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Managerial Responsibility as Negotiated Order: A Social Construction Perspective

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Abstract

This article examines how employees form their perceptions of managerial responsibility in a concrete organizational setting. Drawing on negotiated order theory, it shows that these perceptions are the result of complex processes of social construction and negotiation, rather than the application of predetermined ethics models or norms. Employees’ perceptions appear to be unstable; they are subject to constant alterations, fluctuating with the organizational circumstances, and are likely to create considerable organizational perturbations, especially when managers make complex and ambiguous decisions. This process is illustrated through an ethnographic study that analyzed the evolution of employee perceptions during a three-year crisis—one that led managers to repeatedly postpone salary payments to save jobs. The process approach adopted by the study highlights important dynamics that traditional business ethics approaches overlook, such as the fragility of the construct of managerial responsibility, which cannot be coherent unless it is constantly renegotiated among an organization’s various employee groups.

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Notes

  1. According to Lenk (1992, cited by Fisscher et al. 2003, p. 210), moral responsibility is composed of six elements: (1) the subject of responsibility, (2) the object, (3) the others involved, (4) the judgmental party, (5) the criterion on which responsibility is grounded, and (6) the expected actions.

  2. Through a standard French professional internship contract (known as a CIFRE), the company employed one of the researchers on a part-time basis to help the Directors find financing for its R&D projects. The Directors and employees were informed that they were the subjects of a study about employee perceptions of managerial behavior, and gave the researcher authorization to access all e-mails, financial statements, and other relevant documents.

  3. All quotations are translated from the French.

  4. In France, Assédic is the public agency that manages unemployment insurance, paying out benefits to unemployed job-seekers. When a company goes bankrupt, it also pays due wages to laid-off employees.

  5. The first type of cultural relation, called “company culture,” describes a highly structured relational community. The second type, one of “cultural duality,” refers to weak social relations. The third type, “cultural disintegration,” refers to a “previously cohesive culture which goes through a process of identity differentiation where the original shared references and meanings break down” (Francfort et al. 1995, p. 288).

  6. Remarkably, nearly all employees were highly employable in the French job market; they were young and had highly sought-after computer skills.

  7. The Directors did not design a drastic restructuring plan until November 2005, a few weeks before declaring bankruptcy; they could not complete it because they ran out of money.

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Acknowledgments

The authors of the article would like to deeply thank their translators, Suzan Nolan and Leila Whittemore, and also the editors of this special issue, Hervé Corvellec, David Bevan and Eric Fay, for their highly valuable comments and intellectual input.

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Correspondence to Loréa Baïada-Hirèche.

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Baïada-Hirèche, L., Pasquero, J. & Chanlat, JF. Managerial Responsibility as Negotiated Order: A Social Construction Perspective. J Bus Ethics 101 (Suppl 1), 17–31 (2011). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10551-011-1172-7

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