Organizational Legitimacy

Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) is one option to foster an organization's reputation, image, or legitimacy. Although institutional theories put organizational legitimacy at the center of research, we still lack research on the individual evaluation of legitimacy. Organizational legitimacy is a generalized evaluation that the organization follows relevant norms and values of the society. We empirically investigate how individual stakeholders evaluate organizational legitimacy.


How does a generalized organizational legitimacy on the societal level come into being (macro-level)?

If the assumption of a micro foundation of macro phenomena is true, individual evaluations of organizational legitimacy are necessary (1). Therefore, our first projects investigate evaluations of individuals. A second step will build on these studies and analyze processes that aggregate individual evaluations (2) to form a generalized evaluation (3). This could lead to research about the factors that build the license to operate.

In the first project, we develop a model demonstrating the role of attributed motives and corporate credibility in evaluating organizational legitimacy. We test this model with an experimental vignette study. Our results show that when a corporate activity creates benefits for the firm—in addition to social benefits—individuals attribute more extrinsic motives. Participants ascribe extrinsic motives when they perceive a corporation as driven by external rewards instead of an altruistic commitment to a social cause. Extrinsic motives negatively affect corporate credibility and organizational legitimacy judgments. Our study from 2020 contributes to a better understanding of the complex process of organizational legitimacy judgment by shedding light on the individual's perspective and expounding the relationship between attributed motives, corporate credibility, and organizational legitimacy.

 Research partner: Dipl.-Psych. Melanie Eichhorn; Dr. Johannes Jahn, Universität Hamburg.


Jahn, Johannes, Eichhorn, Melanie, Brühl, Rolf: How do individuals judge organizational legitimacy? Effects of attributed motives and credibility on organizational legitimacy, in: Business & Society, Volume 59, Issue 3, 2020,  545-576 (link to the article). See here an accompanying blog post with the title "Are corporate saints more credible?".


Partner of Research Center

Our research project is part of the research center of Sustainability of ESCP Europe (Research Center on Sustainability at ESCP Europe) that deals with issues of sustainability and corporate social responsibility .