This PhD project would investigate trustworthiness and stakeholder relations; an investigation of opinions of stakeholders concerning operational decisions made by firms in challenging contexts. With a focus on the firm trustworthiness (Mayer et al., 1995), we can make a contribution by bringing together the stakeholder literature with the literature on trust (Greenwood and Van Buren, 2010).
Firms adopt corporate social responsibility (CSR) processes and practices including the language of stakeholder theory in an effort to attain and maintain the legitimacy of their organisations. Alvesson (2012) notes the social and political pressures on organisations to develop such a public image of social responsibility. Another way of conceptualising these issues of legitimacy is through whether organisations possess the trust of relevant stakeholders.
Most definitions of trust entail a three-stage process (McEvily et al., 2003): trust as a belief, where one party assesses the other party’s trustworthiness (Lewicki et al., 1998); trust as a decision, where one party, based on its previous beliefs, has ‘the intention to accept vulnerability based upon positive expectations of the intentions or behaviour of another’ (Rousseau et al., 1998:395); and trust as an action, where, according to Mayer et al. (1995) the parties engage in risk-taking activities after having evaluated their target’s trustworthiness. They propose that the level of perceived trustworthiness depends on the existence of three factors (i.e. ability, benevolence, and integrity) and emphasize that a lack of any of them would weaken trust.
When examining the trust relationship between the organisation and its stakeholders, such trustworthy behaviour would mean that the company has to demonstrate competency in its operations (ability)(A), awareness and active acknowledgment of the other party’s concerns (benevolence)(B), and adherence to corporate social responsibility principles acceptable by the stakeholder (integrity)(I). According to stakeholder literature, this can threaten the long-term sustainability of firms: the aim of the project is to investigate this assumption.
The literature linking trust and stakeholder-organisation relations is scarce. Greenwood and Van Buren (2010) was one of the few that added trust and trustworthiness to the study of organization-stakeholder relations. In their theoretical paper, they argue that trust is the only option for dependent stakeholders when interacting with an organisation. This project would empirically explore how the stakeholder-relationship unfolds when beneficial, favourable or at least not detrimental behaviour ends, and when a breach of trust is perceived by a stakeholder constituent.
Methodology & Methods: Qualitative, Quantitative, Mixed methods, Case studies