Open Innovation, Open Strategy, Crowdsourcing, Co-creation – all these firm-centric concepts have their roots in an open systems perspective and emphasize the value of interacting with and leveraging external actors. Arguably, there is a growing interest in research and practice to understand openness. But what is openness? Organizational openness towards external actors is associated in the literature either with, first, including external actors by seeking their input; second, exercising transparency by revealing internal information; and third, combining these approaches in a coupled mode.
Most research foregrounds substantial openness functions, such as getting useful suggestions from external audiences or using transparency to increase commitment and understanding of a firm’s strategy. Building upon the work of Whittington and colleagues (2016), Leonhard Dobusch and I sought to shed further light on how openness can be used as an impression management instrument (i.e using openness as an instrument to influence external audiences’ perceptions). From an open strategy perspective, on the one side, we know little about the underlying mechanisms driving the impression management effects of openness. On the other side, the impression management literature has paid openness scant attention.
In our article („Making an impression through openness: How open strategy-making practices change in the evolution of new ventures“) forthcoming Long Range Planning Special Issue on Open Strategy (edited by Julia Hautz, David Seidl and Richard Whittington) we were intrigued by two new ventures’ radical openness approach on their respective blogs and the positive blog and media audience reactions to this organizational practice (the time-tracking application Mite and the social media management and sharing tool Buffer). Both firms broadcasted relevant strategic information (e.g. user statistics, financial numbers), actively engaged in a dialogue with their blog audiences and even included them into decision making. While such openness may also substantively contribute to organizational outcomes (e.g. getting useful suggestions), we examined its impression management function.
Drawing on a comparative, longitudinal case study of the two new ventures communication on strategy-related issues over a four-year period, we demonstrate that openness enables firms to tap into a repertoire of proactive impression management strategies in novel ways. For instance, dialoguing with users and soliciting their opinions can be leveraged as flattery (ingratiation) and organizational self-promotion (projecting an image of competence). Further, we show that open strategy-making contributes to new ventures’ quests for legitimacy (i.e. social acceptance) as they evolve. In the launch phase, dialoguing with blog audiences helps a venture attract endorsements for its organization and products. As the venture grows, concentrating on broadcasting relevant strategic information may attract media audiences’ additional support for pursuing openness as a desirable organizational practice.