Preparation and Prior Experience in Issue-Selling Success

By Bishop, Karen; Webber, Sheila Simsarian et al. | Journal of Managerial Issues, Fall 2011 | Go to article overview

Preparation and Prior Experience in Issue-Selling Success


Bishop, Karen, Webber, Sheila Simsarian, O'Neill, Regina, Journal of Managerial Issues


Change initiatives from middle management adopted by top management increase the competitive advantage and overall performance of numerous organizations (Floyd and Wooldridge, 1992; 1996; 1997; Westley, 1990; Wooldridge and Floyd, 1990; Wooldridge et al., 2008). Those not within top management ranks can be viewed as "agents of change" (Floyd and Wooldridge, 2000; Kanter, 1983; Nonaka, 1994). These change agents can focus on a range of activities from process improvements in operations to current strategic initiatives. Regardless of the change, it is often necessary for a particular firm's culture to encourage bottom-up change for managers to succeed (Howard-Grenville, 2007; Ling et al., 2005). Because of the importance of organizational change, how managers sell issues upward is an important area of investigation.

Based on prior research (Goffman, 1981; Pentland, 1992), Dutton and colleagues identify issue-selling activities as "moves" and define the term as "the behaviors that constitute an interaction" (Dutton et al., 2001: 716). More recently, Howard- Grenville (2007) adopts the term "moves" to examine their temporal patterns. In a recent exploration of issue selling over time, Howard-Grenville (2007) states, based on qualitative data, there is no "magic formula" for how to sell issues successfully. In fact, qualitative research on issue selling has indicated that the same actions or "moves" can be used in both successful and unsuccessful issue-selling efforts (Dutton et al., 2001; Dutton and Jackson, 1987; Howard-Grenville, 2007). The issue-selling moves particularly important for success have yet to be specified in research studies. However, issues continue to be successfully sold and implemented, convincing top management that the changes are needed to influence company practices.

Issue selling refers to individuals' behaviors that are directed toward affecting others' attention to and understanding of the events, developments, and trends that have implications for organizational performance (Dutton and Ashford, 1993; Dutton et al., 2001). The issue sellers determine through their selling strategy which issues will be offered for implementation to top management (Ocasio, 1997). This view of change via issue selling is part of a growing trend (Morrison and Phelps, 1999). However, due to the limited number of studies focused specifically on issue selling, the results leave many questions yet to be explored.

Prior research on issue selling has used a well-developed qualitative approach to identify processes prevalent when selling issues (Dutton and Ashford, 1993; Dutton et al., 2002; Dutton el al., 2001; Howard-Grenville, 2007). Research has not presented a quantitative measure of issue-selling moves. Also, although some moves have been identified, research has yet to determine which are critical for successful adoption and implementation of an issue.

The purpose of this study is threefold. First, the theoretical work of Dutton and colleagues (Dutton and Ashford, 1993; Dutton et al., 2001) and the attention- based view of the firm (Ocasio, 1997) are used to guide the examination of managers as change agents selling an issue. Based on the "moves that matter" (Dutton et al., 2001), this work develops an empirical measure of issue-selling moves. Building from Dutton and Ashford (1993) and Howard-Grenville (2007), this measure incorporates the issue- selling process' temporal element to propose and test specific hypotheses on the impact of moves on issue-selling success. Second, the measure determines which issue- selling moves impact the probability of successful selling and adoption of issues in the organization. Third, it begins to build a nomological network around the issue- selling process by examining an antecedent: prior issue-selling knowledge.

Issue-Selling Process

Dutton and Ashford (1993) theorize that issue-selling moves occur in two forms: packaging (how the issue is framed and presented) and selling (involvement of others and communication tactics). …

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