Explaining Controversial Organizational Decisions: To Legitimize the Means or the Ends?

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We investigated the influence of information legitimizing the means—or decision procedures—versus information legitimizing the ends—or the decision outcome—on observers' reactions to an undesirable organizational decision. One hundred and sixty-one employees read an account of a company layoff occurring in a nearby city. The content was experimentally manipulated, such that participants either (i) did or did not receive information legitimizing the layoff procedures, and (ii) did or did not receive information legitimizing the layoff itself. Furthermore, participants received one of two versions of the manipulations, to assess the generalizability of the results across two operationalizations of the primary independent variables. Whereas both information legitimizing the means and information legitimizing the ends were necessary (and neither sufficient) to mitigate observers' judgments of outcome unfairness, procedural information was necessary and sufficient to influence evaluations of the organization. Overall, the data are consistent with the notion that the effectiveness of managerial accounts might be determined not only by information explaining “why” but also information explaining “how” decisions are made.

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