Theoretical Background
Rationale and Hypotheses
The Interactive Model


The Specific Propensity Model
The Interactive Model


The Wild Card Effect and Military Retention:
Latent Social Identities in an
Interactive Organizational Commitment Model

Theoretical Background

The force that holds individuals together as members of an organization has been a subject of intense study throughout the development of the social sciences. Modern research uniformly studies the phenomenon of organizational commitment (OC). Commitment has been examined under many names over the years: teamwork, loyalty, espirit de corps (Fayol, 1949), cohesion (Fayol, 1949; Festinger, Schachter, and Back, 1950), equilibrium (Roethlisberger & Dickson, 1943; Barnard, 1938; March & Simon, 1958), willingness, cooperation, and others. The most widely accepted definition is comprised of three parts: 1) a strong belief in and acceptance of the organization's goals and values, 2) a willingness to exert considerable efforts on behalf of the organization, and 3) a definite desire to maintain organizational membership (Porter, Steers, Mowday, & Boulian, 1974).

Occupational Commitment

Another type of commitment is also present in most employment organizations. Members may have varying degrees of occupational commitment, or as it has also been called, professional commitment. This is defined as an individual's loyalty to a specific occupational field (Gouldner, 1957). Thus, an attorney's commitment to the profession exists as a separate force from commitment to a particular law firm. Lawyers who leave their positions at a particular firm are not likely to leave the legal profession.

Outcomes of OC

OC contributes to job satisfaction (Bateman & Strasser, 1984; Williams & Hazer, 1986), and a lack of OC results in absenteeism and turnover (Mayo, 1924; Roethlisberger & Dickson, 1943; Steers; 1977; Finegan, 2000). An organization which is unable to maintain commitment on the part of its members will cease to exist (Weber, 1947).

A Two-component OC Model

The majority of OC theory and research has suggested two components, calculative (or instrumental) commitment and affective (or attitudinal) commitment (Mayo, 1924; Roethlisberger & Dickson, 1943; Barnard, 1938; March & Simon, 1958; Likert, 1961; Festinger et al., 1950; Merton, 1957; Porter et al., 1974; Eisenberger, Fasolo and Davis-LaMastro, 1990; Angle & Lawson, 1993). Calculative commitment is based primarily on a straightforward exchange of cooperation and rewards between the member and the organization. This includes such incentives as pay, bonuses, retirement packages, benefits, and stock options. Becker (1960) introduced the notion of "side-bets" to explain the less direct instrumental influences on commitments. Side-bets are events and circumstances that are not inherently related to commitment, but constrain the individual's options all the same. An employee with a high mortgage is committed to maintaining a steady income. A member who is eligible to retire with full benefits in six months is not likely to walk off the job.

Affective commitment is based on the member's emotional needs and social interactions with other members of the organization. It is related to the need to belong, friendships within the organization, a positive working relationship with the boss, security, prestige, common goals and values, and any other positive feelings that are derived from being associated with the organization. Some calculative elements can have an affective influence, as well. An attractive benefits package may indicate to individuals that the organization values their membership, making the organization a source of increased feelings of self-worth. Members can interpret low pay as a message that they are not important to the group, decreasing affective commitment.

There are two basic types of needs involved in affective commitment (Katz, 1964). One set of needs can be fulfilled by membership in just about any organization. Individuals may be able to make as many friends within commercial organizations as they can within the Marine Corps. Other needs can only be fulfilled by membership in particular types of organizations. Individuals with a strong sense of patriotism will have more success expressing that value through membership in the military than in civilian enterprises such as McDonalds or IBM. This forms a stronger commitment because it is harder to replace.

Dual Component Measurement

Several instruments have been developed to measure organizational commitment, based on calculative commitment, affective commitment, or a combination of both. The most widely used instrument is Mowday, Steers, and Porter's (1979) Organizational Commitment Questionnaire (OCQ) that measures both components.

Additional Factors

Some theorists propose a third component of OC (Meyer & Allen, 1991) called normative commitment. It is expressed as an individual's feelings of moral obligation to remain with the organization. Normative commitment suggests a sense of duty. Members remain within a group not only because they have to (calculative commitment) and want to (affective commitment), but also because they ought to (normative commitment).

On the other hand, Angle and Lawson (1993) suggest that normative commitment is actually a measurement of the degree to which an individual's goals and values match the organization's goals and values. They identify it as an important aspect of commitment propensity. The disagreement lies in whether it is an antecedent to commitment or a component of commitment. There is research to support both arguments.

The Wild Card

Efforts to understand the interaction of antecedents on commitment have been problematic. Research can produce one result within one organization and an opposite result in another organization. There seems to be some type of a "wild card" in play. Some researchers have suggested that the propensity to commit accounts for the variations in these interactions, and suggest it is an important factor, perhaps the most important factor, in sustained OC (Steers, 1977; Wiener, 1982; Pierce & Dunham, 1987; Lee, Ashford, Walsh & Mowday, 1992; Angle & Lawson, 1993; Finegan, 2000). Current research suggests that the key to propensity lies within groups of values pre-existing within the individual, but researchers have had limited success in determining which groups of values matter (Finegan, 2000).

There has also been much research on various elements of affective and calculative commitment. Although the research has been productive, it, too, is frequently complicated by some kind of "wild card" that seems to constrain generalizability. One factor that has been shown to interact with levels of organizational commitment is occupational commitment. Higher levels of occupational commitment correspond to lower levels of organizational commitment, and higher levels of organizational commitment correspond to lower levels of occupational commitment (Ritzer & Trice, 1969). However, organizational and occupational commitment are psychological phenomena, according Ritzer and Trice (1969), based on the subjective meaningfulness of an organization and an occupation. Organizational commitment is more meaningful for some individuals, while occupational commitment is more meaningful for others. A dual commitment is possible in organizations that are partly bureaucratic and partly professional. This is strongly supported in other research (Glaser, 1963; Aranya & Jacobson, 1975).

Latent Social Identities

The interaction between organizational and occupational commitment has been found to have a significant effect in measures of affective and calculative commitment. Sheldon (1971) found that anomalies in the data suddenly made sense when the subjects were classified into four latent social roles: "local", "cosmopolitan" (Gouldner, 1957), "indifferent" (Bennis, Berkowitz, Affinito, & Molone, 1958), and "local-cosmopolitan" (Glaser, 1963).

Social role theory suggests that individuals play different types of social roles in organizations (Gouldner, 1957) based on their manifest and latent social identities. Manifest roles are easily observable as demographic categories, titles and positions. Members of the organization assign a social identity to each role based on expectations or stereotypes.

However, individuals also play roles and have identities that are perceived but are not classified based on demographic categories or status (Gouldner, 1957). These are latent roles and latent social identities. They also have a strong impact on how individuals behave toward each other and within organizations. Thus the behavior of two individuals of similar manifest roles but different latent roles can be different, just as the behavior of two individuals of different manifest roles but similar latent roles can be similar.

Gouldner (1957) hypothesized two latent social identities to encompass this phenomenon: cosmopolitans and locals. Cosmopolitans are low on loyalty to the employing organization and high on commitment to a specialized role skill. Locals are high on loyalty to the employing organization and low on commitment to specialized role skills. Two individuals with identical manifest roles, for example mid-level accountants, but opposite latent identities, cosmopolitan and local, could react differently to an offer to do accounting work at higher pay for another organization. The cosmopolitan is more likely to take the job. The local is more likely to stay put. Conversely, an offer to move up to a non-accounting upper management job in the same organization would be more attractive to the local and less attractive to the cosmopolitan.

Bennis et al. (1958) found a third latent social identity committed to neither the organization nor a specialty, called "the indifferent." Glaser (1963) recognized the possibility of dual lines of commitment when an organization and a profession share identical goals and values. Thus, Glaser added a fourth type, the "local-cosmopolitan," with equal commitment to the organization and the specialization. However, additional research supports a continuum from local to cosmopolitan (Gouldner, 1958; Miller & Wager, 1971; Berger & Grimes, 1973; Flango & Brumbaugh, 1974), indicating that the indifferent and the local-cosmopolitan fall together somewhere on a local to cosmopolitan continuum. Therefore, the distinction between the indifferent and the local-cosmopolitan is not one of differing local or cosmopolitan orientation, but of levels of commitment. It is more useful to think of the local-cosmopolitan in terms opposite of "indifferent." They could accurately be called the highly committed.

For example, suppose two individuals who are midway between local and cosmopolitan become security guards. One becomes a night security guard for a candy store to pick up a little extra money and rarely talks to anyone else in the organization. This individual could easily be an indifferent with no commitment to being a security guard and no commitment to the organization. Another individual takes great pride in being a security guard and is thrilled to be protecting the same humanitarian organization that kept a family member from dying of a rare disease. This individual has a strong commitment to the occupation and a strong commitment to the organization. Both of these individuals also fall at the same point on the continuum between local and cosmopolitan. The difference between the two is in levels of commitment.

Broader Latent Constructs

Gouldner (1957) derived his local and cosmopolitan identities from Merton (1957), who identified a complete set of values for the local and an alternate set of values for the cosmopolitan. Organizational and occupational loyalty were elements included in this larger system. Appendix A indicates several of the traits Merton identified.

Merton (1957) derived his subset of traits from Zimmerman (1938), Wiese and Becker (1932), and most importantly Tonnies (1940), who identified a comprehensive set of traits for each identity, which he called Gemeinschaft (local) and Gesellschaft (cosmopolitan). Appendix B includes some of the local and cosmopolitan traits Toonies (1940) identified.

Organizational Fit

Barnard (1938) defined an individual's willingness to cooperate in an organization as cohesion and proposed that "its immediate cause is the disposition necessary to 'sticking together'" (Barnard, 1938, 84), suggesting a general propensity. However, he also argued that willingness to contribute to any specific organization lies along a range from intense willingness toward neutrality to intense unwillingness. He pointed out that the vast majority of people lie on the negative side with reference to any existing or potential organization. No single organization appeals to everyone.

The concept of organizational fit (Weiner, 1982; Brown, 1969; Kidron, 1978; Steers, 1977) identifies convergent goals and values between the individual and the organization as an important element to affective commitment. The patriot is better able to defend America in the military than at a fast food restaurant. The scientific researcher is better able to further a body of knowledge in a research university than in an elementary school.

Organizational Values

Members come together in an organization with similar manifest values and create and pursue the manifest values of the organization. However, Toonies (1940) argued that individual latent values have the same effect, creating a latent social identity for the organization as a whole. Latent social identities are formed and adapted through the interaction of individuals in a social organization. Thus, a Marine Corps rifle company has a different organizational value system than a research laboratory, beyond the specific goals of each organization. The rifle company values loyalty and fraternity very highly, while the research lab values diversity of thought and intellectual stimulation. The rifle company drills until reactions to specific stimuli comes naturally, without a moment's thought. The research lab deliberates over every action in search of the most rational reaction. These are latent organizational values. Without making significant adjustments, the research scientist would not fit comfortably into the Marine Corps rifle company any more than the private would fit comfortably into the research laboratory. The shared values of the Marine Corps rifle company exemplify Toonies' (1940) and Merton's (1957) local identity while the research lab exemplifies the cosmopolitan identity.

Communication and Commitment

Communication is the medium for most transactions between the member and the organization. Commitment, or willingness to cooperate, is dependent on a shared purpose (Barnard, 1938). However, each act of cooperation has an objective and subjective purpose. The objective purpose is the one that is evident in the cooperative act. The subjective purpose is based on motives that are important only to the individual but add incentive for working toward the objective purpose. The objective purpose of employees at a shoe factory is to make shoes, but a subjective purpose of each individual employee is to earn a paycheck. Communication is essential in agreeing upon an objective purpose. It is also essential in negotiating the fulfillment of subjective purposes.

Fox and Scott (1943) identified the free communication between employees and management as an essential element of commitment in research that they conducted for the War Production Board. In additional studies to support the war effort, Mayo and Lombard (1944) demonstrated that communication within subgroups and between subgroups and management had significant effects on commitment.

Beginning in 1947, the Institute for Social Research at the University of Michigan conducted extensive organizational research under a program launched and primarily supported by the Office of Naval Research (Likert, 1961). This body of research contributed vast amounts of information about the role of communication in establishing and maintaining organizational commitment. Likert found that interpersonal communication played a significant role in members' attitudes toward a company. Under the same program, Festinger et al. (1950) demonstrated that cohesiveness is a function of organizational standards. These standards are based on shared information, goals, values and attitudes. The strength of these standards is a function of communication. Therefore the strength of the organization's cohesiveness is a function of communication. Festinger, Back, Schachter, Kelly, and Thibaut (1952) published another study conducted for the Office of Naval Research. Festinger's chapter, Informal Social Communication, asserted that communication is the primary means of inducing conformity and agreement within a group. This uniformity is induced through social reality and group locomotion. Social reality is the degree to which a person's subjective beliefs are anchored in a reference group's beliefs, a determination derived through communication. Group locomotion is the degree to which uniformity is required for the group to move towards its goals. Festinger calls this instrumental communication in that it is a means to an end. The more pressure there is toward uniformity, the more effect communication will have on changing opinions within the group.

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DoD Short Course in Communication
Class 01A
December 7, 2000