Power, Social Influence, and Sense Making: Effects of Network Centrality and Proximity on Employee Perceptions

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1 A central theoretical debate in this body of work is whether the key sources of influence are an individual's direct interaction partners or, instead, structurally equivalent others who occupy similar roles and thus serve as the appropriate referents (Burt, 1982, 1987). As discussed in more detail below, we did not address this distinction in any depth because the data set did not lend itself to positional analysis.

2 Closeness centrality scores were also computed. Correlations In their seminal article, Salancik and Pfeffer (1978) posited that attitudes and perceptions derive from the social context in which they are formulated. Arguing that finding meaning in a job environment is an information-processing activity, they suggested that people develop attitudes as a function of the information available to them through their social relationships and adapt their beliefs to the reality of their own situation. While social-information-processing (SIP) theory has spawned a wealth of research and theorizing (see Blau and Katerberg, 1982; Thomas and Griffin, 1983; Zalesny and Ford, 1990, for reviews), a common critique is that it "has not articulated the mechanisms by which social information flows to and from individuals" (Contractor and Eisenberg, 1990: 7).

This paper joins a growing body of organizational research (e.g., Dean and Brass, 1985; Hartman and Johnson, 1989; Rice, Schmitz, and Torobin, 1990; Burkhardt, 1991; Rice and Aydin, 1991)in arguing that social network theory and methods provide the necessary tools for elucidating key social-information-processing mechanisms. Instead of comparing the effects of cohesion and structural equivalence (Burt, 1982, 1987) on attitude similarity, however, this research explores the relationship between network interaction and perceptions of work-related conditions. In particular, we propose that the effects of two different network-mediated substantive processes need to be untangled: (1) systemic power effects by which individuals' locations in their organization's informal hierarchy shape their access to and control over resources and thus affect positive or negative evaluations of workplace features and (2) localized social influence processes that produce attitude convergence among socially proximate pairs of individuals. The former emphasizes power differentials associated with differences in network centrality, as they affect people's organizational experiences along general dimensions; the latter focuses on specific social influence transmitted through particular relationships. We propose that both types of mechanisms need to be investigated jointly in order to arrive at an improved understanding of the ways in which social networks affect information processing.

In investigating either mechanism, a critical question that has been ignored concerns what types of social relationships or interaction networks are pertinent (Salancik and Pfeffer, 1978; Marsden and Friedkin, 1993). Perceptions are shaped by the opinions of salient or relevant others (Rice, 1993). Salience or relevance, however, may be based on different criteria, including interpersonal similarity and closeness or, instead, power differentials and deference, which are associated with different types of informal networks. Further, the possibility that different network mechanisms may be important for different types of network relationships has not been previously investigated.

This research applies a social network perspective to the study of job-related perceptions, in particular, perceptions of conditions reported as facilitating or inhibiting innovation and creativity in an advertising firm. Following Marsden and Friedkin (1993), we attempt to elucidate the substantive processes underlying claims that network interaction patterns affect perceptions, while simultaneously considering the impact of personal characteristics and formal positions on SIP. As such, the study addresses two central questions: (1) Are there empirically distinguishable SIP processes undergirding the impact of network interaction on individuals' perceptions? …