Managing impressions in the face of rising stakeholder pressures: examining oil companies' shifting stances in the climate change debate

Mignon Halderen, M (Mamta) Bhatt, Guido Berens, TJ Brown, Cees van Riel

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review

46 Citations (Scopus)

Abstract

In this paper, we examine how organizations’ impression management (IM) evolves in response to rising stakeholder pressures regarding organizations’ corporate responsibility initiatives. We conducted a comparative case study analysis over a period of 13 years (1997–2009) for two organizations—Exxon and BP—that took extreme (but different) initial stances on climate change. We found that as stakeholder pressures rose, their IM tactics unfolded in four phases: (i) advocating the initial stance, (ii) sensegiving to clarify the initial stance, (iii) image repairing, and (iv) adjusting the stance. Taken together, our analysis of IM over these four phases provides three key insights about the evolution of IM in the face of rising pressures. First, when faced with stakeholder pressures, it seems that organizations do not immediately resort to conforming but tend to give in gradually when pressures increase and start to come from relatively powerful stakeholders. Second, evolution of IM seems to be characterized by path dependence, i.e., even as organizations’ positions evolve, they continue to show their conviction in their initial positions and try to convey that their subsequent positions flow logically from the previous ones. Finally, IM involves navigation between symbolism and substance, and companies tend to strive toward harmonizing their symbolic and substantive actions as stakeholder pressure increases.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)567-582
Number of pages16
JournalJournal of Business Ethics
Volume133
Issue number3
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - 7 Oct 2014

Research programs

  • RSM ORG

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