Negative relationships in social networks and individuals’ innovative behavior: The role of informal and formal status

Vojkan Nedkovski, Marco Guerci, Luca Carollo


The social network perspective of individuals’ innovative behavior has traditionally focused on the positive interpersonal relationships such as friendship, advice-giving or knowledge sharing. Much less work has been done in the domain of negative relationships even though it has been shown that embeddedness in negative ties impose social liabilities that often exceed the benefits from individuals’ engagement in positive relationships. It has been shown, for example, that individuals involved into negative relationships may experience lower satisfaction, organizational attachment, and performance. Indeed, current research on the outcomes of negative relationships demonstrates that the direct as well as indirect negative relationships accrue social liabilities, which in turn, affect focal actors’ attitudes and outcomes at work. Yet, so far, this line of inquiry has not investigated the role of negative ties in explaining individual differences in a key organizational outcome such as individuals’ innovative behavior. In this study, we aim to contribute to the academic debate about negative relationships by examining the variance in individuals’ innovative behavior as a function of both being a target (in-degree centrality) and source (out-degree centrality) of negative affect. Moreover, we explore how the informal status (in-degree centrality in communication network) and formal status (hierarchical position) of alters to whom an ego is negatively tied would affect ego’s innovative behavior. Our empirical findings show that formal and informal status moderate the negative relationship between centrality in negative ties and innovative behavior. To test our theory, we adopted a mixed-method research design to obtain: i) quantitative support for our hypothesized relationships between negative ties and individuals’ innovative behavior, and ii) qualitative data, to corroborate our findings with fine-grained qualitative interpretations. We drew the empirical data to test our theory from a well-established, Italian architecture firm, located in Milan. We collected complete network data and all the 62 employees returned our surveys, for a response rate of 100 percent. To avoid the common source variance problems, we asked firms’ leaders to assess the innovative behavior of their followers. On the top of network data, we collected information about several key psychological constructs such as intrinsic motivation, self-monitoring personality, and well-being. Past research has shown that these variables could interfere our variables of interest, and consequently, we took them into consideration when developing our research model. Our study makes a number of important contributions to organizational network research. While much of the prior research has focused on the role of positive relationships, our study sheds light on the impact of negative relationships on a key organizational outcome such as innovative behavior. By using qualitative data, we provide important insights about the social processes and relational dynamics that explain the relationship between negative ties and individuals’ innovative behavior. Finally, by demonstrating that both informal and formal status of alters moderate the relationship between ego’s negative ties and egos’ innovative behavior, our study provides more nuanced understanding about the conditions under which the social liabilities deriving from the negative ties inhibit or facilitate individuals’ innovative behavior at workplace.

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