On Establishing Legitimate Goals and Their Performance Impact

Journal of Business Ethics 157 (3):731-751 (2019)

We investigate the role of legitimacy in setting organizational goals as a way to address the potential “dark,” unethical side of organizational goal setting. Coupling qualitative and quantitative research methods to better understand legitimacy in goal setting, we first induce novel hypotheses based on observed practice and then provide survey evidence to test the performance implications. Study 1 reports findings based on interviews with twenty-two company executives. We identify attention to goal credibility, prioritization of stakeholders directly involved in the goal’s attainment when setting goals, and communication openness regarding goals, as well as their combination, as being important to organizational performance outcomes. Study 2 determines whether these three practices and their interaction predict performance using a survey conducted with 522 companies across four countries. Among other findings, we contribute to the organizational goal setting literature by showing that higher organizational performance is associated with the amount of priority given to the key actors directly involved with the goal’s attainment. We also find a positive interaction between attention to goal credibility, key actor importance, and communication openness on financial performance and non-financial goal attainment. Our work takes an initial step toward understanding how organizations can better shape the legitimacy of organizational goals for improved organizational performance and reduced unethical behavior.
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DOI 10.1007/s10551-017-3684-2
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