Managing organisational hubris through purpose

Bowman, Sarah and Walker, Gloria (2019) Managing organisational hubris through purpose. In: Bledcom 2019, 4th - 6th July 2019, Lake Bled, Slovenia.

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Introduction and Purpose: This paper looks at the role of senior communicators in addressing organisational hubris. The paper argues the hubris hypothesis is well researched in management literature but less well understood from a communications perspective. By linking scholarship from both fields of study it is argued that as skilled influencers inside the organisation, communication professionals are best placed to identify symptoms of organisational hubris and mitigate its impact.

Literature Review: Organisational hubris in management literature emphasises the cognitive bias affecting management decision making (Kahneman, Slovic and Tversky, 1982) with a focus on arrogance, self-esteem, overconfidence and risk taking. In addition to extreme certainty of being correct, another driver from psychology is the concept of pride and viewing oneself as more capable relative to others (Moore and Healy, 2008). Evidence suggests that CEOs and other senior executives exhibit hubris traits to a greater extent than others and this is evidenced by the review of the hubris literature by Picone, Dagnino and Mina (2014). They argue hubris has both a good and bad side arguing that managerial self-confidence positively influences firm performance but beyond a certain point it becomes damaging leading to organisational failure.

Scholarship points to a variety of ways to address hubris including governance structures. In the UK, the Daedulus Trust, a charity that exists to raise awareness of hubris, argues a pre-condition to managing the risks of the hubris syndrome is being aware of its existence and to watch for CEO and senior management symptoms. They argue individuals need to have ‘toe holders’ - those who ensure they remain anchored in reality. This paper argues this is a role suited to the Director of Communications whose job it is to bring stakeholder views to the organisation. This concept of being the ethical guardian is not new in PR scholarship yet it is often difficult to make those suffering from the hubris syndrome listen to reason. By appealing to some of the fundamental hubris traits identified by Owen and Davidson (2009), it is argued PR practitioners could help redirect confidence and arrogance into social impact and purpose. These traits include seeing the world as an arena to exercise power and seek glory; a predisposition to take actions that seem likely to cast the individual in a good light; total self-confidence in delivering objectives; and finally a disproportionate concern with image and presentation.

Social impact and purpose has become increasingly topical in leadership and communication scholarship and practice. Ernst and Young (EY), management consultants, in their Winning with Purpose report (May 2016) argue organisational purpose galvanises people and is becoming increasingly important in defining business success with 87% of consumers believing companies perform best over time if their purpose goes beyond profit. EY define organisational purpose as “an aspirational reason for being which inspires and provides a call to action for an organisation an its partners and stakeholders“ (2016:9). They argue purpose led companies have a clear reason for being – stakeholders know what they stand for and it contributes to getting and keeping the best talent, attracting and engaging customers and increases returns for shareholders. Here they point to Apple, Unilever and Hitachi.

Methodology: This is a conceptual paper that synthesises hubris and communication scholarship and draws in a range of secondary sources. In so doing, it shows that defining and delivering purpose and social impact requires a long-term commitment that must resonate with organisational values and be humanistic. Not instinctively notions associated with hubris. Purpose, however, has to be activated by leadership behaviour and if this behaviour can be triggered by appealing not only to organisational success but also showing how it can add to the credibility and status of the individual then hubris can be potentially turned to good use.

Implications and Contribution: This paper has theoretical and practical value. Picone, Dagnino and Mina (2014) call for the hubris hypothesis to be studied from a multidisciplinary perspective and this paper contributes to filling this gap. It also makes practical suggestions as to how communicators can recognise and tackle the hubris syndrome for wider organisational and societal benefit. The limitations are based on its conceptual nature and further qualitative and quantitative studies would be needed to test various constructs with organisations and communication professionals.

Item Type: Conference or Workshop Item (Paper)
Uncontrolled Keywords: hubris, social impact, purpose
Subjects: N200 Management studies
Department: Faculties > Arts, Design and Social Sciences > Social Sciences
Related URLs:
Depositing User: Paul Burns
Date Deposited: 22 Jul 2019 15:39
Last Modified: 10 Oct 2019 16:46

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