Three Cheers for the Company Man! Organizational Commitment and Supervisors
There’s an old quote out there that “employees see the entire organization through the eyes of their supervisor”. Embedded in this quote is the notion that employees see their supervisor and their organization as one-in-the-same. And when seven researchers sign up to investigate this very notion, you get one very good article and that can be found here. A working knowledge of hierarchical linear regression is required. If that scares you a bit, let the Kimono do the translating for you.
The Theory and Its Predictions
The authors make a case that most subordinates view their supervisor as an agent of the organization. When leaders and subordinates engage in their day-to-day working relationships, employees are making conscious and subconscious evaluations of their supervisors. In particular, they’re estimating how well the supervisor aligns or embodies the same values as the larger organization.
When employees perceive that the supervisor embodies and models the same values and beliefs of the organization, the prediction is that employees will view treatment from the supervisor the same as treatment from the organization; they are one-in-the-same. Pushing this logic forward, when employees have good, strong, and trusting relationships with supervisors that model and embrace organizational values and beliefs, the employees have a strong relationship with the organization, as well.
And the Findings Are….
The authors got some interesting results after examining about 250 U.S. employees in the social services field and another sample drawn from Portuguese workers.
Generally speaking, when employees had a good relationship with their supervisors AND viewed their supervisors as the living, breathing embodiments of the organization that they all worked for, the employees were more committed to the organization. This relationship was statistically significant—meaning these relationships aren’t based on luck or coincidence.
Interestingly, in the U.S. sample, the reverse wasn’t true. When employees had a good relationship with their supervisor BUT viewed that supervisor as owning different values and beliefs than the organization, the employees weren’t any more or any less committed to the organization. Put plainly, the pivotal variable was to what degree employees perceived the supervisor aligned with the organization.
The underlying logic is that when we view the supervisor and the organization as one-in-the same, when the supervisor treats us well, we perceive it as the organization treating us well. And, because we’re humans with millions of years of evolution in our DNA, we want to reciprocate. Hence, we feel more committed to the organization.
When employees and supervisors got along well and trusted each other AND the employees identified their supervisor as being in lock-step with the organization, there was not only greater organizational commitment, but employees were more inclined to actually do something about it! Such as, looking for ways to make the organization more successful, offering helpful suggestions to benefit the organization, or encouraging coworkers to try new ways to improve on the job.
Dr. Kimono—Heal Thee!!!
If you didn’t know this before or only thought it to be true, now you know for sure. Supervisors matter. Maybe the most important part of this entire research piece is the necessity for the organization to get the supervisors on board. This means treating them well, rallying behind them, having their backs, and giving supervisors the resources to succeed. Because not doing that involves a risk and we explain a touch more below.
There’s a chance for bad stuff to occur when an employee has a great relationship with the supervisor but views the supervisor at odds with the larger organization. Here, the employee will give her commitment to the supervisor but will withhold it from the organization and won’t do those extra role or helping behaviors such as taking action to prevent harm to the organization.
When the organization and supervisor are aligned and together at-the-hip, any affinity for the supervisor bleeds over to the larger organization. So, don’t ever throw supervisors under the bus as the organization’s performance depends on their allegiance and alignment.
Congrats, you’re smarter now.