CEO Ambivalence and Responses to Strategic Issues


Organization Science

November-December 2009, vol. 20, n°6, pp.993-1010

Departments: Strategy & Business Policy

Keywords: Ambivalent evaluations, Organizational action, Behavioral theory of the firm

We examine how executives' ambivalent evaluation of a strategic issue relates to organizational actions taken in response. Ambivalence occurs when a decision maker evaluates an issue as simultaneously positive and negative, a state that has received scant attention in organizational research. We integrate findings in social psychology with the behavioral theory of the firm to suggest how executives' ambivalence prompts wider and more vigorous search for action responses and enables broader participation. Data from a two-wave survey of 104 German CEOs who evaluated the enlargement of the European Union in 2004 and reported their organizations' responses show that organizations whose CEOs evaluated the event as both positive and negative were more likely to take action when both evaluations were also strongly held. The reported actions were also of greater scope, novelty, and riskiness. The study contributes to research on organizational decision making by theorizing the role of top executives' ambivalence and by providing a first systematic test of how ambivalence affects responses to strategic issues