CN Citizen Series

OCB? Okay, But Is It Contagious?

Queens Guard A03B0021Sounds like you’d need therapy for OCB, at the very least. But it’s not a disorder.

Studied since the late 1970s, OCB achieved notoriety in 1988 with the release of “Organizational Citizenship Behavior,” authored by Dennis Organ. Extending the concept of “citizenship” in organizations rather than in polity or jurisdictions seemed a natural. It resonated with a similar concept of businesses that sought to be “good corporate citizens.” Organ’s metaphor for employee behaviors as “Good Soldier Syndrome” resonated somewhat with management as well. After all, who wouldn’t want “good soldiers” as employees?

Here is the essence of Organ’s definition of Organizational Citizenship Behavior:

“OCBs are contributions individuals make to their employing organizations in ways not captured by their job description, and thus, usually unrewarded by their organization.” (Foreward)

“OCB represents individual behavior that is discretionary, not directly or explicitly recognized by the formal reward system…”

“…in the aggregate promotes the effective functioning of the organization.”

“…the behavior is not an enforceable requirement of the role or the job description;”

“…the behavior is rather a matter of personal choice, such that its omission is not generally understood as punishable.”

“Our definition requires that it not be directly or formally recompensed by the organization’s reward system.”

“…a person demonstrating OCB may certainly hope that in some ill-defined manner the behavior will eventually bring some returns…”

“As we define it, OCB is discretionary rather than obligatory.” (p. 13)

“…OCB  may be rendered on the assumption that this adds to the person’s total contribution to the organization, and in the long run the person’s total contribution secures an equitable or just recompense…”

“…we are…containing OCB within that region of nonrequired contributions that are regarded by the person as relatively less likely to lead along any clear, fixed path to formal reward.”

If you never heard of OCB in your company, now you know why. The ancient proverb I made up a few years ago says, “That which goes unrewarded goes undone.” Without diminishing the value of the contribution Organ made to the study of human performance, Organ’s OCB is almost purely about social behavior in a work environment, the focus being on social norms of behavior and their relationship to job satisfaction and, in turn, its relationship to human and organizational performance.

Knowing that “Diversity” got started a bit earlier than OCB, it might be difficult to convince some that Organ wouldn’t describe Diversity as a significant OCB. Reread Organ’s definitions, and insert “Diversity” in place of OCB. The virtually seamless fit with attitudes and practices during the first four decades of Diversity is striking. It wasn’t until a full decade after the turn of the 21st Century that the D&I folks got serious about metrics, direct relationship to performance. The D&I industry is struggling with that even now.  It had been the prevailing norm to forego any discussion of measurement and rewards connected to Diversity beyond those related strictly to EEO and utilization attainments.

Joyce Hogan edited an OCB follow-up a decade later under the banner of “Human Performance,” Volume 10, No. 2, “Organizational Citizenship Behavior and Contextual Performance,” (Psychology Press, 1997, Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, Inc.)  At its outset, Organ himself addressed some of the obvious problems with the OCB construct in his appropriately titled “Construct Clean Up Time,” the opening chapter. He concludes with:

“Although it does not seem to me that 1983 is exactly lost in the shrouded mist of history, it does appear now that the way I described OCB in that year was mightily influenced by fading attributes of a different kind of organization from the way we see taking shape now.”

That was Organ’s retrospective on the 1983 State of the Organizational Union. It took the D&I industry yet another decade beyond Organ’s 1997 retrospective before it collectively recognized what Organ termed “fading organizational attributes” of the 1970s.

It wasn’t until 2010, just shy of thirty years from 1983, that this announcement was posted on the web: “The Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) is leading efforts to create a Standards for Measures and Metrics task force and a Standards for Diversity and Inclusion task force. Sept. 21, 2010 is the deadline for applying for membership on either task force; the groups will have their first meetings the end of October 2010.”

The work began in earnest in 2011 within a cloistered task force of highly skilled D&I professionals, OCB volunteers, good soldiers one and all. The final report on standards, measures and metrics may soon be published as we approach 2014.

Though things didn’t quite work out for OCB as Organ had hoped when it was framed, the “burgeoning” research that ensued is a testament to the attractiveness of the concept.  The CultureNeutral® Framework does not rely on the Organ model, but it does rely on a fundamental element of the his OCB concept, and owes gratitude to Organ for his contribution.

In the Human Performance volume of 1997, guest editors Walter Borman and Stephan Motowidlo moved OCB a step closer to an important modality. Their theoretical examination attempts to shift “elements of OCB” into a frame of “task and contextual performance.”  This would be crucial for making OCB relevant to what Organ referred to as the “kind of organization we see taking shape now,” i.e., nearing the 21st Century performance-driven mentality.

Psychologists are, for some odd reason, overly preoccupied with psychology. The “Human Performance, 10(2), 71-83” launches straight into a discussion of classic HR-style employee selection, validating predictability of high order OCBs based on variables of “differences in personality and cognitive ability and learning experiences lead[ing] to variability in knowledge, skills and work habits through personality testing, and measuring…” – well, you get the picture. They were trying to validate whether certain OCBs correlated with incremental improvements in performance, and how to test for it when hiring. Narrow, but understandably so.

In the end the small but research-rich volume is summarized by a typical research disclaimer,

“…different research traditions are converging on the same notion—that besides formal job requirements, other patterns of behavior are also critical for organizational effectiveness and survival. These other patterns of behavior have been relatively ignored until recently, but…our hope is that results of these research efforts…will make it possible to develop new conceptual and practical tools for managing these important behaviors in a way that enhance human performance and organizational effectiveness.”

That’s what Organ had hoped for, too.  There are some reasons why this OCB concept has been unable to catch a toe-hold outside of the research community, a tough nut to crack. They got close. Very close.

OCB still felt right, though empiricists challenged whether Organ was actually on the right track. Other research teams got a bit further down that track…but no one seemed to notice that the OCB train had left the station without the conductor.  A secret ingredient not in the initial OCB sauce seemed to have been either missed or dismissed.

There are greens, and then there are good greens. Somebody has to put a foot in them. [1] What was the secret ingredient?

Part Two: OCB – Cultural Implications of Good Soldiers

View or review all the CultureNeutral® Keys:
Key #1 Culture
Key #2 Conflict
Key #3 Sovereignty
Key #4 Citizenship
Key #5 Neutrality

To read more about OCB:
OCB – Cultural Implications


Copyright Robert D. Jones, 2013, All Rights Reserved

[1] “Put your foot in it, ” Meaning that it is fantastic! Usually referring to a great meal. “Mom, you put your foot in those collard greens!” To achieve something to the best of your ability. It is often used in African American communities to describe cooking something especially well.


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