Attribution theory: an important tool for understanding and managing goal oriented organization behaviors. Attribution theory is known as the effective way which helps us to assume that people’s behaviour is caused by internal or external situational factors. This essay is going to discuss about the key elements of attribution theory and the relationship between them. In addition, the way of attribution theory process works in organizations are also mentioned. Also it considered how attribution theory implements in organizations as an effective tool which can help leaders to attribute employees’ behaviours and workplace outcomes.
This essay reviewed some famous articles in attribution theory and psychology fields and abstracted relative points to discuss. Types of attributional explanations and the underlying dimensions of those attributions affected individuals’ emotions, expectations and behaviours. (Jianjun & Shenghua, 2009)
The reason that internal and external attribution can be useful tools in management practice is that they can help managers understand causes of employee behaviours and can assist employees in understanding their thinking about their own behaviours. If you can understand why you behave a certain way, and why others around you do so, then you have a better understanding of yourself, others, and your organization.
The perception of the causes of certain behaviour may affect the judgment and actions of both managers and employees. The locus of causality can be internal or external, which stands for the recognition of internal or external attribution. Also as Kelly (1967) concluded as the covariation model, which describes the three type of information that we can use to make attribution decisions are consensus, distinctiveness and consistency. In determining whether behaviour is based on internal or external factors, you look at the level of consistency, distinctiveness and consensus of the behaviour.
For instance, internal attributions are made with low consensus, low distinctiveness, and high consistency while external factors when all three are high. Leaders can use covariation model to make attributions of employees’ performances. However, this model also has one important limitation, which is that it cannot to distinguish unintentional and intentional behaviour. (Ben, Olufemi, Olukunle &Patrick, 2012) As attribution theory is applied in different organizations and may be an important factor which can affect managers’ decision, the innate bias of people in the way they make attributions should be paid much attention.
The basic one which is called fundamental bias describes the tendency to make internal attributions over external attributions. It emphasizes more on socialization such as culture or social settings. As concluded by Zuckerman (1979), there are two main attribution biases. The self- serving bias is the tendency of individuals to regard their successes as the result of their own effort or ability and blame failure on external factors. Thus, the situation could be that managers may blame employees for their failure. On the contrary, employees may attribute failures to external factors.
The actor- observer bias stands for the tendency of observers to attribute the behaviours and outcomes of actors to their internal factors while actors attribute their outcomes to the external environment. For instance, managers may blame the failure on employees whereas employees are biased toward attributing their failures to external factors including their supervisors.
After comparing these two biases, it is obviously that self- serving bias happens when both actors and observers focus on the outcomes while the actor- observer bias is based on the situation that actors emphasize on external factors but observers focus attention on actors. In organizations, performances are evaluated by managers.
Those two biases can effect managers’ and employees’ evaluations of employee performance as well as the quality of their relationship. (Mark, 2007) In terms of leadership, if leaders don’t aware that they have attribution bias, some problems will appear in communication and team work. Employees make attributions based on their perception of the causes attributable to leaders’ behaviours. (Phil, Charlotte, Julie&James, 2009) after employees perceived their leader are not satisfied with their performance, they tend to feel loss of self- esteem.
Reflecting into behaviours, it is possible that employees’ job satisfaction and turnover decrease. After that, it is more difficult for leaders to motivate employees to increase productivity or improve their performance. Another thing which is worth mentioned is attribution styles. Attribution styles are tendencies to make particular types of attribution over time and across different situations. Martinko (2002) indicated that there are sixteen possible intrapersonal styles.
Basically, there are two most well-known attribution styles which are optimistic attribution style and pessimistic attribution style. To some extent, optimistic attribution style can correspond to self-serving bias. However, pessimistic styles are characterized by external and unstable attributions for success and internal and stable attributions for failure. (Martinko, Douglas& Borkowski, 2007) In an organization, optimistic leaders believe that the employees will perform well in the future but the pessimistic leaders have the opposed ideas.
Also optimistic employees think they will have a good performance while pessimistic ones have the opposed ideas. These phenomenons imply one possibility that there may be clashes between the attribution style of leaders and employees. Just as the study did by Martinko, Douglas & Borkowski (2007) demonstrated that optimistic leaders are less likely to blame their members for poor performance and make opportunities for their members to succeed in the future than are pessimistic leaders, which may lead to lower quality relationships between employees and pessimistic leaders.
As relationship becoming less harmonious, the goal- achieve thinking will be inconsistent. In addition, Harvey, Harris and Martinko (2008) got a result through studying and hypothesising which presented attribution styles have significantly effect on turnover intentions. There is a positive relationship between hostile attribution styles and turnover intentions. (Harvey, Harris &Martinko, 2008)
The situation could be someone with a pessimistic attribution style and low self-efficacy can be helped by being given tasks that allow them to succeed early on and build their confidence as they progress to more complex tasks. In dealing with someone with an optimistic attribution style, managers can help the employee gauge whether or not they are capable of a certain type of project by having them shadow someone doing that job or linking them with a mentor higher up in the organization. Recognizing and dealing with someone with a hostile attribution style might be difficult since this style can look similar to the optimistic style.
However, this style in particular, will benefit from open communication that leads to correct attributions for outcomes. This is one type of employee that managers do not want to leave guessing about a poor performance appraisal, demotion, layoff, or other negative outcomes. Also in terms of job satisfaction, it indicated a negative relationship between hostile attribution style and job satisfaction, but suggested that satisfaction fully, as opposed to partially mediated the attribution style–intent to turnover relationship. (Harvey, Harries& Martinko, 2009)
In view of leaders, the attribution style of leaders is probable sign of their expectation of employees’ performances, which influence how they treat and evaluate employees. Attribution theory implementation in different fields:
Attribution theory plays a significant role in field of leadership. It is the tool that how leader attribute employees’ performance. There are many different situations. For example, when a leader is facing the negative outcome, he is more likely to have internal attribution of it. (Korsgaard, Brodt & Whitener, 2002) If the employee attributes the leader’s behavior internally, he will blame it on leaders so that he will have a doubt with leader’s ability.
Also it is possible to appear conflict between leaders and employees. In order to improve the accuracy of leaders’ attribution, leaders can try to do the work that employees do and may have the similar feeling with them, which is a way to gain psychological closeness. And it is better to assign tasks and duty clearly to avoid unnecessary error in working. Motivation:
According to Harvey and Martinko (2009), we can promote and maintain employees’ motivation through five means such as screening resilience, immunization and multiple raters for performance. However, in general situation, attributional training and increasing psychological closeness are most common and effective way. Attributional training helps employees accurate their attribution style and may correct their attribution biases as well as having a better understanding with internal and external factors.
In other word, attributional training is a good way to make employees have a full – scale recognition of workplace outcomes through effective communication between managers and employees. In term s of increasing psychological closeness, the best way is to pick experienced managers to manage employees and handle the positive or negative outcomes so that they can provide more attributional feedback to employees. Performance reviews and group work:
Kelley’s (1973) covariation model which contains consensus, consistency, and distinctiveness can be used by managers to evaluate and review employees’ performance. Consistency is proposed to lead to attributions regarding the stability of the outcome. For example, when an employee fails a task, if the manager is with low consensus, he will think that only this employee fail, then it is impeded correct evaluation. Also, when managers face dividing work in a group, the locus of covariation is needed to attribute and estimate the different characteristic of employees’ behaviors.
Recruitment and selection:
When managers start recruitment and selection, they have to ensure that they have appropriate attribution style and try to minimize the attribution bias. For example, the interviewers will tend to believe that candidates who appear anxious in the interview are actually behaving anxious because they are lack of anti-pressure ability, rather than because they are in a stressful environment. Then wrong decision and selection will be made because of the attribution bias.
In conclusion, it is obvious that attribution theory process is related to internal and external factors through the discussion of relationship of essential portions of attribution theory process. Besides, attribution bias and styles cannot be ignored in organization behavior and activities because they will have a big effect on different fields such as leader- member relationship or motivation towards employees. As the importance of attribution theory and the functions been argued, it can be summarized that organizations should take advantage of attribution theory to manage employees and improve organization performance.
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