Food Co., a pseudonym for a large food processing plant in the Northeast, had been operating successfully for several years when the plant manager realized he had a problem he couldn’t solve alone.
The employees did their jobs well, but they didn’t seem to care much about taking care of each other. Workers were reluctant to call out unsafe practices when they witnessed them and rarely offered a helping hand when it was needed.
“The plant manager said to me, ‘I want people to do the right thing when no one is watching,’ recalled Wharton management professor Michael Parke. “Well, that’s organizational citizenship.”
That conversation led to a yearlong field experiment for Parke and his colleagues that not only helped transform the culture at Food Co., it also proved their theory that both supervisors and peers can be powerful agents of change when they are allowed to intervene at different times of the change process. According to the study, supervisors are more effective at guiding change early in the process, when there is greater uncertainty and confusion about the new standards of behavior, while peers are effective later in the process, when the standards are better understood by everyone.
“Peer-led and supervisor-led role interventions can complement one another, especially in the later stages of change,” Parke noted.
The paper, “Creating Organizational Citizens: How and When Supervisor- Versus Peer-led Role Interventions Change Organizational Citizenship Behavior,” was published in the Journal of Applied Psychology. The co-authors are Subrahmaniam Tangirala, management professor at the University of Maryland’s Robert H. Smith School of Business, and Insiya Hussain, assistant management professor at the University of Texas at Austin’s McCombs School of Business.
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