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Organizational Stakeholders as a Fluent Network: A

narrative approach to understanding the embedded

image of organizations

Hagen Habicht & Anne Sigismund Huff

HHL Leipzig Graduate School of Management

1 Abstract

Stakeholders have been described as those groups without whose support the

organization would cease to exist (Freeman & Reed 1983, p. 89), but few actors within an

organization understand how their image among outsiders is formed or how it affects

interactions. This paper summarizes a process-oriented theory that unites previous work

describing (a) the importance of stakeholders and (b) the interaction of image, reputation and

identity. The second part of the paper then describes an empirical study in which stories were

collected as indicators of the processes of image building using data from current students of

a German university. The experiential impressions embodied in stories are analyzed to show

how overall perceptions of an organization are constructed within stakeholder groups. We

also suggest how stakeholder stories shape the structure and content of corporate images.

2 Keywords

Organizational Image, Narration, Perception, Empirical Analysis of Image,


3 Introduction

This study analyses how images are formed though interactions, associations and

conversations. It focuses on narratives as the basis of relational and dynamic social

constructions through which actors in and around organizations negotiate, reproduce,

destabilize, or repair their perception of organizations. We examine perceptions of

stakeholders which have been described as those groups without whose support the

organization would cease to exist (Freeman & Reed 1983, p. 89).

Few actors within an organization understand how their image among outsiders is

formed or affects interactions. This paper summarizes a process-oriented theory that unites

previous work describing (a) the importance of stakeholders and (b) the interaction of image,

reputation and identity. We chose stakeholder theory as the theoretical foundation for our

analysis of the organizational environment because it focuses on the importance and

contributions of relationships to the success of the organization. Specifically, it shows a

discursive method to answering the questions of which audiences are most important to the

organization and what their core interests (claims) are.

The second part of the paper describes an empirical study in which stories were

collected as indicators of the processes of image building. The data describe images of a

German university held by current students. It shows how stories can be analyzed to get an

impression of overlapping image construction within a stakeholder group.

4 Theory

This paper investigates the dynamics of stakeholder perception at the individual and

group level. We chose stakeholder theory as the theoretical foundation for our analysis of the

organizational environment, because it is a process-based theory of the firm that focuses on

the importance and contributions of relationships to the success of an organization. More

specifically, stakeholder theory answers the questions of which audiences are most important

to the organization and what their core interests (claims) are. After introducing a framework

of organizational perception, we show how group interaction and communication of third

parties affect image formation in a model that operates at the individual and group level.

4.1 Stakeholder Theory

Stakeholder theory is frequently used as a theoretical basis for investigating an

organizations identity and image. It is attractive, first, because it applies to the levels of

analysis on which perception as well as sense making and sense giving unfold. Second, its

initial and central argument circles around the question of whose claims (e. g. Clarkson,

1995; Kaler, 2002), and thus, whose perceptions (e. g. Fombrun & Shanley, 1990; Schultz,

Hatch, & Larsen, 2002) are relevant to the success of organizations. Third, stakeholder

theory focuses on relationshipsi as the core resources of organizations (e. g. Freeman, 1984;

Kaler, 2003). Hence it can be applied as a framework for process-based analysis of

organizations which is essential for investigating perception of and interaction with


According to stakeholder theory, the most important relationships for organizations

are those with actors who directly contribute to its success, namely its stakeholders. The long

lasting debate about the nature of stakeholders has evolved substantially since the work of

Freeman & Reed (1983). It is now commonly accepted that stakeholders engage with an

organization in relationships for mutual benefit (Donaldson & Preston, 1995; Kaler, 2002;

Kaler, 2004; Phillips, 2003). Consequently, cooperative behavior, a fair exchange of effort,

and the establishment of trust are seen as constitutional elements of stakeholder relationships

(Phillips, 1997; Phillips, 2003).

Stakeholder theory has been used to describe relationships on multiple levels. On the

level of single stakeholders, stakeholder theory focuses on the emergence and satisfaction of

claims. Stakeholders with similar claims (interests) are aggregated to stakeholder groups. On

the group level, the salience of shared stakeholder characteristics is the focal point of interest.

Stakeholder classifications are deduced on the basis of (a) the type of claims they stake on

the organization (Kaler, 2002; Phillips, 2003), (b) the markets these groups use to interact

with the organization (Bowie & Dunfee, 2002; Strong, Ringer, & Taylor, 2001), or (c) their

interaction characteristics (Driscoll & Starik, 2004; Mitchell, Agle, & Wood, 1997; Savage,

Nix, Whitehead, & Blair, 1991). A strong stream of literature discusses the dyadic

relationships between an organization and stakeholder groups (e. g. Atkinson, Waterhouse, &

Wells, 1997; Driscoll & Starik, 2004; Kaler, 1999; Kochan & Rubinstein, 2000; Mouritsen,

Schultz, Hatch, & Larsen, 2002; Simmons & Lovegrove, 2005; Strong, Ringer, & Taylor,


Even though stakeholder theory proposes a cooperative, interaction logic to be the

core element of such relationships, in most economic contexts dyadic relationships are

neither purely cooperative nor purely competitive. A growing body of literature thus

recognizes the multi-faceted nature of relationships as increasingly important (e. g. Dowling,

Roering, Carlin, & Wisnieski, 1996; Luo, 2007; Mariani, 2007; Padula & Dagnino, 2007;

Ross & Robertson, 2007; Walley, 2007).

Arguing for greater clarity, Ross & Robertson (2007) propose analyzing stakeholder

relationships at the level of single roles. The central idea is that an actor may interact

cooperatively with the organization on the basis of one role, and simultaneously interact

competitively on the basis of another role. Thus an actor can only be considered a

stakeholder on the basis of roles which imply a cooperative interaction scheme aiming at

mutual benefit with the organization (Donaldson & Preston, 1995; Jones, 1995; Kaler, 2002).

In turn the organization is urged to treat the actor as legitimate stakeholder (Kaler, 2004;

Phillips, 1997) within the boundaries of this relationship. Such single-faceted simple

relationships (Ross & Robertson 2007, p. 109) unfold as a series of episodes (Liljander &

Strandvik, 1997; Liljander, Strandvik, Swartz, Bowen, & Brown, 1995) which again

comprise a number of single interactions.

At the most aggregate level, the concept of stakeholder network characterizes the

sum of all stakeholders and their relationships with each other and the organization (e. g.

Freeman & Evan, 1990; Roloff, 2008). Stakeholder theory thus provides a multi-level

process-based framework of analysis for organizational stakeholders.

We initially employ it to distinguish the empiric field of external stakeholder groups

of the organization we study, then use it to characterize stakeholder relationships in detail

and assessing two stakeholder networks of the organization studied. Before carrying out that

analysis, however, it is necessary to describe the processes of image formation using the

central terms of identity, image and reputation and show how it can be linked to the

framework provided by stakeholder theory.

4.2 Perception of the Organization

It is common in organization theory to model the perception of an organization as a

process in which an individual forms impressions on the basis of organizational

characteristics which are seen as relevant and distinctive. Albert & Whetten (1985) initially

called organizational identity, namely what is central, distinctive and enduring about an
def imaginii ca organization (Albert & Whetten (1985). On the other hand, the overall impression an
opinion object makes on the minds of an individual has been described as image (Dichter,

1985). Besides individual image-formation, a range of social processes within groups and / or

including the involvement of third parties is relevant to image-formation (Dowling, 1986).

Literature addresses stakeholder group-related effects of image-formation with the notion of

corporate reputation as a perceptual representation of a companys past actions and future

prospects that describes the firms overall appeal to all its key constituents when compared to

other leading rivals (Fombrun 1996, p. 72).

This research focuses on the notions of identity, image and reputation as central

pillars of perceptions held about an organization. While analyzing these notions, several

authors identified a variety of occasionally overlapping and even conflicting

conceptualizations (Gioia, Corley & Schultz (2000), Pratt & Foreman (2000), Schwaiger

(2004)). Concerning the notions of identity and image, much of the confusion stems from

implicit or missing references on whose perceptions and which aspects of image-formation

are analyzed (Pratt & Foreman, 2000). To overcome the resulting ambiguity, we will employ

social identity theory (Ashforth & Mael, 1989; Brewer & Kramer, 1985) as classificatory

framework for organizational identities and images.

Smaiziene & Jucevicius (2009) note in their analysis of current literature that

corporate reputation has been researched in a variety of fields, including psychology,

sociology, impression management, economy, marketing, public relations, business strategy

and human resource management (p. 91). Referring to organization theory, and more

specifically to the stakeholder perspective, literature remains unclear about the processes

which transform individual perception into the reputation on the level of a stakeholder group.

We employ the reputation mechanism according to Ripperger (1998) to delineate these

processes and relate the concepts of corporate reputation to organizational images.

Identities of Organizations

In the context of organizations, identity can be seen as a set or system of

characteristics which serve as basis for describing the organization and enabling it to

distinguish itself from others. More precisely: it is the configuration or pattern of the system

which gives it its uniqueness (Moingeon & Ramanantsoa 1997, p. 385). Gioia, Schultz &

Corley (2000) identified three streams of literature in research on organizational identity

whose concern is (a) with the identity of organizations, (b) with the identity of people within

organizations and (c) with peoples identification with an organization (p. 146). They

conclude that organizational identity has a strategic role concerning the interrelationship

between insiders and outsiders.

Since Albert & Whetten (1985) established the understanding of organizational

identity, the notion has moved towards a perception-centered view. Lambert (1989) proposed

that substantial parts of an organization are beyond the perception of single individuals, thus

organizational identity depends on what part of the organization is being perceived. Since

then, several authors have emphasized organizational identity as being a concept which

reflects individual differences in perception and consideration of an organization (Balmer &

Greyser, 2002; Balmer & Soenen, 1999; Illia & Lurati, 2006; Moingeon & Ramanantsoa,

1997; Price, Gioia, & Corley, 2008). Others have proposed numerous terms to capture

different perception related aspects of identity (see e. g. Balmer & Greyser 2002).

In order to frame perception related constructs, it is useful however, to refer to a

theoretical basis which explains the origins of perception. Pratt & Foreman (2000) and

Ravasi & van Rekom (2003) have particularly championed for the worth of social identity

theory in ascertaining the origins of identity, image and reputation. The core idea of social

identity theory is that a social identity is part of the self-concept of an individual. Social

identity is formed through group membership on the basis of comparing and evaluating the

ingroup with relevant outgroups (Tajfel 1982, p. 2). Individuals evaluate themselves within

their social environments by means of categorization and affiliation or separation. They do so

by (a) characterizing social entities such as persons, groups or organizations and by (b)

comparing their ideas of self with their characterizations of other social entities (Ashforth &

Mael 1989, p. 20f.). Generally, people strive for a positive self-image and appreciation

(Roberts et al. 2005, p. 718). Affiliation (or separation) towards a group subsequently results

from a positive (negative) connotation of the social entity combined with a high (or low)

level of similarity between the characterization of the individual and a social category (Todd

& Harris 2009; Brewer & Kramer 1985, p. 224f.).

Based on this comparative and evaluative process, social identity theory offers a

simple structure for classifying identities following three questions: Which social entity is

characterized (target), who is articulating the characterization (claimant) and whose

perspective on the target is taken (audience). Using this framework, organizational

members' (claimants') view of the organization's identity (target) that is being presented to

themselves (audience) is what Albert and Whetten (1985) define as organizational identity

(Pratt & Foreman 2000, p. 142).

In this study, we analyze how an organization (target) represents itself towards its

external stakeholders (audience and claimants). The focus of interest will be the question:

What are the patterns of central and distinctive characteristics which give an organization its

uniqueness in the eyes of external stakeholders?

Images of Organizations

Image, on the other hand, has been defined as the total impressions an entity makes in

the minds of an individual (Dichter, 1985), p 75.). An organization naturally evokes a

multitude of more or less different images, depending on which constituencies are involved.

Consequently, a multitude of notions with focus on different aspects of images exists in

asupra literature. For example, Hatch & Schultz (1997) identified a strong focus on external aspects
imag org:
within the marketing literature and a strong focus on internal aspects within the
int/ext, etc
organizational literature (p. 358). Numerous other notions such as corporate image,

institutional image, projected image (Hatch & Schultz, 2003; Price, Gioia, & Corley, 2008),

actual and desired image (Barich & Kotler, 1991; Hatch & Schultz, 2003; Van Rekom,

1997), ideal image (Abratt, 1989; Dowling, 1993) as well as construed external image

(Dutton, Dukerich, & Harquail, 1994) and perceived external prestige (Smidts, Pruyn, & Van

Riel, 2001) reflect the various intentions or functions images of organizations serve.

On the basis of social identity theory, expressed images of one opinion object can be

classified into three disjunctive image-types. Self-images are those which the articulator

expresses his/her own beliefs about himself/herself. In the context of the present work, self-

images of organizations are expressed whenever organizational members regard their

organization from their own perspective. Perceptions of others / external images are those,

with which an external observer articulates his/her own impressions about an opinion object.

Such images are enunciated whenever externals express their own view of an organization.

Meta-images are those, with which the articulator expresses a different persons view about

himself/herself. Concerning organizations however, this is the case whenever members of the

organization express an outsiders impression about their organization.

In the present work, we examine images formed and expressed by external

stakeholders, which classifies them as perceptions of others or external images. As these

images are held by outsiders, we will call them actual external images. They may contain

projected elements and may be close to or far from what the outsiders ideal (desired) image

of the organization is.

Formation of External Images

The literature is clear that the formation of external images is based on direct

experiences and communicated identity (e. g. Hatch & Schultz 1997). We draw on Dowling's

(1986) framework which shows experience, interpersonal communication and mass media

communication as contributing to the image formation of externals about an organization and

extend it to stereotypic belief. According to Dowling (1986), direct experiences of external

stakeholders result from direct interactions with the organization. Several studies have shown

the relevance of direct experience particularly in the context of services, whose assessment

is to a large degree experience based (Blodgett & J.Hill, 1997; Goodwin & Ross, 1992;

Smith, Bolton, & Wagner, 1999; Tax, Brown, & Chandrashekaran, 1998). Impression

formation based on communicated information results in indirect experience (Daugherty, Li,

& Biocca, 2008; Shrum, O'Guinn, Semenik, & Faber, 1991). Besides media based corporate

communication, which by definition aims for impression management on external and

internal audiences (e.g. Bronner & Neijens 2006; Geary 2005), a broad range of third-party

communication, professional media broadcasts, as well as word of mouth, is significant to

impression formation of external stakeholders (Carroll & McCombs, 2003; Hatch & Schultz,

1997; Sethi, 1977).

Stereotypic belief is seen as third component of images. We adopt Tajfel's (1982)

usage of the term stereotype as an over-simplified image of some social entity which is

shared in its essential features by a number of people, and often goes hand-in-hand with a
despre elem,
stereotipice positive or negative prejudice (p. 3). As early as in the 1960s, a debate on whether corporate
din cadrul
imaginii images are pure stereotypes was being carried out in the field of marketing (e. g. Tucker

1961; Hill 1962). A much wider set of literature now acknowledges stereotypes as common

image components. For example, country of origin stereotypes are prominently researched

stereotypic effects of consumer behavior (Arpan & Sun, 2006; Liu & Johnson, 2005;

Rosenbloom & Haefner, 2009; Supanvanij & Amine, 2000). Images of organizations as

individual overall impressions, hence, are composed of individual experiences,

communicated information and stereotypic belief.

Group Level Effects in Image Formation: The Link to Corporate Reputation

The three aforementioned processes of image formation rely on social interaction and

communication. Consequently, the influence of information exchange within and between

groups on individual image formation should be considered. Concerning direct experiences,

group behavior among external stakeholders can be seen as the basis of group-level effects of

impression formation. Such interaction occurs when stakeholders are treated as a group in the

context of their stakeholder relationship. Common examples are group-based services, most

forms of education services, as well as cultural and sporting events. Other stakeholder

relationships however, do not imply interactions in groups.

Indirect experiences on the other hand, are bound to group processes. They are based

on communication processes with third parties. Indirect experiences result from processes, in

which a communicating third party acts as source of repute for the organization towards its

stakeholders. A common example is news media, whose effects on a firms perception have

been frequently discussed (Carroll & McCombs, 2003; Dowling, 1986; Kiousis, Popescu, &

Mitrook, 2007; Sethi, 1977). Ripperger (1998) describes the underlying trust-based

reputation mechanism, which is consistent with the notion of corporate reputation building as

being a strategy, seeking to establish trust in stakeholder relationships (Swift 2001, p. 23) and

with reputation as being the result of trustworthy behavior (Hosmer 1995, p. 386). The

relationship between a trusting party (e. g. external stakeholder) and a trusted party (e. g.

organization) contains expectations of trust and trust-based actions towards the trusted

(Ripperger 1998, p. 45). With a lack of prior experience with the trusted party, reputation

serves as a trust building substitute which justifies both, the expected trustworthiness and

trust-based action (p. 99). Reputation is built via intervention of a third party. Third parties

(e. g. another stakeholder or influencer) communicate their prior (direct) experiences with the

organization in the form of good or bad repute to the trusting party, evoking initial trust (p.

99). Ultimately, the whole of such processes leads to the multiple reputations of an

organization within its various stakeholder groups. With the underlying definition for

corporate reputation we follow Hall (1992), who defined reputation as representing the

knowledge and the emotions held by individuals (p. 138). The central parameter of trust-

building through reputation-mechanism is the credibility of the source of repute. Recent

studies show the influence of media, source and information credibility on reputation-

building (Cable & Yu, 2006; Jo, 2005; Kim & Choi, 2009).

The formation of stereotypes is also partly grounded in group level effects. In their

elaborate analysis of the concept, Hilton & von Hippel (1996) discuss four forms of

stereotype formation of which the following two are of particular importance with regard to

group interaction. First, (non-) conscious detection of covariation comprises a series of

processes which start with the recognition of distinctive features based on limited initial

information followed by generalization and subsequent self-perpetuation of bias (p. 244f.).

This is common when experiences are shared in the form of word-of-mouth as being

informal, person-to-person communication between a perceived noncommercial

communicator and a receiver regarding a brand, a product, an organization, or a service

(Harrison-Walker 2001, p. 63).

Second, illusory correlation, particularly the tendency of associating negative

characteristics to social entities which are known to a lesser degree, leads to the formation of

negative stereotypes (Hilton & von Hippel 1996, p. 245f.). As illusory correlations rely on

memories, they only emerge in the process of recall (p. 247), which is the basis of any

communication about an opinion object. As briefly outlined, (non-) conscious detection of

covariation and illusory correlation rely on reputation mechanisms for sharing individual

perceptions on the level of stakeholder groups. Actual external images are, thus, individual

constructs, partly mediated by group level processes.

A Framework for the Formation of Actual External Images

etapele formarii
imaginii externe
In this paper, the formation of actual external images of an organization is seen as

following three types of processes, unfolding partly on the individual and partly on the group

level, which ultimately result in a mental representation that combines direct experiences,

indirect experiences and stereotypes (see Figure 1).

Feeds backviainteractions External Images

via3rd party communication
indirect experience
Interactionsinthe context of arelationship
Identities direct experience

lackof information and distortion

effects inindividualperception and evaluation

Figure 1: The Interplay between Organizational Identities and External Images

The model in Figure 1 is primarily employed to inform the design of our study with

respect to the selection of informants, data gathering method and data display method. Based

on this model, we will analyze how overall perceptions of an organization are constructed

within stakeholder groups. We also suggest how stakeholder stories shape the structure and

content of corporate images. To fulfill this aim, we will proceed along the following research


1: Which discernable patterns of interaction and communication constitute the social

processes of image formation among diverse stakeholders? This question points on the

identification of the network of relationships which underlies organizational perception. In

order to answer this question, we will have to show how stakeholder groups can be identified

on the basis of organizational perception. This question comprises two facets. Can

similarities perceptions of different individuals indicate their belonging to a common group?

Can multiple groups be identified on the basis of differences in perception?

2: Which patterns of image structure can be delineated by taking on a process

oriented view of image construction? This question points to the shape of external images as

impressions formed in the context of stakeholder relationships. In the marketing literature,

two component models of image structure are discussed (Kroeber-Riel & Weinberg 2003, p.

168ff.). We will compare our results with this understanding.

If organizational perception indeed unfolds in the way we have indicated above, the

examination of the involved processes would be of great value to the research community.

First, a sound knowledge of these processes will inform academic discussion and allow a

more precise view about the meanings of and differences between the central constructs of

image, identity and reputation. Second, this study will allow a perception based

understanding and explanation of stakeholder groups, which adds to the empiric foundation

of the stakeholder theory of organizations.

5 Study

In this section we will elaborate on the overall design, the empiric context, and the

employed methods of data collection and analysis of the presented study in which stories

were collected as indicators of processes of image building and image effect. The focus of

the study design is on the elicitation and analysis of external images of the Techische

Universitt Mnchen (TUM) in the minds of actual students.

5.1 Study design

This study uses a qualitative method to address its research questions. Qualitative

methods are particularly suited to study dynamic processes, especially where these processes

are constituted of individuals interpretations (Gioia & Thomas, 1996; Isabella, 1990). This is

the case because a qualitative approach typically examines phenomena from the perspective

of the participant (Flick & Knig, 2005). It is therefore often used to examine facets of sense

making and sense giving in and around organizations (Gioia & Thomas, 1996; Maitlis, 2005;

Ozcelik & Maitlis, 2004). Furthermore, its sensitivity to processes and contexts make it a

valuable means for the study of organizations as evolving social systems.

The aim of this study is theory elaboration in order to foster a process-centered

understanding of organizational perception. Theory elaboration is appropriate, whenever

preexisting ideas fail to capture relevant aspects of the phenomenon they aim to explain and,

thus, raise the need for theory generation, based on purely inductive, grounded analysis

(SIGGELKOW, 2007, p. 21). This study uses a single case study design (Eisenhardt, 1989;

Yin, 2003) in which we collected individual, narrative accounts of students in order to

analyze how images are formed through interactions, associations and conversations. Image

formation processes were traced as individually recalled series of historic events with regard

to TUM.

This design offers a strong foundation for theoretically elaborating on the way

processes shape images in terms of contents and structure. The design of the employed

research method aimed for showing ways to trace back image components to (1) direct

experience by identifying the involved actors and interaction processes, (2) indirect

experience by identifying the involved sources of information and communication processes

and (3) stereotyping by identifying individual judgments which express beliefs about the

organization that are not substantiated by direct or indirect experience.

Furthermore, we will challenge the widely accepted component model of attitudinal

constructs (Kroeber-Riel & Weinberg 2003, p. 168ff.) by delineating a narration based image

structure and highlighting its appropriateness and usefulness to research and practice.

5.2 Research Context

This study was carried out in the German higher education sector. The primary

activities (Porter 1992, p. 65) of organizations in this sector contribute to the delivery of

higher education services and the academic generation of knowledge in the form of

information goods (Habicht 2009, p. 116ff.). Higher education services offer a particularly

interesting context for the study of processes of organizational perception and sense making

with regard to external stakeholders. First, the delivery of education services is bound to the

integration of consumers as external factors of production (Drummond, 2004, p. 321f.; Kotler

& Fox, 1995, p. 20; Naude & Ivy, 1999, p. 127). Second, education services have been

described as information services whose production process has an intangible character and

requires the input of intellectual and cognitive resources of both, the provider and the

consumer (Reichwald & Mslein, 1995; Lovelock, 2001, p. 38). Thus, sense making and

intellectual exchange are core activities in the production and consumption of higher

education services. Third, the rendering of education services requires ongoing interactions

between the student and the university which in most cases span multiple years. Thus, the

delivery of higher education services is bound to a context which fosters the successful set up

and maintenance of intense relationships over several years. Fourth, universities are

pluralistic organizations in a pivotal role for Germany and other modern knowledge-based

societies. German higher education research claims the fostering of knowledge transfer by

universities to be of utmost importance for future-oriented transformation of European

societies (Krcken, 2002, p. 19ff., Teichler, 2002, p. 36, Mller-Bling & Buch, 2006, p.

51ff.). Universities are, hence, increasingly confronted with the expectation to engage in a

large number of continuing stakeholder relationships and, consequently, have to successfully

cope with a wide range of stakeholder claims.

The German higher education sector comprises a growing number of different

organizational forms which can based on German university law roughly be grouped in

universities, colleges of art and universities of applied sciences. We chose to study the

Technische Universitt Mnchen (TUM), because it is an outstanding example in terms of

image and reputation in the German higher education sector. Building on this characteristic,

we hope to be able to elicit large numbers of clearly recalled accounts on how image

formation takes place and how external images contribute to stakeholder behavior.

Following TUM-department of control, organization and planning, during the time of

this study TUM disposed of 270 institutes and employed 4.833 academics, of which 398

were full professors (data requested per email). Furthermore, it comprised 12 schools and ran

124 undergraduate and graduate programs of study for more than 21.600 students

( Founded in 1868, TUM is a growing university, which in

October 2009 has added a thirteenth school, TUM School of Education (,

and hosted 23.257 students by the end of 2008 ( Within the

German higher education sector, TUM is a fairly large university (in 2008 approx. 23th

largest of 379 organizations) with considerable fundingii.

TUMs external image and reputation are by any measure exceptional for the

German higher education sector. TUM is among the top universities in every German

university ranking so far. It is also one of the first three universities rewarded the title of

University of Excellence on the 13th of October 2006 from the German Ministry of

Research and Education (see document section of It is ranked

as second best or best German university in international comparisons such as the shanghai

ranking ( or the times university ranking


But the most appealing characteristic of TUM concerning this study is its outstanding

brand focus. This focus on market communication is still neglected by most of the German

higher education organizations. TUM has established a continually renewing corporate

design system that systematically shapes corporate communication on every organizational

level, including the presentation of buildings and grounds on the three TUM campuses in the

city center of Munich, in Garching and in Weihenstephan and enforces the establishment of

sub brands such as UnternehmerTUM that simultaneously carries the name TUM and the

German noun for entrepreneurship the name of the spin off firm designed to foster the

collaboration of engineers and managers in order to found start ups.

We chose to study this particular university mainly because of its relatively high

presence in media and its communication focus which nurture a broad basis for image

formation processes.

5.3 Data Collection

Following the previously outlined model of image formation, external images

comprise individual sets of direct experiences, indirect experiences and stereotypes shaped

and characterized by the range of stocks an individual takes in the organization, by the

relationship established between the individual and the organization, and by the network of

sources of repute which inform the individual about the organization. In so far as interests,

relationships, and sources of repute differ between individuals, resultant images may differ as

well. Ex ante the researcher is, thus, largely bound to guess shape and contents of such

images. Consequently, we chose to follow an inductive research process with continuous and

systematic researcher-driven selection of informants combined with strictly interviewee-

driven elicitation of data as described by Glaser & Strauss (1967). Following their argument,

this study employs theoretical sampling (p. 45, Glaser, 1992, p. 101ff., Dey, 1999, p. 4f.) and

saturation of content (Glaser, 1998) as drivers of the data collection process, with saturation

implying that no new properties emerge and the same properties continually emerge

(Glaser 1978, p. 53). Thus in the process of data collection, each additional case delivers a

marginal and diminishing contribution (Gummesson, 2000, p. 96).

Sampling Technique

The procedure of theoretical sampling is based on a priori proposed sampling criteria

and the follow-up selection of informants on the basis of initially minimal, later on maximal

differences of cases with regard to the relevant sampling criteria (Glaser, 1992, Dey, 1999).

According to Glaser & Strauss (1967), theoretical sampling reflects the overall research

interest, thus we needed to take care for sampling on the case group level as well as on the

individual level in order to cope with the multi level interest of this study.

Case group selection: Concerning the stakeholder relationships between students and

the university, the previously outlined model of image formation indicates that differences in

individual experience trigger differences in external images. Students mainly interact with a

university in order to accomplish a program of study which again consists of a sequence of

classes. Students who share the same classes share class experiences. Thus, it can be assumed

that they experience the university on a largely similar basis of events. For case group

selection, we consequently chose courses of study as a meaningful basis for investigating the

existence (and if so the characteristics) of groups.

Research on the perceived quality of study programs agrees on the relevance of trust

in personnel, quality of teaching in class, and infrastructure related issues such as quality and

quantity of housing, and the quality of life in and around the campus as relevant factors of

student perception (DeShields Jr, Kara, & Kaynak, 2005; Helgesen & Nesset, 2007;

Helgesen & Nesset, 2007; Hennig-Thurau, Langer, & Hansen, 2001; Nguyen & LeBlanc,

2001). Based on differences in these dimensions of perception, we chose mechanical

engineering (ME) and technologically oriented business administration (TUM-BWL,

abbr. and brand name in German) as two courses of study which are situated in different

schools and on different university sites. Furthermore, despite the high growth rate of TUM-

BWL, both programs differ considerably in size (ME: 2130 students, TUM-BWL: 902

students). More importantly, they have somewhat contrary historical backgrounds at TUM.

ME is a well established program of study, well placed within the overall focus of a technical

university which is offered by TUM for decades. Consequently, TUM school of Mechanical

Engineering is profiting in terms of repute, networking and financial support from a strong

and positive outsider perception, especially among firms in the region. TUM-BWL, on the

other hand, is a very young study program. It was installed in fall term 2001/2002 and is

situated in TUM Business School, a rather small faculty inaugurated in October 2002. Thus

both, program and school are in a period of initial identity generation and image formation.

Furthermore, the curriculum of TUM-BWL consists of about 40% of lectures in technical

electives, thus every student experiences TUM across multiple schools and campuses. These

overarching viewpoints made them particularly valuable informants of comprehensive

viewpoints which contrast their program of studies with experiences from their technical


Case selection: On the individual level, the interest of this study is to identify in-

depth personal accounts on an organization. Hence, we focused on the sum of experiences

with TUM as main selection criterion for informants.iii Besides expertise, we sampled for

above average narrative capabilities of informants, a balance between positive and negative

attitudes towards TUM. In the case of TUM-BWL, we additionally selected for variety in the

assumed experiences with TUM on the basis of selected minors. Concerning narrative

capabilities, literature suggests the selection of informants who are aware of the important

issues and who are willing to talk about them. Bougon (1992) refers to them as idea man or

woman, the saboteur, the creative person, the person with the power to act, the champion for

an idea or product, and perhaps the satisfied customer and the angry customer (p. 383). In

the lack of formal structures, we leaned on informal communication networks to identify

these people. This procedure of snowball sampling fits very well with the theoretical

sampling procedure (Salganik & Heckathorn, 2004).

Our sampling strategy, thus, focused on students who have at least two years of

experience with the university or were otherwise recommended to us as proactively

designing the relationship between students and the university, e. g. in the function of a

student a representative or otherwise, formally and informally, contacting faculty staff in

order to shape the curriculum or ameliorate study conditions. Second, in order to identify

informants with sufficient narrative capabilities and the willingness to report, we asked

students of higher semesters if they could recommend fellow students who would normally

not hold back when articulating their opinion about the university, be it positive or negative.

Furthermore, concerning TUM-BWL, we sampled for a weighted number of students from

every available technical elective in order to be able to refer to links between differences in

perception. We constantly informed this identification process during the interview period

and chose informants with focus on accomplishing addressing all chosen sampling criteria.

Our final sample of interviewees comprised 15 TUM-BWL students (see Table 1) and

11 ME students (see Table 2).

Terms Number of Number of

of Image First Interaction First
# Technical Minor Studying Dimensions Mention Partners Mention Interviewer
1 Electrical Engineering 4 2 2 10 10 1 2 3 4
2 Life and Food Sciences 6 7 5 11 4 1 2 3 4
3 Electrical Engineering 4 3 2 7 3 2 3
4 Chemistry 8 5 2 7 1 1 2
5 Computer Sciences 8 8 0 12 0 1 2
6 Chemistry 8 5 1 6 0 1 2
7 Computer Sciences 8 5 0 7 0 1 2
8 Mechanical Engineering 8 5 1 10 0 1 4
9 Mechanical Engineering 8 4 0 8 0 1 2
10 Electrical Engineering 4 3 0 6 0 2 4
11 Computer Sciences 10 4 0 7 0 3 4
12 Computer Sciences 8 4 0 9 1 3 4
13 Computer Sciences 8 4 0 5 0 3 4
14 Chemistry 6 6 0 11 0 3 4
15 Chemistry 7 3 0 7 0 1 4
Table 1: Interviewed TUM-BWL students

Number of Number of
Terms of Image First Interaction First Inter-
# Studying Dimensions Mention Partners Mention viewer
16 4 3 3 7 7 1 2
17 4 8 5 10 7 1 2
18 4 12 4 14 3 2 4
19 4 5 2 11 0 1 2
20 4 4 0 4 0 1 2
21 4 5 0 5 0 3 4
22 4 7 0 7 2 3 4
23 4 10 0 13 1 3 4
24 4 8 0 8 0 3 4
25 6 6 0 11 0 3 4
Table 1: Interviewed ME students

Sample size based on saturation criteria

For the estimation of saturation we focused on the two core contents investigated in

this study. As we expected saturation to occur on the basis of the shared semantic knowledge

and not on the basis of individually experienced episodes, we kept track of evaluative notions

and inter-actors whose actions contributed to individual image formation to decide when to

stop collecting data from different stakeholder groups. Figure 2 shows the cumulated

expressed image dimensions for both interviewee groups.


1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15

Figure 2: Articulated Image Dimensions

The cumulated articulated number of interaction partners of both groups is shown in

figure 3.





1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15

Figure 3: Articulated Interaction Partners

Interview Technique

It has been suggested that memories of interaction and communication from

situations are most easily recalled as a narrative (Schtze, 1977; Schtze, 1987). We

therefore chose to collect narrations as indicators of the processes of image building and

image effect. The term narration refers to a complete account a person gives, whereas the

term narrative refers to sequentially structured knowledge that is part of a narration

(Wengraf, 2001). This part of individual recall is also referred to as episodic knowledge

(Flick, Bauer, & Gaskell, 2000). In order to compare individual perceptions and to analyze

them on a group level, the second emphasis of the study is on patterns across narrations. Such

patterns typically consist of a set of associated meanings that set up a knowledge structure

(Schuler, 2004) for interpersonal sense making which has been described as semantic

knowledge (Flick, Bauer, & Gaskell, 2000). In the following section, we will deduce an

empirical design for the transparent elicitation and display of episodic and semantic

knowledge, followed by a detailed account on the process of its conduction.

Several aspects of the data gathering process can be designed to support interviewee-

driven data collection. According to (Lamnek, 1995), in particular oral face to face

conversation based on non-standardized, non-directive and open questions supports a

maximum of freedom for the interviewee with regard to content (p. 37). Furthermore, such

interview design does not put limitations to the narrative capacities of the interviewee, it is

designed to make full use of them (Flick, Bauer, & Gaskell, 2000).

Use and process of narrative interviewing

In general, the strength of narrative techniques lies in the minimal intervention by the

interviewer. The interviewees are free to structure accounts according to what they feel is

relevant. Several forms of narration-based interviewing techniques have been described,

including in-depth interviews, ethnographic interviews, narrative interviews, episodic

interviews, and problem centered interviews (Scheibelhofer, 2008). We chose to conduct

episodic interviews (EI), as this method is designed to elicit both semantic and episodic

knowledge. EI typically consist of three phases (see Figure 4).

Narrative Phase Inquiry Phase

Narrative Activity of the Interviewee

Guidance by Interviewers

Figure 4: The Process Episodic Interviewing

The narrative phase primarily serves the elicitation of narrative accounts. The inquiry

phase serves the completion previously touched facets as well as the creation of a shared

understanding of concepts and argumentations.

In the narrative phase the interviewee is encouraged to freely tell stories about the

opinion object. Stories typically unfold as the recollection of a series of situations, reflecting

the episodic knowledge an image contains. In the inquiry phase, the interviewer asks

questions to drill down on single issues previously brought up by the interviewee, e.g. by

using laddering techniques. Drilling down topics is used to reveal deeper structures of

reasoning as well as underlying assumptions which reflect the semantic knowledge-parts of

an image. The overall goal of EI is to elaborate on issues brought up by the interviewee in

order to get in-depth understanding of his/her living world (Janning, 1991, p. 139ff.; Treibel,

2006, p. 219ff.) with respect to the opinion object.

Conducting EI requires strong interviewer capacities, in the sense that the researcher

has to simultaneously be open to the thoughts brought up by the informant as well as to

reflect on his/her own behavior in order to control for unintended researcher influence. We

used several methods to control for these risks.

Four interviewers were used to interview 25 students. Each of them received 28 hours

or more of training that focused on active listening and episodic interviews. The first two

interviews were conducted and analyzed by all four interviewers in order to refine the shared

method. All subsequent interviews were conducted by two interviewers. The pairing of

interviewers was changed to strengthen the shared knowledge about the process and the use

of interviewing techniques, e.g. the initial question, the ways to use laddering and mirror

technique. The conduction of every interview was discussed afterwards by all the four

interviewers. Overall, the first author co-conducted 13 of the students interviews, and also led

in interviewing 20 representatives of the business community, though data from this

stakeholder group is not included in this paper.

Characteristics of the material collected with EI

The knowledge elicited with episodic interviews is a combination of episodic and

semantic knowledge. As such, it is a multidimensional structure (see Figure 5) requiring a

corresponding display technique.

Episodic Interview

Narrative Argumentative Theoretic

Account Account

Episodic Semantic Knowledge

Superordinate Superordinate
Situation 1 Concept 1 Concept 2

Situation 2
Concept 1 Concept 2 Concept 3

Situation 3

Figure 5: Structure of Knowledge Elicited by Episodic Interviews according to Flick &

Knig (2005)

structura imaginii
Furthermore, external images of organizations are highly complex constructsorg
anddin perspectiva
RS (Th nucleului
their elicitation requires the researcher to take the perspective of the interviewee. Both
characteristics call for a context sensitive display format which is, according to Flick &

Knig (2005), best met with a transcription using the exact words of the interviewee. The

overall structure of organizational images has been described as an associative network,

comprising a central nucleus and a peripheral system (Abric, 1984, p. 169; Schuler, 2004, p.


5.4 Data Display and Analysis

In order to cope with the complexity and the multidimensional structure of the data,

we chose to employ cognitive maps as display format. A cognitive map is a graphic

representation of an individuals or several individuals mental models. It is composed of

ideas and links between these ideas (Rodhain, 1999, p. 51). In this sense cognitive maps are

context maps which, according to Tolman (1948), focus on characterizing the situational

contexts of decisions. Eden (1992) states, that cognitive maps as an artifact may represent

subjective data more meaningfully than other models and so have utility for researchers

interested in subjective knowledge (p. 262). Concerning this study, we make use of their

particular strength in displaying the living worlds of customers, as has been shown by

Rughase & Liebl (1999, p. 93ff.) and (Rughase, 2002).

The multi level approach we have described above poses a further requirement on the

analysis. Individual cognitive maps have to be combined to group maps in order to derive

conclusions on the level of stakeholder groups. Bougon (1992) proposes congregation and

aggregation as the two fundamental processes for combining individual cognitive maps (p.

371f.). Congregation highlights the underlying collective cognitive structure of a social

system which is continuously enacted and negotiated by participants. Congregate cognitive

maps display congregate labels, which Bougon calls the cryptic glue (p. 376) of a social

system, and loops which, in the form of self-stabilizing or disruptive sub-systems, indicate

the identity and the dynamics of the social system. Congregated maps, hence, display a

groups shared understanding of an opinion object and leave aside all individual accounts on

experiences and repute. Consequently, the congregation process neglects large parts of

episodic knowledge.

The process of aggregation on the other hand focuses on delivering a rich compound

system of events and meanings relevant to the individuals in question. During the

aggregation process the full individual cognitive maps are assembled by merging (Eden,

1989, p. 33; Eden, 2004, p. 683) similar labels, denoting similar concepts and by linking all

labels in the individual cognitive maps that denote concepts which ought to have been

linked (Eden 1983, p. 57). Even though the procedure of aggregating individual cognitive

maps has been discussed controversially (e.g. Bougon, 1992; Langfield-Smith, 1992), its

ability to highlight connections between episodic and semantic knowledge patterns of

multiple individuals clearly supports the research interest of the present study.

Thus, the first step of analysis was to transform the episodic and narrative knowledge

collected in each interview into a cognitive map. The second step was to aggregate individual

cognitive maps according to the structure of semantic knowledge. This knowledge structure

was illustrated by the collected narratives, whose structure combines a set of events (episodic

account) with a personal evaluation (semantic account). Figure 4 shows narrative elements

from three interviews that were identified as contributing to the same, thus shared, piece of

semantic knowledge.

Episodic Accounts Semantic Knowledge

Die TU hat in meinen Augen das Image einer kleinen Uni, die sehr
darauf bedacht ist gute Studenten am Ende raus zu bringen, die im
Leben weiter kommen, die sich Mhe geben, kleine Gruppen haben und TUMImageof
weltoffen und belastbar sind, vielleicht auch ein bisschen elitr. Ich TUMBWLStudents
verstehe elitr eigentlich nicht negativ. (Interview 08)

Fr mich sind Elite eigentlich die, die in dem was sie gerade machen,
alles geben. [] Ich merke schon, dass man sich bei uns gegenseitig
elite /
anspornt, das macht Elite fr mich aus, Elite erarbeitet man sich. []
Dass die Zugangsnote fr unseren Bachelor 1,1 war, ist schon immodest
erstaunlich. Aber ich glaube nicht, dass das allein Elite ist. Aus dieser
Elite kenne ich auch einige, die jetzt an die LMU gewechselt sind, weil
sie das Technikfach nicht packen. Die haben im Technikfach einfach zu
frh resigniert Elite zeichnet sich durch die Zeit aus. (Interview 05)

wir sind ja jetzt auch Elite [Ernennung zur Eliteuniversitt]. Das finde
ich gut, weil ich da ja selbst studiere. Wenn ich mich irgendwo bewerbe
ist das vielleicht ein kleiner Bonus. (Interview 15)

Figure 4: Aggregation of individual maps on the basis of shared semantic knowledge

In a final round of analysis, the structure of maps about different aspects of the

university (which typically collected narratives from 2-6 individuals) are compared. Our

concluding discussion suggests that stakeholders typically have many encounters with the

organization. Each interaction potentially changes or adds to current images, which may

modify the organizations identity for that stakeholder. In fact, as our collected narratives

show, many stakeholders become fluent they have a great deal of material to draw upon

when they think about the organization.

6 Results

In this section we will share insights about the image formation processes and image

contents of two stakeholder groups of TUM. Our analysis focuses on identifying the nature

of image relevant relationships and highlighting the roles of mentioned actors to elicit the

interactive and fluent stakeholder network as the social context of image formation.

Moreover, we will show a way to elicit aggregated images and analyze image contents with

respect to the functions external organizational images serve.

6.1 Processes of image formation in a fluent stakeholder network

Each group of students referred to a number of interaction partners and sources of

information which informed their image formation about TUM. We elicited these actors and

relationships as parts of narrations in which the interviewee explicitly assigned a specific

image forming role to an actor (Figure 5).

Episodic Accounts ImageRelevantActors
EinigeProfsversuchen,dasstehtauchindenUniReports, &Their Roles
hatteneinen Prof,derinderVorlesunggesagthatdieTUsoll
ihm60%Durchfallquoteangekndigt.(Interview17) MEStudents
unterrichten knnen,wievielebungenoderandere Professors
Figure 5: Aggregation of semantic knowledge about actors and their roles in image formation

of ME students

Eliciting the basis of image formation

On the basis of roles students articulated we classified a relationship as a (mutually

beneficial) stakeholder relationship, a competitive relationship or an informant relationship.

The distinguishing element of the informant relations is that it is a uni- or bidirectional

transfer of information with third parties who serve solely as sources of good or bad repute

for the university.

For example the relationship with the full professor performing the role of the

faculty director is considered a stakeholder relationship because of his direct interaction

with the students and his direct impact on the service rendering process (e.g. In our fifth

semester we shared classes with ninth semester brewing engineers [as part of the technical

subject life and food sciences]. We were, thus, suffering from a lack of basic knowledge. We

brought up the issue in front of the faculty director and he solved our problem. (Interview

02)). Informant relationships, on the other hand, were indicated towards media and general

press (e.g. I am reading the Spiegel university ranking [Spiegel is the largest weekly news

magazine in Germany]. Throughout the last years it occurred to me that TUM must be among

the best in Germany. I was not aware of it before. Of course I knew somehow that it was a

reasonably good university, but I was unaware of its excellence. (Interview 06)). This

example shows that media are relevant sources of information which do not exert direct

influence on the service rendering process but nevertheless provide students with image

relevant information. Other relationships were described as multi-faceted, indicating they

were compound relationships comprising cooperative and competitive elements (Ross &

Robertson, 2007). For example, fellow TUM-BWL students are seen as cooperative partners

when it comes to group learning, group identification and mutual motivation, or organizing

for better study conditions (Interviews 1, 3, 4, 5, 8). On the other hand, many relationships

among fellow students were categorized as competition as a consequence of elite thinking

and omitting the need to cooperate for better study conditions as the curriculum evolved (e.

g. Interview 08). Interestingly, the 25 interviewees contacted for this study indicated no

competition but mutual benefit concerning job markets. The interviewees based this

perception on the strong motivation and knowledge of their fellow students as well as on a

lack of knowledge in companies concerning their program of studies and resultant double

competencies in business administration and engineering or natural sciences.

Figure 6 is a summary of every expressed role of actors that were indicated to

contribute to the image formation of both student groups. Some of these actors are shared by

both other relationships seem to be idiosyncratic on the group level.

Press & Media Perceived External
Private Sphere Environment of TUM
Family, Relatives, Friends,
Acquaintances, Students of
Other Universities
Scientific Media
(Journals) Companies
Practicing Staff Sponsors Public

Business Administration Future Employer

Students at Ludwig-
Provider of Practicals Other Universities as
Exchange Partners
Universitt Munich
Parents (Financer)

Foreign Mechanical
Students TUM-BWL Further TUM Students
Students UnternehmerTUM
(Sports, Bio-Chemistry,
Students Foreign Students)
Students TUM President
(Contact via Students at Garching
elective) Own TUM School Mathematics, Physics,
Chemistry, TUM-BWL
Student Body
Faculty Director Other TUM Institutes
Schools Engineering
Professors Working Groups
Student Secretary e.g. TUfast
/Testing & Grading Scientific Co-Workers (student racing
Administration team)
Perceived Internal
Student Assistants Tutors Environment of TUM

Stakeholder Relationship Bilateral Informant Relationship

Competitor Relationship Unilateral Informant Relationship

Figure 6: Relationships with image-informing actors referred to by TUM-BWL students

The bottom, grey color in Figure 6 indicates roles that are perceived as internal

whereas white boxes indicate the effect of external roles with regard to the organizations

border. In total, figure 6 conveys the complexity of image formation in a way that previous

studies are unable to show. It gives insights into the multiple paths that perception and

communication take and unaltered illustrates the reciprocal impacts of images on identities as

well as on reputations. In this way it contributes to our understanding of perceptional

constructs which can in respect of their contents hardly be differentiated.

Beyond this network, the interviewed students showed a clear understanding of the

sometimes considerable plurality of roles one actor may perform and conveyed a clear

picture of the effects of his/her acting according to a certain role. We will illustrate this

understanding on the basis of the students perceptions of members of faculty (Professors).

Professors, a type of actor mentioned by every interviewee, were described as interaction

partner with regard to a variety of image relevant roles and processes. Besides

institutionalized management roles such as faculty director and instructor, hence bearing

responsibility for high quality learning, faculty staff was also perceived as a moderator of

image formation between the two investigated student groups. E.g. interviewee 04 explained

Lately, chemistry professor A has picked on TUM-BWL students again. His behavior

does not contribute to a high esteem between chemistry students and TUM-BWL students.

Theyll start to believe we get our grades for next to nothing.

Furthermore, faculty staff was seen as TUMs ambassadors towards multiple

communities. Concerning the scientific communities, the students associated a strong link

with the positive reputation of TUM. They regarded faculty staff as valuable asset with

regard to university rankings and, hence, as a source of positive repute, e.g. There are

numerous very good professors at TUM Business School, e.g. Prof. H, S and F. Prof. G too,

even though he is not very well-known in other fields, he is a luminary in his scientific

domain in Germany. (Interview 08) and more general The reputation of TUM comprises

all the scientific achievements of its faculty. (Interview 14).

Concerning the business communities, the interviewees associated the engagement of

the faculty with TUMs high profile and with exceptional personal experiences, e.g. I really

appreciate the positive reputation of TUM. Everybody knows it. To my mind this has a lot to

do with the faculty. They are very active in the business world and otherwise outside of

TUM. (Interview 15) as well as Prof. H organized a field trip to the Daimler AG in Munich

and the former executive board member Eckhard Cordes gave a talk about the restructuring

and turnaround of Frightliner Inc. that he led. That was a very interesting and exceptional

experience. Such opportunities are made possible only by the networking of the faculty.

(Interview 25). Besides the facultys role in recruiting the most interesting practicing staff,

the interviewees reckoned their role as hubs for a large number of internships and job offers.

Last, the students had a clear understanding of the faculty staffs roles concerning the

acquisition of third party funding, e.g. Interview 05: TUM gives us the opportunity to

accomplish an excellent course of study and everyone should make use of it. In this way we

are pushed up by the faculty and we push them up too. In the end it starts to create this

positive image which in turn drives positive effects such as highest ratio of third-party funds

of all business schools in Germany.

Challenging service theory with student perceptions

Contemporary service theory (e.g. unified service theory (Sampson, 2000; Sampson

& Froehle, 2006)) as well as recent studies investigating service quality, e. g. in education

services (Zsidisin, Jun, & Adams, 2000) and professional services (Howden & Pressey,

2008), suggest that customers are external stakeholders to the service rendering process.

According to this theory, customers hold a dual function in service value creation. They are

required to contribute essential inputs to the production process and at the same time

determine service value with the consumption of the process outcomes.

Our study, however, reveals a discrepancy between the production-based view of

service theory and service perception by customers concerning their stakeholder position and

roles. Contrary to theoretical suggestions, the students in our study do not perceive

themselves as external input factors and customers of a service rendering process but as

internal stakeholders of the service organization. All of the interviewees judged themselves

as well as every other mentioned student group as members of TUM. Moreover, they

indicated the right and the duty to take part in the design of the service production process in

particular and the service organization in general. The following statements illustrate this

perception. Student 03 indicated his internal status stating I think TUM is great and I stick

up for it towards people from outside concerning the LMU [Ludwig-Maximilians-

University] vs. TUM hassle in particular (Interview 03). Student 15 assigned relevant roles

in the formation of external perceptions to faculty and graduates stating: Professors are

sources of repute. If our faculty consists of acknowledged members we trigger a positive

picture towards outsiders. The same is true if we have excellent graduates. Those are the

things which contribute to the coming about of a positive reputation of TUM (Interview 15).

Student 05 described a process where he was able to implement an idea for organizational

innovation at TUM, stating: I am a member of SiROP [Student Research Opportunities

Program at TUM]. When we came up with the idea for this project we asked president

Herrmann for a meeting. We were invited to present the project to him one or two days later.

We got good funding to sustain the project for three years straightforward and

entrepreneurial (Interview 05).

6.2 The Students images of TUM

As shown in the previous chapters, images can be elicited as semantic knowledge

embedded in individual narrations. In order to analyze images, a focus on semantic

knowledge allows to abstract from a plethora of personal narrative accounts. Chapter 6.1,

dedicated to insights on image formation, showed one such way. In the following section we

will highlight semantic aspects that show how TUM is appraised by the interviewed students.

A central pillar of characterizing and appraising opinion objects is the use of adjectives as if

those objects were a person. Marketing literature draws on such anthropomorphism

mechanisms in concepts such as brand personality (e.g. Fennis & Pruyn, 2007; Freling &

Forbes, 2005; Monga & Lau-Gesk, 2007; Ramaseshan & Tsao, 2007) or corporate

personality / corporate character (e.g. Balmer, 1998; Berens & Van Riel, 2004; Davies,

Chun, Da Silva, & Roper, 2004; Davies, Chun, da Silva, & Roper, 2001). Schultz, Hatch, &

Larsen (2002) have aggregated several facets of this mechanism with regard to organizational


In a similar way we have focused on adjectives with which the interviewed students

appraised aspects of their university. Figure 4, referring to the similarly used adjectives

elite and immodest gave a first glimpse on this form of analysis. Figure 7 shows the total

of accounts which contributed to the meaning of entrepreneurial its related adjectives in the

group of TUM-BWL students.

They try to do something with unique The great idea of interlocking [between business
This UnternehmerTUM
the innovative ideas that TUM something special issues and technical fields] doesnt take place
leaves an impression
students come up with

The Munich Business

Its name also refers The need to have better collaboration and offer better courses, with us specifically in
Plan Competition
nicely to TUM mind, such as technology management, chemistry and business studies.

Its Business Plan-Semi-

The things that Unter- nar, with 50% engineers At a state Uni, faculty members
That can only be dissolved through
nehmerTUM does and 50% students of only think in the frames of their
personlalities like L, who decide to offer
business administration exactly these courses. own disciplines international
I had a project with a civil
One quickly realizes that
engineer & a mathematician But someone will also be dis- But these are the things, that imprint
the technical fields often
tended at a state university this university, contribute to its strong
lack the reasoning that an
elite internationality
enterprise has to cater to a
(stands for performance thinking) market advanced/modern/a step
grueling GIST, our dependance in beyond others/innovative
entrepreneurial(2, 5) Singapore, when you try to
TUM stands for motivation, progressiveness, entrepre- uncomplicated (5) explain it to someone, he
neurschip, for the new models of performance thinking State Univ/slower (13) simply asks What? Why?
They dont necessarily
Thats just an advantage , TUM is, as president Herrmann draw lines doesnt
A private Uni has
that TUMs reputation as said, a very entrepreneurial Uni. work, doesnt exist
got it easier
an univ. is very good
Then theres simply
Which one also sees
e.g. compared to LMU which is more stolid the entrepreneurial
in the teachers.
The UnternehmerTUM and other and bureaucratic aspect
helping constructions need to be
discovered in order to achieve the In comparison to other state schools, I ambitious Highly motivated, very good
ideas that are generated here. think TUM is relatively modern. determined motivated reputation, international
center of attraction.

A flaw, that its a state Uni and On the surface, hes a politician Im in SiROP when the idea arose,
therefore many things take much and a showman, and its that we asked for a meeting with President
longer which glares outwardly Herrmann. 1 or 2 days later we were
We received a budget, the invited and allowed to a 20 minute
Since Pres. Herrmann has a fantastic project is ensured for 3 years. presentation (of our idea).
scholastic background, hes a chemist He really is exceptional for a
with high marks afterall, he will also be principal, I dont think hes had an Much still depends on him [Prsident Herrmann]
accepted by the professors. easy path at TUM

Figure 7: Stories contributing to characterizing TUM as entrepreneurial university in the

group of TUM-BWL students

Based on similar meanings we grouped mentioned adjectives within one circle. As a

more general interpretation, the shown example broadly refers to the speed and ease with

which change and innovation happen at TUM. Apart from the focal term in the center of the

graphic, other narratively related adjectives are shown. Despite the purposeful sampling of

positive and negative opinion leaders, both groups unanimously articulated a positive overall

image of their university. Negative perceptions or disaccord among the interviewees was

limited to specific issues. Altogether, the TUM-BWL students referred to 13 partly connected

abstract meanings in order to characterize TUM, the ME students referred to 14 different

meanings. Figure 8 displays these adjectives with reference to the interviewees who

mentioned them as well as their direct links through narrative accounts.

TU Mnchen
old (4) by TUM-BWL students
Bavarian (9)
traditional(12) excellent (6,14), very good (7,15), cool (9,13), great (14)
good reputation (2,5,7,8,11,13,14,15) engineering focused (2,6),
positive/(very) good/excellent image technical oriented (4,5,6,7),
munich (2,13), scientific (14)
City-Uni (2,3,4,8),
spread out [Campus]
advanced/modern (2, 4, 9, 13),
at a high level (6,9,11,14)
a step beyond the others (5, 6),
innovative (11)
unpersonal (1),
well recognized/
small/not too large (1,2,8,12,14),
well-known (4,6,8,12,14,15)
ambitious (2), anonymous/large (2,5)
determined (2),
motivated (2,5)
collaborative [with
industry and business] (8,9,15), international elite (1,5,7,8,10,15),
Business oriented (9) (3,5,7,10) perfomance oriented(2),
grueling (14) unique (11,13),
entrepreneurial(2,5), something special (3,7,12)
uncomplicated (5),
state owned/slower (13)

well equipped(1,3,4,7,9),
omfortable/climatized (2,3), TU Mnchen
new/modern (2,3,5,6,7,8), by ME students
old (1,6,7), spatially large(3,8),
clean(3) very good/super (3,10), very attractive (3),
impressive (6,7,8), one of the best (6,8), (very)
allotted/detached/ good reputation (1,3,7,8,10), positive/(very)
segregated [Campus] (3,4,10), good image (2,3)
out of town/remote (1,2,3,7,9),
dead/nothing happening(2,5)

high leisure quality

modern [Uni] (2,3),
[referring to Munich] (2,3,7),
focused on innovating (2),
expensive (2,3,8)
pretty ancient (6)
investing/acquiring generating plenty
money (2,3,7,8,9) opportunities (3,5,7,8)
anxious to step ahead (3,7), elite/immodest (1,2,3,4,5,9),
reforming (3), hard/highly demanding(1,2,3,6,9,10)
aligned to business working efficiently (3,6)
needs (3,8,9,10)
international (3,8,10)
communicative (4,8,9),
presents itself well (7,8,9)
research oriented technical oriented(2,8,9),
(2,3,6,8,9,10) very specific (3)
renowned/successful (4,8,10)

Figure 7: Overall image of TUM in the group of TUM-BWL students

Even though both associative networks convey the distinctive, group-specific

perception of TUM, they give also first hints on commonly perceived traits of the TUM-
identity which may circle around the meanings of innovation and change, internationality but

embeddedness in the region around Munich, a focus on engineering and technology, striving

for scientific excellence and leaning on intense business networks.

7 Conclusion

This study set out to investigate perceptions about organizations in the form of image

formation processes and resultant images. Based on the sometimes neglected insights of

stakeholder theory and illustrated with our own empirical research, we conclude with what

we hope is a more realistic, theoretically valid, and empirically accurate view. We achieved

insights by employing a narrative approach to individual perception in order to access the

traces of a network of fluent actors.

Image formation includes well known organizational and strategic processes which

connect stakeholders to the organization by constructing and renewing shared understandings

about central and enduring characteristics of the organization. We theoretically elaborated a

first understanding of image formation that combines three types of image components. First,

image formation is based on the individual recall of interactions in the context of stakeholder

relationships. Such processes convey elements of organizational identities. Second, image

formation takes place during the communication with third parties who serve as sources of

repute for the organization. Third, image formation is contingent to stereotypic belief which

results from lack of information or distortion. All three types of image forming processes are

remembered and recalled in the form of episodic knowledge. Furthermore, the proposed

model combines the notions of organizational identity organizational image and reputation

on the basis of perception processes. Hence, it consequently anchors the differences of these

notions in processes and not contents. In this way, it contributes to the partly blurring

differentiations found in the literature.

Fluency is a word about language, and language is a social construction. In our

empirical study we show that the ways stakeholders think (and potentially act) is influenced

by a social context that may reference events from before the life span of the individual (e.g.

narratives about the extraordinary reputation of TUM in technical disciplines), but it is also

influenced by interaction among stakeholders. Fluency is changed by these encounters. It can

become more complex but alternative can be simplified by encounters with others (Huff &

Huff, 2000). Most members of the organization know relatively little about this process that

should interest them intensely. This paper experiments with a methodology for revealing

both the historical encounters that influence images, and the potential interaction of images

held by multiple stakeholders. We believe it is of academic and practical interest.

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The notion of relationship is used as a continued series of interactions between two actors
within a specific interaction-context. The context is characterized by the interplay of roles which the interacting
parties live out and the resultant norms of behavior (Ross & Robertson, 2007). An interaction is seen as
reciprocal impact of the involved actors in which an actor can be either a person a group, or any kind of
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Although student data of 2009 are available, these figures convey little meaning concerning
the development of a university. This is due to a shift in German secondary education system towards a
countrywide 12 year system which in some German states results in double graduating classes and,
consequently, pushes the number of first year students heterogeneously. For example the number of students at
the TUM went up to 48.788 in winter term 2009/10 which equals to an augmentation rate of +109.8%! This

data has been sent to the authors following an email request. It remains to be published on the TUM website on
Expertise as main criterion for interviewee selection is difficult to capture quantitatively.
(Ericsson, 1996) is one of the few authors who quantifies this notion in terms of time spent with the matter in
question, claiming that a person can be called expert, if (s)he is looking back on at least 10.000 hours of
occupation (p. 288). A simple calculation reveals that under normal conditions, a student will never reach this
state. Thus, assuming that studying is a day to day activity for students, we softened this criterion, claiming that
students in the middle of their studies have accumulated enough experience to develop a detailed image of their