Impression management and retrospective sense-making in corporate narratives : a social psychology perspective

Title: Impression management and retrospective sense-making in corporate narratives : a social psychology perspective
Authors: Merkl-Davies, Doris M.
Brennan, Niamh
McLeay, Stuart
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Date: Apr-2011
Abstract: Purpose – Prior accounting research views impression management predominantly though the lens of economics. Drawing on social psychology research, we provide a complementary perspective on corporate annual narrative reporting as characterised by conditions of ‘ex post accountability’ (Aerts, 2005, p. 497). These give rise to (i) impression management resulting from the managerial anticipation of the feedback effects of information and/or to (ii) managerial sense-making by means of the retrospective framing of organisational outcomes. Design/methodology/approach – We use a content analysis approach pioneered by psychology research (Newman et al., 2003) which is based on the psychological dimension of word use to investigate the chairmen’s statements of 93 UK listed companies. Findings – Results suggest that firms do not use chairmen’s statements to create an impression at variance with an overall reading of the annual report. We find that negative organisational outcomes prompt managers to engage in retrospective sense-making, rather than to present a public image of organisational performance inconsistent with the view internally held by management (self-presentational dissimulation). Further, managers of large firms use chairmen’s statements to portray an accurate (i.e., consistent with an overall reading of the annual report), albeit favourable, image of the firm and of organisational outcomes (i.e., impression management by means of enhancement). Research limitations – The content analysis approach adopted in the study analyses words out of context. Practical implications – Corporate annual reporting may not only be understood from a behavioural perspective involving managers responding to objectively determined stimuli inherent in the accountability framework, but also from a symbolic interaction perspective which involves managers retrospectively making sense of organisational outcomes and events. Originality/value – Our approach allows us to investigate three complementary scenarios of managerial corporate annual reporting behaviour: (i) self-presentational dissimulation, (ii) impression management by means of enhancement, and (iii) retrospective sense-making.
Funding Details: Not applicable
Type of material: Journal Article
Publisher: Emerald
Journal: Accounting, Auditing and Accountability Journal
Volume: 24
Issue: 3
Start page: 315
End page: 344
Copyright (published version): Emerald Group Publishing Limited
Keywords: Impression managementRetrospective sense-makingChairmen's statementsSocial psychologyAnnual reportsChairmen
Subject LCSH: Corporation reports
Business communication
Social psychology
Content analysis (Communication)
Corporate image
DOI: 10.1108/09513571111124036
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Language: en
Status of Item: Peer reviewed
Appears in Collections:Business Research Collection
UCD RePEc Archive Collection

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