Hospital Professionals' Use of Upward Influence Tactics

Article excerpt

Understanding power and influence behavior--ways by which members of organizations get what they want--is generally viewed as essential to understanding individual and organizational behavior (Allen and Porter, 1983). Understanding power and influence is vital since such behavior affects both individual and organizational effectiveness (Kipnis and Schmidt, 1988; Schilit and Locke, 1982). This is likely true in healthcare organizations as well (Goldrick et al., 1994; Gorman and Clark, 1986; Hoelzel, 1989; Peterson, 1979).

Examining influence behaviors may be particularly important given the changes that challenge traditional influence and power relationships within healthcare organizations (Garko, 1994; Kerfoot, 1990; Morlock et al., 1988). The decentralization of authority and decision making, the use of teams, and the empowerment of healthcare professionals--all of which imply changes in traditional power relationships--focus attention on power and influence behaviors (Wells, 1990). Specifically, these changes call attention to attempts by subordinates to influence their managers (i.e., upward influence) (Goldrick et al., 1994).

Research suggests that upward influence activity in organizations impacts overall organizational effectiveness (Floyd and Wooldridge, 1997). Given this link, understanding more about the tactics that individuals use to influence managers is valuable. More specifically, understanding why individuals choose one tactic over another may be essential in fully understanding influence behavior in organizations. This research addresses that issue by examining factors that may influence the selection of specific upward influence tactics. Expectancy theory will be used to identify variables which may affect the selection of influence tactics. The upward influence tactics used in this study will be explained, followed by the development of hypotheses. Next, instruments and research methods will be discussed. The results of the analyses will be presented and discussed, along with implications and limitations. Conclusions and suggestions for further research follow.

Expectancy Theory and Upward Influence Tactic Use

Expectancy theory provides a useful framework for both predicting and understanding the selection of upward influence tactics. Expectancy theory is concerned with the actions individuals take, and emphasizes two key determinants of action: 1) what outcomes individuals expect if they behave in a certain way, and 2) their evaluation of those possible outcomes, positive or negative (Kanfer, 1990).

Since one possible outcome of an upward influence attempt is success (a superior complies with a subordinate's request), expectancy theory leads us to examine the factors that influence an employee's expectations regarding the success of an influence attempt (e.g., "Will I actually be able to influence my supervisor by behaving this way?").

Upward influence attempts are not risk-free and there may be negative outcomes associated with the upward influence process (Porter et al., 1981). Since individuals will avoid behaviors that lead to negative outcomes (Porter et al., 1981), possible negative outcomes associated with the use of an influence tactic should also affect the selection of influence tactics.

Based on expectancy theory, the key questions are: 1) Will I get what I want by behaving this way? and 2) How do I feel about what else might happen? These questions lead us to examine factors that affect perceptions of success when using an upward influence tactic, as well as variables that affect perceptions of negative outcomes associated with influence tactic use.

This research examines three variables that may affect the selection of an influence tactic: 1) perceived power of subordinates, 2) the interpersonal trust between a subordinate and a superior, and 3) the locus of control of subordinates. As discussed below, each of these variables may affect either perceptions of success or perceptions of negative outcomes associated with influence tactic use. …