Using a Stick because Carrots Wouldn’t work: A Discussion of Legitimacy

Similarly to what I wrote about last week, legitimacy seems to be a subject that is very applicable to my internship. In my last blog post, I mentioned the idea that legitimacy gets followers to comply because they intrinsically want to. Power, on the other hand, forces people to comply. At AlphaSights, I think they try to build legitimacy and create a culture of intrinsic motivation. But, I think this attempt ultimately fails for the majority of people. They use a credit system in order to track each associate’s performance. For a competitive type of person, this may work as intrinsic motivation to do one’s best. However, for the vast majority of people, it just serves a reminder of the “stick” that the company holds.

The company consistently reminds us that “drive” is one of the most important characteristics and AlphaSights employee must have. In saying this, it seems like they are trying to build this intrinsic motivation for us. But legitimacy cannot be forced upon you, only power can. It comes down to the fact that the work at AlphaSights is not especially stimulating at many times: it involves browsing Linkedin for possible experts and can be very mindless. Because of this lack of thoughtful work, the company must push its employees (aka followers) to succeed through power.

Personally, I think the company realizes that it does not have legitimacy in all of its forms. Like I said last week, most of the leadership employees interact with are under the age of 25. Because they are missing this traditional piece of legitimacy, they try to compensate through power and also by building it through appearance. They invest in beautiful offices and pay for great snacks to make employees feel like they are working for a top institution. This also takes the form of heavy recruiting on only the most prestigious college campuses. Last week, I overheard a VP talking about how important and incredible it is that AlphaSights is supposedly perceived as more prestigious than companies like Deloitte on Cornell’s campus. I think the company is trying to build an appearance of legitimacy so that employees don’t challenge the authority the company has. They are able to track our emails, listen to many of our phone calls, and encourage working outside of the hours if a client has a need.

Lastly, I think that procedural fairness is a relevant topic to bring up. In class, we talked about 2 adaptive functions of procedural fairness. There is a diagnostic function in which we use procedural fairness as a way to measure if a leader has gained their position in a just way or if they are coercing us. Essentially, we determine a leader’s WTR toward us. Then, we can work to change it through a bargaining function if we think this WTR is not fair. Interestingly at AlphaSights, there does seem to be procedural fairness. There is a very clear path to move up the ladder and become a manager. However, what I think undermines the legitimacy of the managers is the fact that while there may be procedural fairness within AlphaSights, this fairness differs from what we expect in most other institutions. We do not expect to manage 5-10 people at age 24. Because this model contradicts our traditional perceptions of legitimacy, I have noticed more conflict between leaders and followers. Associates are more likely to question a manager’s decision at AlphaSights than I have seen at any company in the past.  Honestly, I am conflicted in pinpointing what exactly undermines the legitimacy of the office; I think it is a mix of the age of employees along with the somewhat boring work.