Understanding Contested Issues

Firms increasingly become involved in socio-political debates and take stances on hot-button issues. 

Firms increasingly become involved in socio-political debates, that are often unrelated to their products or services (e.g., gun rights, abortion, climate change, etc.). Yet, existing work offers little guidance on why, when, and how firms should engage with such hot button issues. To address this gap, we propose a theory which we also illustrate with short comparative case studies. The theory shows that whether firms benefit from ignoring an issue, supporting it, or taking opposing positions on it depends on (1) the level of competition the firms face, (2) the level of salience the issue carries with consumers, and (3) how polarizing the issue is. We argue that firms can effectively segment the market by taking opposing positions on some issues, primarily increasing their own profits. Our theory addresses other important questions including why some activist pressures backfire, and when an incumbent’s support for an issue creates an opportunity for new entrants.

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Behind the Labels: How Corporations Communication Abstract and Concrete Commitments (Crilly & Sloan, WP)

The labels used to communicate corporate purpose shape understanding beyond their denotative meanings. We integrate construal level theory and theories of embodied cognition to explain how corporate executives make abstract ideas around purpose concrete, often in the form of metaphor, and why responsibility-oriented discourse gives rise to different mental representations than sustainability-oriented discourse. We conduct a qualitative and quantitative corpus analysis of publicly available corporate reports. We find that responsibility is marked by language that is concrete, specific, and temporally focused on the present. Its metaphors conceive of responsibility as an object, frequently one that is a burden. In contrast, sustainability is characterized by language that is abstract, schematic, and temporally focused on the future. Its metaphors conceive of sustainability as a process, frequently one that is a journey. We discuss the implications of our theory of embodied construal for language and organizing. 

The challenge of comprehending the long-term implications of social and environmental changes makes it difficult to consider future scenarios computationally. Our study explores ways that executives have to depict future scenarios more vividly by arousing emotions among employees to embrace long-term change. Yet, emotion also risks eliciting intemperate choices, creating a challenge for executives. We identify three devices used to frame the future as a means to elicit emotion: presencing (vs. distancing), which brings the future nearer and arouses emotions; disrupting (vs. extending), which highlights a change of direction and prompts feelings of uncertainty and emotional ambivalence; and empowering (vs. disempowering), which is linked to employees’ perceived coping capability. Each form of framing relates in distinctive ways to how the future is embodied in language. Used in isolation, they have an indeterminate influence on emotional and behavioral outcomes, but when used together, they can be more effective in eliciting emotional responses and action tendencies among employees. We contrast the emotional pathways (hot vs. cold) harnessed by executives to convey a vision of the future and gain acceptance of the projected social and environmental changes. We discuss the implications of our configurational theory for research on time and intertemporality.

matt-artz-Fu2v5drnMBA-unsplash copy.jpg
hasan-almasi-nKNm_75lH4g-unsplash Copy.j

Behind the Labels: How Corporations Communication Abstract and Concrete Commitments (Crilly & Sloan, WP)

The labels used to communicate corporate purpose shape understanding beyond their denotative meanings. We integrate construal level theory and theories of embodied cognition to explain how corporate executives make abstract ideas around purpose concrete, often in the form of metaphor, and why responsibility-oriented discourse gives rise to different mental representations than sustainability-oriented discourse. We conduct a qualitative and quantitative corpus analysis of publicly available corporate reports. We find that responsibility is marked by language that is concrete, specific, and temporally focused on the present. Its metaphors conceive of responsibility as an object, frequently one that is a burden. In contrast, sustainability is characterized by language that is abstract, schematic, and temporally focused on the future. Its metaphors conceive of sustainability as a process, frequently one that is a journey. We discuss the implications of our theory of embodied construal for language and organizing.