) Through an assessment and learning process, organization members adopt the functional and appropriate impression management tactics, which will best serve their interests under the existing organizational system.

This study provides an empirical examination of the effect of some specific

organizational norms and structural characteristics on the choice of impression

  • 292 management strategies and patterns used. We focus here on comparing two distinct organizational systems, namely, the organic and mechanistic systems, as described by Burns and Stalker (1961).

The organic and mechanistic systems

Burns and Stalker (1961) described organizations as bodies occupying distinct positions along a mechanistic/organic continuum. The mechanistic system is typically highly centralized. It is supported by a strong hierarchical structure with a high level of formalization in terms of job definition, authority and communication. The system is designed to strengthen the power position of management by centralizing information, control mechanisms and decision-making. Subordinates’ dependence on their superiors is quite high. Jobs in the mechanistic system tend to be clearly defined, well-structured and routine. Loyalty to the organization and obedience to superiors are considered prerequisites to organizational membership. Employee innovation is not encouraged, and there is limited decision-making and empowerment compared with organic organizations (Burns and Stalker, 1961). Organic organizations emphasize lateral responsibilities rather than narrow job definitions, and the exchange of information rather than the giving of directions (Burns and Stalker, 1961). Organization of the workflow in organic firms requires frequent contact across vertical levels (Burns and Stalker, 1961; Hage, 1988). Such constant interaction, in and of itself, generates closer social bonds (Homans, 1950; Newcomb, 1961). Thus, vertical relations in organic organizations tend to be characterized by close “social distance” and low “power distance” (Morand, 1996). Although organizations are usually neither strictly organic nor mechanistic, but rather fall along the continuum, we find the combination of the specific characteristics of this classification as most relevant to the study of impression management. Choosing sample organizations, which represent relatively clear cases of both ends of the continuum, enables the examination of our general argument regarding employees’ learning and reactions to specific organizational contexts. In this study, the mechanistic system is represented by a sample taken from the military. The characteristics of the armed forces fit well with the definition of mechanistic organizations. Altman and Baruch (1998) suggest that the main emphasis of any army is on structure, hierarchy and discipline, as well as rigidity – that is, the extent to which behavior is constrained by a normative role differentiation. The organic system in our study is represented by a sample of employees from research and development units in high-tech orga nizations. Such units are typically characterized by a flexible structure, teamwork and a low level of formal control. We believe that the differences between these two organizational systems will lead to differences in the patterns of impression management behavior in several respects.

Impression management strategies

Many researchers have identified and described various strategies of impression management (e.g. Jones and Pittman, 1982; Rosenfeld et al., 2002; Tedeschi and Melburg, 1984; Wayne and Ferris, 1990). Although impression management is often expanded to include social influence and tactics such as bargaining and assertiveness (Kipnis et al., 1980; Rao et al., 1995), the most commonly accepted distinction is between assertive and defensive strategies. Assertive strategies are designed to establish a given desirable identity. Among the assertive strategies, ingratiation has received the most attention in empirical research (Ralston, 1985; Wayne and Kacmar, 1991). In contrast, defensive or protective strategies involve the use of excuses and justifications to repair spoiled identities (Rosenfeld et al., 2002). The following are a few impression management strategies that have been discussed by organizational researchers (e.g. Jones and Pittman, 1982; Tedeschi and Riess, 1981) and that are of relevance to our study. See also our later discussion concerning measures.

.

.

Ingratiation – The attempt to be liked. It includes, among others, flattery, opinion conformity and doing a favor for the target in order to increase his or her liking for you.

Self-promotion – This involves drawing attention to one’s personal accomplishments so as to appear competent.

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. Exemplification – The exemplifier wants to be respected and admired for his or her integrity and moral rectitude. For example, an individual might always arrive at work early or leave late in order to create the image of dedication to his or her job.

In order to enrich the quality of the data in this study we chose to gather both quantitative and qualitative data as a basis for this research. We believe that this approach will provide a more intensive insight into the dynamics of impression management behavior in the two organizational systems.

Hypotheses

In the following paragraph we present the rationale for this study’s hypotheses. The degree to which people are motivated to engage in impression management behavior has been recognized as being affected by their dependence on others for valued outcomes. When the dependence is greater, the individual is more motivated to use some form of impression management (Leary and Kowalski, 1990; Schlenker, 1980). People thus are more likely to be ingratiating toward their bosses or teachers than toward their friends (Bohra and Pandey, 1984; Jones et al., 1965; Schlenker, 1980; Stires and Jones, 1969). As indicated earlier, the mechanistic system, by its basic nature, endows superiors with greater power over their employees’ success and opportunity for promotion (Gilmore et al., 1999; Kacmar et al., 1992; Schein, 1990). This greater power creates a greater dependence on the part of subordinates. Hence, the importance of establishing a favorable image in the eyes of one’s superior is expected to be greater in the mechanistic system. We therefore hypothesize that:

. Employees in mechanistic systems will be engaged in impression management behavior toward their superiors more frequently than employees in organic

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systems. We further suggest that the two organizational systems will differ in terms of the frequency with which different impression management strategies are used. Assuming that impressing one’s superiors implies the use of a strategy that will create a favorable impression on the superior with minimal risk, an employee will tend to choose a strategy that is congruent with organizational norms and expectations. Stevens and Kristof (1995) suggest that, in contrast to

  • 294 competence, which may be interpreted as competitive, ingratiation focuses on

eliciting fondness toward the employee on the part of the superior. Pandey (1986) argues that ingratiation can become rampant in a situation of inequality. Bohra and Pandey (1984) found higher ingratiating behavior toward ones’ boss than towards a stranger or a friend. Their results are in accordance with the results of other studies showing that individuals use more ingratiation with a high status person, and that it is to be expected that individuals in a hierarchical society will behave in ingratiating ways toward a resourceful person (see Pandey, 1986). In mechanistic systems, where the power of superiors is stressed, ingratiation is the natural strategy of the subordinate to show his or her acceptance of and submission to the superior’s position of power. We therefore propose that:

. Employees in mechanistic organizations will use ingratiation more frequently than competence or initiation tactics. The organic work culture places emphasis on individual responsibility and on attaining the goals of the organization. As opposed to mechanistic organizations, empowerment is high and employees are expected to go beyond the call of duty. Commitment is to the end result and is beyond any technical definition. Obedience and control are much less valued than the dedication to solving problems and finding solutions. The definition of jobs and tasks is flexible and depends on the changing situation (Burns and Stalker, 1961; Courtright et al., 1989). Individuals are therefore expected to use their initiative as often as the situation calls for and to contribute to the attainment of the ultimate goals of the organization. It is expected that, in such systems, initiation will be the primary strategy used to impress others. In the mechanistic culture the individual is primarily expected to focus on his or her relatively well-defined job, and to excel in performing it. Initiative is not encouraged and loyalty and obedience to superiors are considered the desirable prerequisites in the performance of the job. Thus, our third hypothesis is:

. Members of organic organizations will use initiation more often than the ingratiation or competence tactics of impression management. We also expect differences between mechanistic a nd organic systems in impression management directed toward peers. In the mechanistic system, the structure of control is hierarchical and obedience to the superior is a prerequisite (Burns and Stalker, 1961; Courtright et al., 1989). Naturally, the employee highly depends on the superior and can benefit from creating the right impression with him or her. Relationships with peers are often characterized by competition and non-support (Courtright et al., 1989). On the other hand, in the organic system horizontal relations among members of the group are of similar importance (Schein, 1990). The pattern of communication is lateral and teamwork is the common pattern of collaboration (Courtright et al., 1989). Thus, it is likely that an individual in an organic organization might require the support of peers. Under such conditions it is just as important for the organic system member to be

viewed favorably by team members as by superiors. The investment of impression management effort is expected to reflect this difference, as follows in our fourth hypothesis:

. Members of mechanistic organizations will engage in impression management toward their peers to a significantly lower extent than toward their superiors. No such differences are expected among organic system employees.

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Method

We used a combination of qualitative and quantitative methods to study the effects of

the organizational system on impression management behavior. There were two different samples of respondents: employees who were interviewed and employees who answered a questionnaire.

Interview sample

We conducted interviews with 11 employees from 11 different R&D organizations (seven men and four women) and with 12 employees from various corps of the armed forces (seven men and five women). We selected participants who at the time of the interview had been working in their organization for at least one year. The participants represented different levels of their organization. Participants’ ages ranged between 24 and 50 years old. Subjects who were interviewed were not the same subjects who were surveyed.

Procedure

In-depth semi-structured interviews were conducted individually with each subject of the interview sample (see Saunders et al., 2003). We asked four standard questions, and then continued with follow-up questions, depending on the initial answers the respondents provided. In total, 19 interviews occurred face-to-face in the respondents’ homes, after work hours. This setting provided an opportunity for the respondents to talk freely about a quite sensitive topic. Four interviews were conducted on the phone. Interviews lasted approximately 30 minutes. They were transcribed word-for-word.

The interview

The purpose of the interview was to get an in-depth understanding of the common impression management behavior used in each organization. Participants were asked to describe the usual ways in which they, their peers, and their subordinates attempted to impress their superiors. We also asked about what they considered as unacceptable ways of impressing others. The response to these questions provided a way in which to explore what was considered to be normative and non-normative behavior in the participant’s organization. The four main questions asked in the interview were the following:

(1)

Can you please describe the way that employees in your department try to impress the people around them?

(2)

Can you please describe all the different ways that you try to impress your superiors?

(3)

Can you please describe the ways in which your employees try to impress you?

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(4) Can you please describe the different impression management strategies used in your organization: which ones are common in your department or organization; what is an example of strategies that are not acceptable in your department or organization; what is an example that you can recall of inappropriate impression management behavior in your organization?

  • 296 A research assistant who was not familiar with our hypotheses conducted the

interviews, and the authors independently analyzed the data. The first step was to

group together similar responses indicating the use of impression management strategies separately for both types of organizations. The next step was to name and identify the type of strategy in each category of similar responses. In the third step, we read the interviews again and searched for contextual information on the use of different strategies. Finally, we compared the responses to the different questions in order to check for inconsistencies and to identify the dominant strategies.

Questionnaire survey sample

This sample consisted of 107 high-tech employees from 20 different organizations (76 males and 31 females) and 101 army officers in non-combat administrative units (85 males and 16 females). All the participants were part-time MBA students. The mean age for the sample was 30; all had been employed for a period of at least three years in their current jobs.

Measures

The present study assessed specific job-related behavioral strategies that employees used to create a desirable impression. A search of existing measures of impression management did not yield a suitable scale based on specific behavioral job-related items. The typical scales of impression management behavior focus on the extent to which individuals choose to engage in impression management and how skilled are they at it (Snyder, 1974), and if they give overly positive statements about themselves (Paulhus, 1991), deny negative characteristics (Roth et al., 1986) or focus on ingratiation tactics (Kumar and Beyerlein, 1991). We therefore constructed a new scale for the purpose of this study. Scale development: Preliminary interviews were conducted with 40 employees from a wide range of organizations about practices of impression management. As a result of the interviews, 60 statements describing specific behaviors intended to positively impress one’s superiors and peers were generated. The list of statements was then presented to several panels made up of other employees, who were asked to judge the validity and the prevalence of the behaviors described in the statements and to identify redundancies. As a result of this procedure some of the statements were combined or eliminated; 34 statements remained in the list. These items were arranged in the form of a questionnaire. The question for each item was “How often do you behave as described in this item in an attempt to impress your superior or your peers?”. The answers were rated on a five-point scale ranging from (1) “almost never” to (5) “very often”. We administered the scale to a sample of 350 employees from a large number of organizations representing industry, commerce, service and public service organizations. The individuals in the sample ranged from high school graduates to university graduates. The mean age was 33 for females and 34 for males.

In an attempt to examine the factor structure, we subjected the 34 items to a principal factor analysis followed by a varimax rotation. Three rotated factors emerged from the analysis. Items were selected with a loading of 0.6 and higher and an Eigenvalue higher than 1. The first factor, accounting for 32 percent of the variance, consisted of seven items. We label this factor, which centered on attempts to be friendly, supportive and sociable, “Ingratiation”. Example items include “show respect”, “be friendly”, and “smile”. The Alpha internal consistency coefficient was 0.83. The second factor, “Initiation”, accounted for 21 percent of the total variance. It consisted of six items that centered on attempts to demonstrate one’s dedication, initiative and extra efforts beyond the call of duty. Examples are “I voluntarily invest in my work beyond what is required” and “I show initiative whenever I have a chance”. The Alpha internal consistency coefficient was 0.81. The third factor consisted of five items and accounted for 17 percent of the variance. The items reflect attempts to be seen as competent and capable within the expected line of duty. We labeled this factor “Competence”. Example items are “demonstrate my experience” and “demonstrate my dependability”. The alpha internal consistency coefficient was 0.78. The final impression management scale consisted of the 18 items representing the three factors described above. The Appendix presents the questionnaire items. We asked the subjects to complete the scale in two versions, one in regard to their superiors and a second in regard to their co-workers.

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Procedure

The study questionnaire consisting of the impression management scale was administered to the subjects in their classrooms. In addition, they were asked to indicate their place of employment as well as a few demographic details. Participation was voluntary; no cases of refusal were recorded. All data were collected within two weeks.

Results

Validity checks

In order to validate the distinction between the two organizational systems, we administered preliminary questionnaires to samples of 58 army officers and 70 employees in high-tech product development units. The subjects were selected from the same population of part-time MBA students from which the study sample was selected. The questionnaire was adapted from the Rao et al. (1995) measure of situational circumstances; it included the variables “formalization” (eight items), “routinization” (one item), and “innovation” (four items). The variables were assessed on a five-point scale ranging from (1) “almost none” to (5) “a great deal”. We compared the two samples on each of the three measures. The results suggest that the army sample scored significantly higher on formalization (t ¼ 6:665df ¼ 126; p , 0:000) and routinization ( t ¼ 6:35; df ¼ 126; p , 0:000), and lower on innovation (t ¼ 3:77; df ¼ 126; p , 0:000). Our hypotheses were based on the premise that power distance is greater in the mechanistic system than in the organic one. It was therefore important to ascertain the validity of this premise empirically. For this purpose we used the power distance scale

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developed by Hofstede (1980). It consists of a short description of four types of superiors, representing four levels of participative management. The description is followed by three questions:

(1)

Which manager do you prefer to work with?

(2)

Which description most closely resembles your own superior?

(3)

To what extent are people afraid to disagree with their superiors?

In an attempt to validate this premise, we administered this scale to the questionnaire survey sample in this study, along with the other scales. The differences between the two organizational cultures, in terms of subjects’ perceptions of power distance, were tested by means of a one-way ANOVA for independent samples. The power distance in the mechanistic culture was significantly higher (F ¼ 5:18; df ¼ 1; 190; p ¼ 0:024).

Interview analysis

We found that participants from both types of organizations described the use of a variety of impression management strategies. Employees from both organizations mentioned strategies, yet for each system we could easily trace the dominant strategy – the one that was mentioned, discussed and considered to be important by the majority of the participants, and it was different for each system. The mechanistic system. In general, interviewees readily acknowledged that impression management is a common practice in their organizations (although they had reservations about their own impression management behavior). Ingratiation was the dominant strategy, mentioned by most participants. Examples of behavior defined as ingratiating by the participants included the following: “offer him or her coffee or refreshments”, “do what he or she wants”, and “get him or her new equipment”. At certain periods of time in the organization, such as during performance evaluations, ingratiation intensified. As one subject said:

A nice and friendly officer can get promoted while a professional and competent officer who is not as friendly will not. The superior officer makes the decision about that. So just before the performance appraisal form is distributed, people start to ingratiate themselves to their superiors in order to make a good impressio.

Another officer, referring to the same situation, concurred:

A month before they distribute the questionnaires, people start to behave differently. They ingratiate themselves a little and try to be nice and do favors for superiors.

Very few examples of competence strategies were mentioned. These dealt with attempts to let others know that the subject was doing a good job in general. Initiation was rarely mentioned. An exception to this pattern of responses was expressed by an officer who works in an R&D unit in the army. He said:

Employees try to impress others in our unit by initiating and investing in tasks beyond one’s job. In our unit, they greatly appreciate initiation and taking responsibility. The way to be noticed is by volunteering beyond your job. Another way is by investing in social activities such as in the “humor corner” that we have in our office.

When asked to describe his unit, his response was:

We don’t really live in the army. We don’t have inspections, we have flexible working hours, little formality, and the hierarchy is not felt strongly.

The response above indicates that an R&D unit in a mechanistic organization maintains a structure and norms which are different from those of the entire organization. These structure and norms (which are similar to those of the organic system) create the relevant context of impression management behavior (Gardner and Martinko, 1988). Finally, when asked about examples of unacceptable behavior, one of our respondents described the case of a soldier who “tried to be nice” to his senior commander by providing information to him rather than providing the information to his direct commander. The senior commander, instead of being flattered, was angry at the soldier and condemned him for not being loyal to his direct commander. In this case, the soldier tried to ingratiate himself to one of his superiors, yet his impression management behavior lacked understanding of the norms associated with the hierarchy and loyalty in his workplace. As a consequence, instead of getting the desired outcome (to be liked), he got the opposite result. The organic system. In general, these interviewees provided considerably fewer examples and stories relating to impression management. Many insisted that impression management was not common and that people were more interested in doing a good job than in impressing others. A senior manager in a small high-tech company expressed a view common among members of organic systems:

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I don’t try to impress anyone, really. When I start working in a new organization I try to be friendly to everyone. Now, after two years in this job, I am trying to succeed in what I do (developing the product). Perhaps it has also to do with age and other things. The CEO of the company and myself have similar characteristics; he is a task-oriented person. If I were in a different company, perhaps I would have behaved differently.

For this manager, as for others, maintaining good relationships with everyone (or “being friendly”, in his words) is a common behavior goal, which can be explained in light of the importance of frequent contact across vertical levels in organic systems (Burns and Stalker, 1961). At the same time, one should note the awareness that the interviewee expressed regarding the adaptation to a different company. The predominant strategy mentioned by employees working in organic organizations was initiation; typical examples were the following: “investing time and effort in voluntary group projects”, “initiating tasks beyond the official requirements of the job”, and “volunteering to do social projects”. The following quotation from a subject in a high-tech company illustrates how employees use these strategies:

People make sure that they are seen around in the late afternoon and evening. They try to catch the eye of a superior and discuss solutions to critical issues for the project they are working on. In this way they demonstrate to him or her how they go beyond the call of duty, both by staying late and by contributing to the project.

The subjects did not mention competence at all. However, ingratiation was mentioned as a method of impressing superiors – but only in three instances. The following is one

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example, taken from an interview with a woman in a high-tech firm who strongly rejected ingratiation:

About a year ago my boss wanted to replace me. When I first felt that he was not satisfied with me I tried to make him like me. Then, I decided to try to do a good job and make him realize that. Now I guess I try to do both.

  • 300 This case indicates that in spite of her resentment of ingratiation, and the fact that she

is part of an organic system, the woman uses ingratiation. One can see, however, that specific circumstances initiated this behavior, namely, the fear that she would be replaced. This case supports previous research that people are more likely to behave in an ingratiating manner toward their authorities when the authorities have greater power to dispense valued outcomes (Stires and Jones, 1969), or when desired resources are scarce (Beck, 1983; Pandey and Rastagi, 1979). In summary, the interviews suggest that the two organizational systems differ both in the intensity of impression management, and in the types of impression management strategies commonly employ. The specific differences support the proposed hypotheses. In addition, the data from the interviews show that although there is a distinguishing pattern of impression management behavior in both organic and mechanistic organizations, impression management behavior in organizations can be quite complex. Organizations can have subcultures in which impression management behavior may be different from the one generally considered most common. Employees do not always fully conform to a specific pattern of impression management behavior. In one example, the soldier was not successful in “reading the clues” and in understanding what was expected of him. In the second example, the employee had to deal with specific uncomfortable circumstances, and for that reason chose a strategy, which was not common in her organization.

Questionnaire analysis

Table I presents the means and standard deviations for the study variables for the entire sample. We tested the main hypotheses by means of a three-way ANOVA with the following three factors:

 

(1)

(2)

(3)

The organizational system (organic vs mechanistic).

 

The target of impression management (superior vs peer).

The strategy used (ingratiation, initiation and competence).

Variable

Mean

SD

Superior

Initiation

3.92

0.82

Ingratiation

3.89

0.98

Competence

3.64

0.65

Table I.

Peer

Means and standard

Initiation

3.55

0.99

deviations for the study

Ingratiation

3.41

0.99

variables

Self-promotion

3.33

0.76

Table II presents the results of this analysis. Table III presents the cell means for the various groups. All three factors and their interactions were statistically significant. We then tested the study hypotheses by means of contrast analysis of specific effects.

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Hypothesis 1 The hypothesis was supported. Respondents from mechanistic systems reported a significantly higher level of impression management attempts toward their superiors than respondents from organic systems. The difference was significant with regard to each of the three impression strategies: initiation: F ¼ 4883.27, df ¼ 1,206, p , 0.00, ingratiation: F ¼ 4458.30, df ¼ 1,206, p , 0.00, and competence: F ¼ 7571.769, df ¼ 1,206, p , 0.00.

301

Hypothesis 2 The hypothesis suggested that ingratiation would be the major strategy of impression management among mechanistic system employees. We tested the hypothesis using contrast analysis, comparing the use of ingratiation to the use of the two other strategies among members of the mechanistic system. The results fully supported the hypothesis. The use of ingratiation was significantly higher than the use of initiation:

F ¼ 21:41; df ¼ 1; 206; p , 0:00. The use of ingratiation also was significantly higher than the use of competence: F ¼ 55:84; df ¼ 1:206; p , 0:00.

Hypothesis 3 H3 proposed that in the organic system, initiation would be used more often than the other impression management strategies. The results supported the hypothesis. Initiation was rated higher than competence (F ¼ 52.62, df ¼ 1,206, p , 0.00) as well as ingratiation (F ¼ 25:64; df ¼ 1; 206; p , 0:00).

 

df

MS

df

MS

F

Variable

Effect

Effect

Error

Error

p

p

1. System

1

9.65

206

2.40

4.02

0.05

2. Target

1

49.86

206

0.52

95.87

0.000

3. Strategy

2

6.52

412

0.49

13.19

0.000

Table II.

1x2

1

48.07

206

0.52

92.42

0.000

Analysis of variance –

1x3

2

14.89

412

0.49

30.10

0.000

organizational system,

2x3

2

0.89

412

0.13

6.81

0.001

target of impression,

1x2x3

2

1.10

412

0.13

8.42

0.000

impression strategy

 
 

Initiation

Ingratiation

Self-promotion

 

Superior

Peer

Superior

Peer

Superior

Peer

 

Table III.

 

Mechanistic

4.028

3.209

4.41

3.443

3.890

3.299

Cell means for ANOVA

Organic

3.817

3.864

3.400

3.380

3.398

3.359

variables

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Hypothesis 4

The hypothesis suggested that employees in mechanistic organizations would engage in impression management behavior to a greater extent toward their superiors than toward their peers. To test this hypothesis, we performed contrast analyses separately for each organizational system. In the mechanistic sample, there were significant differences in each category: initiation: F ¼ 113:9; df ¼ 1; 206; p , 0:00, ingratiation:

  • 302 F ¼ 164.56, df ¼ 1,206, p , 0.00, competence: F ¼ 89:78; df ¼ 1; 206; p , 0:00.

On the other hand, in the organic system we found no significant differences between impression management toward superiors and toward peers: initiation:

F ¼ 0.39, df ¼ 1,206, ingratiation: F ¼ 0.157, df ¼ 1,206, competence: f ¼ 0.42, df ¼ 1,206. H4 was therefore supported.

Discussion

Our research demonstrates the import ance of an organizational system’s characteristics in shaping employees’ impression management behavior. We suggest that organizational systems and norms affect the nature of impression motivation and construction. The findings thus support the theoretical perspective suggested by Leary and Kowalski (1990), Roberts (2005) and Rosenfeld et al. (2002) who pointed at the learning and interactive nature of patterns of impression management behavior. The results further support Gardner and Martinko (1988), who refer to the importance of organizational culture in this context. Our results support all of our specific hypotheses. We find that individuals in mechanistic organizations engage in impression management more often, and that their most commonly used strategy is ingratiation directed toward superiors. Members of organic organizations, on the other hand, engage less in impression management behavior; their primary strategy, initiation, is directed equally toward superiors and peers. The differences in the patterns of behavior can be related to the core characteristics of the organizational systems. The mechanistic military organization is governed by managerial principles designed to enhance the structural hierarchy of adherence to routine, predetermined roles and work procedures, as well as the power position of management. These principles create norms calling on the individual to show obedience and loyalty to the organization and to superiors, and to stay within the boundaries of the job description. The employee’s relatively strong dependence on his or her superiors creates an orientation toward attempting to please the superior, by means of impression management. An accepted way of accomplishing this is through ingratiation. The organic system has a different set of norms and expectations. The emphasis is on the initiative of the individual and dedication to the overall goals of the organization. Loyalty and obedience are not necessarily high priorities. Devotion to outcomes and displays of initiative are expected, particularly in the R&D sectors of the high-tech industry. The hierarchical structure of the organization is normally de-emphasized. Under these circumstances, the employee’s dependence on his or her superior is far less pronounced, and peers assume a central role in the person’s career. The employee is therefore motivated to show initiative and personal dedication. There is a strong expectation for professional commitment, and for going beyond the formal

job definition. These data suggest that the organic system encourages a different pattern of impression management behavior. In order to create a positive and desirable image, the employee has to stress the inclination to go beyond the call of duty, and he or she has to convey this message to both superiors and peers. Differences in behavioral patterns between organic and mechanistic systems were recently also found by Courtright et al. (1989) They suggest that relationships with peers are often characterized by competition and non-support in the mechanistic system, while the common communication patterns in the organic system consist of conversational elaborations. Their findings provide further support to the assertion that the organic-mechanistic distinction is related to the individual behavioral patterns that characterize each system. Beyond the specific differences found between the two organizational systems, this study points out some more fundamental aspects pertaining to human behavior in organizations. Generations of work motivation theory and research have focused on the way work behavior and task performance are a product of employees’ needs. Scholars in this field investigated ways to shape employees’ work behavior through leadership, job design, organizational design and organizational culture. Apparently, motivation principles apply not only to task-related behavior but also to impression management behavior. Organization members realize that in order to attain their personal goals they should not only focus on their work, as expected by the system, but also on creating a desirable impression. They seem very sensitive and tuned to the clues provided by the norms of the organization and invest noticeable efforts, both in attempting to create the expected impressions and in specifically creating those impressions with the relevant and significant others. Organizational systems such as the two examined in this study create various mechanisms to maximize their employees’ effectiveness. They use the mechanisms of leadership, teamwork and career development to shape their members’ behavior in what they believe is a more effective way. The present results suggest that at the same time what is promoted through these processes is impression behavior, which does not necessarily reflect desirable intentions or actions. Such impression behavior is geared specifically to the expectations of the organizational system and is efficiently managed to promote the individual’s interests, which are not necessarily in the best interest of the organization. This dilemma has been recognized in recent years by Bolino (1999), who attempts to offer some guidelines as to how distinguish between organizational citizenship behavior and impression management behavior. Bolino et al. (2006) further examine the impact of impression management on superiors’ perceptions of the employee. It is the challenge of organizational theory, research and practice to further improve the organization’s ability to differentiate between desirable behavior and impression management behavior, and consequently to find better ways to encourage one without promoting the other, through the planning of organizational systems and leadership. Our study combines qualitative and quantitative methodologies in the study of impression management behavior. The findings accumulated by the two methodologies are mutually supportive, although the qualitative data point to the complexity of the phenomenon. This triangulation of methodologies adds confidence to the findings, and is particularly relevant because our quantitative analysis is based on a new, tailor-made scale. The findings help to broaden our understanding of the ways

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in which organizational norms affect people’s behavior at work, suggesting that employees specifically attempt to impress their relevant reference groups and create impressions that are consistent with organizational norms and expectations. We would like to note that caution should be taken with regard to two sampling issues in this study.

(1) The mechanistic system was represented by a military organization. The
304

question is how applicable are the reported findings for non-military mechanistic

organizations. The answer depends on how different this particular sample is from typical non-military populations. In this study the military sample consisted of military career personnel holding administrative and technical jobs. Their life routine and responsibilities were very similar to their civilian peers. They worked in open installations located in a major city and lived at home with their families. Their daily activities were non-military in nature. Preliminary interviews with representatives of this sample suggested that the major characteristics of their organization were associated with its mechanistic nature. We therefore believe that the nature of the present sample is not in itself a serious limitation, and it allows the findings to be applied to other samples. However, the fact that the mechanistic sample is restricted to a single organization implies that the present findings should be treated with some caution, and that more research is needed to provide further support to the existing findings.

(2) The disproportionate representation of males in the survey sample is another limitation restricting the generalization of the findings. It points at the need for further research to expand our understanding of the role of gender in impression management, by providing more gender-balanced samples.

Future research is needed to both further validate the present findings and simultaneously examine the effects of i ndividual differences, organizational characteristics and cultural variables on impression management. From a practical standpoint, managers and decision makers in organizations should become aware of their employees’ apparent inclination to adjust their impression management behavior to the specific norms promoted by the organizational system. The misleading impact of this inclination could be particularly undesirable when individuals are assessed for purposes of promotion or for other personnel-related decisions.

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Appendix

Impression management strategies questionnaire items

Ingratiation (seven items)

(1)

Show respect.

(2)

Be friendly.

(3)

Express consent.

(4)

Smile.

(5)

Be polite.

(6)

Be congenial.

(7)

Listen patiently.

Initiation (six items)

(1)

Voluntarily invest in my work beyond what is required.

(2)

Show initiative whenever I have a chance.

(3)

Initiate conversations on work-related issues.

(4)

Actively participate in meetings.

(5)

Say things like “I am making a special effort”.

(6)

Volunteer for various missions and activities.

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Self-promotion (five items)

(1)

Demonstrate my experience.

(2)

Demonstrate my dependability.

(3)

Demonstrate my expertise.

(4)

Submit accurate reports.

(5)

Demonstrate self-confidence.

Corresponding author

Amos Drory can be contacted at: e-mail:zeidman@bgu.ac.il

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