Academic journal article Journal of Managerial Issues

Motivational Drivers of Non-Executive Directors, Cooperation, and Engagement in Board Roles

Academic journal article Journal of Managerial Issues

Motivational Drivers of Non-Executive Directors, Cooperation, and Engagement in Board Roles

Article excerpt

Much recent literature on boards recognizes that organizations should benefit from active boards with non-executive directors who cooperate and engage in board roles, rather than simply acting as rubberstamps (Gabrielsson and Winlund, 2000; Roberts et al., 2005; Zattoni and Cuomo, 2010; Zhang, 2010). Non-executive directors (or outsiders) represent the interests of the organization's owners, and as such, hold the responsibility to make executive directors accountable for their policies and activities. They are assigned to the board to ensure that executives' actions as well as decisions taken on the board promote organizational success. However, nonexecutives' role is not limited to controlling and monitoring the board. Non-executives are also expected to provide advice and build external relationships (Hillman and Dalziel, 2003), so that their roles are perceived as critical to ensure board effectiveness.

However, non-executives may not always assume their duties as expected by owners, with the consequence of potentially impeding organizational performance, since passive boards have been associated with bankruptcy, crisis or firm failure (LaMer et al., 2002). A reason why non-executives do not actively assume their duties is the motivation that drives them to be part of the board. Westphal and Stern (2007) show that cooptation of CEO supporters and appointment of non-executives who practice ingratiation and are attracted by social networks provided by boards are selection practices that keep non-executives passive on the board. As a consequence, non-executives are assigned to boards for their motivation to belong to a group they will flatter, rather than for their motivation to exert their duties and responsibilities.

In a context where a larger sense of responsibility and accountability is expected of board members, it is timely to study how non-executives' motivational drivers affect their engagement in board roles (Roberts et al., 2005; Silva, 2005). Drawing on the assumption that non-executives are assigned to boards to serve the organizational cause, this article proposes that pro-organizational motivation, defined by the desire to expend effort in order to benefit and contribute to organizational goals, is central to non-executives' engagement in board roles. However, the present research also recognizes that other motivational drivers complement non-executives' proorganizational motivation, as exemplified by results indicating that non-executives who get new appointments on boards are driven by opportunities to develop social networks (Westphal and Stern, 2007). This article studies need for achievement, need for identification, and self-oriented motivation as examples of non-executives' motivational drivers that complement pro-organizational motivation to impact cooperation and engagement in board roles. These three drivers should not directly be related to engagement in board roles because they do not focus on actions aimed at supporting organizational success. They serve individual needs and self-interests rather than organizational interests. As such, these three variables are studied as moderators of the relationship between pro-organizational motivation and cooperation and engagement in board roles (see Figure I).


This study extends the body of knowledge on non-executive directors' attitudes (e.g., Hillman et al., 2008) by applying motivation theories to the context of boards. The results provide insights on board member selection and development that complement existing literature focused on socio-economic factors such as compensation, board independence, and ownership (e.g., Carpenter and Westphal, 2001).


Pro-organizational Motivation, Cooperation, and Engagement in Board Roles

Davis et al. (1997) and Roberts et al. (2005: 18) have used the term "pro-organizational motivation" to describe directors' behaviors in the board, but these authors do not provide a definition of the construct. …

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