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When in Doubt, Seize the Day

'When in Doubt, Seize the Day'
Journal of Applied Psychology When in Doubt, Seize the Day? Security Values, Prosocial Values, and Proactivity Under Ambiguity Adam M. Grant and Nancy P. Rothbard Online First Publication, April 29, 2013. doi: 10.1037/a0032873 CITATION Grant, A. M., Crant, 2000; Frese Griffin, Neal, Grant Parker, Bindl, Van Dyne Crant, 1995). Recently, researchers have devoted growing atten- tion to the structural conditions that facilitate proactive behaviors (e.g., Frese, Garst, Parker, Williams, Griffin et al., 2007). Ambi- guity—the absence of certainty and clarity—is a fundamental dimension of context (Johns, 2006) that stimulates sense-making activities (Weick, 1979, 1995). In the proactivity literature, schol- ars have argued that ambiguity promotes proactivity by creating uncertainty, which employees seek to resolve through proactive behaviors that improve the status quo (Grant Griffin et al., 2007). Indeed, evidence suggests that in ambiguous roles and situations, employees are more likely to proactively seek feedback and information (Ashford for a review, see Ashford, Blatt, Rokeach, 1973)—are likely to have an important impact on employees’ proactive behaviors. Values operate as broad, emotionally charged motivational goals, directing attention and energy toward person- ally meaningful actions (Schwartz, 1992). Indeed, scholars have begun to propose that employees’ values play a role in proactivity by shaping goals for change and providing standards for choosing and evaluating their contributions (Grant Parker et al., 2010). However, the role of values in proactive behaviors has not been theoretically developed or empirically tested (Grant Parker et al., 2010). Building on theories of situational strength (W. Mischel, 1977) and values (Schwartz, 1992), we argue that ambiguity is an enabling condition for value expression, which can either discourage or en- courage proactivity. We predict that employees with strong security values will perceive ambiguity as self-threatening, withholding pro- activity to maintain the status quo. In contrast, employees with strong prosocial values will perceive ambiguity as an opportunity to create change for the benefit of others, seizing the opportunity to improve the status quo. We test these hypotheses in a field study at a water treatment plant and a laboratory experiment. Our research offers new insights into the role of values and ambiguity in proactivity, advanc- ing theoretical and practical knowledge about how individual and contextual forces interact to influence whether employees take initia- tive to create change in organizations. Ambiguity and Proactivity Strong situations are those that give rise to common construals, uniform expectations, and adequate incentives, whereas weak sit- uations are those that are open to interpretation (W. Mischel, 1977; O’Reilly Meyer, Dalal, Shamir, 1990; Verplanken Schwartz Dutton, Ashford, O’Neill, Hayes, Grant, Parker, Morrison Rizzo, House, Meglino Hirschman, 1970; Staw, 1
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