Employees as a vector of strategic intent: an examination of corporate, social and environmental strategic intent recognition by employees

Pat Auger, Timothy M. Devinney, Grahame Dowling

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Purpose: One of the hallmarks of strategizing is having a clearly articulated vision and mission for the organization. It has been suggested that this provides a compass bearing for the organization's strategy, helps in motivation, commitment and retention of employees, serves as a guide to internal sensemaking and decision-making, has a potential performance effect, helps establish the identity of the organization and positions its desired reputation. The compass bearing role is important because it guides the selection of the goals and strategic orientation of the organization which in turn shapes its overall strategy and much of its internal decision making. The inspirational role is important because it helps to motivate and engage employees and other stakeholders. Design/methodology/approach: This study provides a more rigorous indication as to whether employees can, in the first instance, recognize and distinguish their corporate and environmental strategy from that of their competitors within their own industry and random other companies from other industries. This first issue addresses, to a degree, if and why, such strategic communiqués are effective inside a range of different organizations. Secondly, the authors examine whether there are any specific individual level effects that could explain variations in these responses. Finally, the authors examine the extent to which the recognition rates the authors observe, relate to how employees are rewarded through appraisals, promotions and salary increases. This helps in the authors’ understanding of the role of hard incentives versus soft motivations. The authors’ approach to assessing employee knowledge of their organization's strategy is unique. Rather than survey employees about their knowledge, the authors use a matching study and a discrete choice measurement model to assess if they can recognize their organization's strategy from those of their competitors and some other randomly selected organizations. This approach allows us to mitigate social desirability and common method biases and directly estimate the underlying behavioral model being used to assess their organization's strategy. Findings: Overall, the authors found that few employees could correctly identify their corporate strategy statements. In the case of corporate strategy statements, the authors find that, on average, only 29 percent of employees could correctly match their company to its publicly espoused corporate strategy. When the authors look at the environmental sustainability strategy of the firm, this is worse overall, with individuals doing no better than random on average. When the authors look at company training and communication practices across the realm of different strategies, the authors see a number of factors leading to the general results. First, most of the authors’ respondents could not recall a significant effort being given to communication and training by their employer. Indeed, most communication/training is simply related to having documentation/brochures available. Second, respondents indicated that more effort is put into communicating corporate strategy to employees in a more systematic manner than communication about environmental/corporate social responsible (CSR) strategy. Third, the authors see that individuals are evaluated more on and give more weight to, evaluations relating to their ability to meet individual/group financial and market performance metrics (targets) and work as a team than their involvement in environmental and social responsibility programs. Finally, the employees studied seemed to be more confident in understanding the corporate strategy. When asked to put their corporate strategy into words – a task the authors asked respondents to do after the matching phase of the study – 40% of participants did so for the corporate strategy but only 14% did so for the environmental strategy and seven percent for the CSR strategy. Practical implications: The primary implication of the study is that the values-mission-strategy logic of strategic motivation seems to have limited validity and with respect to the view that employees are a vector of corporate strategy. It is hard to argue that employees can be a vector for something they cannot recall or even distinguish between. Originality/value: The study is unique in terms of (1) asking the very simple question of whether employees internalize their company's strategies and (2) in the methodological approach to examine employee knowledge and informativeness.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)524-537
Number of pages14
JournalJournal of Strategy and Management
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - 12 Oct 2022


  • Discrete choice analysis
  • Employee knowledge
  • Mission
  • Strategy


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