Contextual Trustworthiness of Organizational Partners: Evidence from Nine School Networks

Keppler, S. M., Smilowitz, K. R., & Leonardi, P. M. (2021). Contextual trustworthiness of organizational partners: Evidence from nine school networks. Manufacturing & Service Operations Management, 23(4), 974-988.

37 Pages Posted: 10 Apr 2017 Last revised: 5 Apr 2023

See all articles by Samantha Keppler

Samantha Keppler

University of Michigan Stephen M. Ross School of Business

Karen Smilowitz

Northwestern University - Department of Industrial Engineering and Management Sciences

Paul M. Leonardi

University of California, Santa Barbara

Date Written: March 31, 2017

Abstract

Problem definition: Trustworthy partners in procurement and service relationships are an asset. How can organizations discern trustworthy from untrustworthy partners, especially early on, so as to not waste time or resources on bad relationships? Academic/Practical Relevance: Prior studies have taken the perspective that, in most cases, organizations cannot perfectly know a partner's trustworthiness, but also that organizations often have some evidence of a partner's trustworthiness, even before interacting. We also adopt this perspective and argue a qualitative study is needed to understand how people use evidence to discern a partner's trustworthiness and how initial perceptions effect the trajectory of the relationship. Methodology: We conduct an interview-based study of how people discern trustworthy partners in a setting where doing so is challenging: the education sector. K-12 schools must choose outside partners to rely on for resources or services the school cannot afford. Potential partners are numerous and of variable trustworthiness. We focus data collection and analysis on how people's beliefs about a partner's trustworthiness initially form and influence the relationship over time. Results: We find people use contextual factors as evidence of a potential partner's trustworthiness, such as the partner's institutional affiliations, physical proximity, relationships with other schools, or other organizational characteristics. Sometimes the evidence indicates a partner acts intrinsically trustworthy, regardless of the contextual conditions. In other cases, the evidence indicates a partner acts contextually trustworthy, meaning partners follow through contingent on contextual conditions. Intrinsically trustworthy partners widely provide standardized resources or services. Contextually trustworthy partners provide the competitive advantage: customized resources that are not easily accessible by other schools. Yet, these partners also involve greater risk, particularly early on. When people perceive this risk, they initiate with small, low-stakes requests to explore the potential upside of the relationship while minimizing the potential downside. Managerial Implications: People in organizations identify trustworthy partners by paying attention to contextual factors, which helps them determine if a partner acts trustworthy independent of context or conditional on context. Intrinsically trustworthy partners are lower risk but provide standard resources, whereas contextually trustworthy partners are higher risk but provide customized resources.

Keywords: Behavioral Operations, Non-Profit Management, Education Operations

Suggested Citation

Keppler, Samantha and Smilowitz, Karen and Leonardi, Paul M., Contextual Trustworthiness of Organizational Partners: Evidence from Nine School Networks (March 31, 2017). Keppler, S. M., Smilowitz, K. R., & Leonardi, P. M. (2021). Contextual trustworthiness of organizational partners: Evidence from nine school networks. Manufacturing & Service Operations Management, 23(4), 974-988., Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=2944087 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.2944087

Samantha Keppler (Contact Author)

University of Michigan Stephen M. Ross School of Business ( email )

701 Tappan St
Ann Arbor, MI 48109-1234
United States

Karen Smilowitz

Northwestern University - Department of Industrial Engineering and Management Sciences ( email )

Evanston, IL 60208-3119
United States

Paul M. Leonardi

University of California, Santa Barbara ( email )

Phelps Hall
Santa Barbara, CA 93106
United States

HOME PAGE: http://www.tmp.ucsb.edu/leonardi/

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