Academic journal article Academy of Marketing Studies Journal

Situational Aspects of Need for Autonomy as a Moderating Variable in the Autonomy-Performance Relationship among Insurance Agents

Academic journal article Academy of Marketing Studies Journal

Situational Aspects of Need for Autonomy as a Moderating Variable in the Autonomy-Performance Relationship among Insurance Agents

Article excerpt


Studying the autonomy-performance relationship for insurance agents is important. Primacy is usually given to the personal selling side of the promotional mix (over sales promotion and advertising) in the insurance industry due to the complexity and diversity involved in the requirement to identify likely prospects, interest them in the product best suited for them, handle complex objections, and provide effective follow up after the sale (Dubinsky and Yammarino, 1985). Agent supervisors have a vested interest in maximizing agent production since agent performance has a direct bearing on agency revenue. Insurance agent supervisors should be particularly interested in any variable over which they have direct control that increases agent performance. One such variable is agent perceived autonomy (Yammarino and Dubinsky, 1990).

Churchill, Ford, and Walker's (1997) Model of the Determinants of Salesperson performance identifies perceived autonomy as a determinant of salesperson performance. Research supports the generally positive relationship between perceived job autonomy and salesperson performance (Yammarino and Dubinsky, 1990; Dubinsky and Yammarino, 1985). However, some researchers have found both non-significant (Yammarino and Dubinsky, 1990; Orpen, 1986; 1985; Parasuraman and Alutto, 1984; and inverse relationships (Orpen, 1979) between these two variables.

Although the reasons for these findings are unclear, it has been noted that when researchers fail to find expected relationships well supported in the literature, the presence of moderating variables is likely (Orpen, 1985; Griffin, 1981). A likely personality variable that may moderate this relationship is need for autonomy. Salespersons who perceive congruency to exist between their perceived autonomy and their need for autonomy should perform better than those who find discrepancies between their need for autonomy and their perceptions of the amount of autonomy they have in their job. Although the likelihood of need for autonomy to moderate this relationship seems to be high, little attention has been given to testing this relationship.

Autonomy as a Need of Salespersons

Autonomy has been identified as an inherent part of a salespersons job (Yammarino and Dubinsky, 1990; Becherer and Morgan, 1982). Autonomy has been established as a psychosocial need for salespeople who have reached the establishment' stage of their career, supporting the idea that need for autonomy varies with respect to time on the job (Dalrymple and Cron, 1992). Autonomy is often a necessary part of the job since salespeople often are in a boundary spanning role between the customers on the one hand and the organization on the other (Yammarino and Dubinsky, 1990). Insurance agents in particular have been cited as needing autonomy (Comer and Dubinsky, 1985) although new insurance agents have been found to have less need for autonomy than do more established agents (Dalrymple and Cron, 1992; Rich, 1990).

That different sales people have different needs for autonomy is exemplified in the finding that differences in the need for autonomy among salespeople in general have been noted in the literature (Dalrymple and Cron, 1992) as well as among insurance agents in particular (Rich, 1990; Comer and Dubinsky, 1985). Additionally, internal salespeople such as manufacturer's agents, are thought to have a lower need for autonomy than that of external salespeople such as insurance agents (Mahajan, Churchill, Ford, and Walker, 1984).

Thus, it appears that although sales jobs in general have been seen to be highly autonomous jobs with respect to other types of non-sales jobs, sales jobs themselves can also be dichotomized into high and low needs for autonomy. Generally, salespeople in positions that are external to the firm such as insurance agents or manufacturers' agents have higher requirements for autonomy than do salespeople in internal sales jobs such as retail or company sales. …

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