In most businesses there are groups of individuals whose boundary spanning positions differentiate them from others in the organization. Adams (1976) used the term "boundary role persons" and described them as individuals who are responsible for contacting people outside their own groups. Some of these are purely internal boundary spanners such as accounting and IS personnel whose activities require them to cross departmental, functional and organizational lines in order to do their jobs. Others, such as service technicians, sales representatives and purchasing agents, are external boundary spanners having continuous contact with customers and suppliers. Both groups are essential for organizational efficiency (Friedman and Podolny, 1992).
One of the problems of boundary spanning is that of role conflict and the resultant negative impact on job satisfaction. One view is that role conflict results in job tensions which in turn lead to disillusionment with the job, and a lowering of job satisfaction (Kahn et al., 1964). For external boundary spanners role conflict can result from the conflicting demands placed upon them by the organization on the one hand and their external clients on the other. They are charged with carrying out their roles in line with corporate objectives but must also accommodate the demands of customers and suppliers which are often at variance with these objectives. At times, the management directives they receive are clearly not in the best interests (as they perceive them) of their customers or suppliers. They are often asked to perform their roles without clear performance guidelines which, research reveals, can produce dysfunctional effects on job-related behavior and attitudes (Michaels and Dixon, 1994).
Although there is widespread use of control systems for setting objectives and measuring employee performance, these are often not effective in managing boundary spanners due to the very nature of their jobs. The purpose of this paper is to provide empirical support for the view that boundary spanners' perceptions of a firm's control system impact their job satisfaction and the propensity to leave the firm. Any improvement in the control system should result in less role conflict and greater job satisfaction.
The subjects in this study are purchasing agents, one of the boundary spanning group referred to above. The purchasing function in most organizations is becoming more important due to the complexity and sophistication associated with modern purchasing activities (Cook, 1992; Ellram and Pearson, 1993; Jackson, 1990). In addition, there is growing awareness that the administrative expenses associated with purchasing activities can be a significant portion of the total costs incurred by a company (Heinritz et al., 1991). The purchasing agent as a boundary spanner is a dominant conduit of influence between the firm and its suppliers. In terms of the role they play, both company and supplier have expectations about the role the buyer is to fulfill. Each has certain expectations of the buyer and sanctions behaviors that deviate from what is expected. The firm expects the purchasing agent to represent it to the supplier, unquestioningly. The supplier expects to be listened and responded to as part of a relationship of trust and understanding which has to be developed (Friedman and Podolny, 1992). Both groups expect clear loyalty to themselves. These expectations are potentially inconsistent and can lead to role conflict on the part of the boundary spanner. Any steps the firm can take to reduce role conflict and thus improve job satisfaction within the purchasing department are bound to have long-term positive financial consequences.
Responses to role conflict could involve withdrawing from interaction with difficult suppliers or renegotiating the demands of these suppliers. The first can be an expensive option when there are few, if any, alternate suppliers and the second is usually too difficult for most firms to accomplish (Van Sell et al. …