Middle managers and corruptive routine translation: The social production of deceptive performance

Niki A. den Nieuwenboer, João Vieira da Cunha, Linda Klebe Treviño

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

26 Scopus citations


Our study offers an understanding of how middle managers may use routines as tools to induce their subordinates to engage in widespread unethical behavior. We conducted a 15-month ethnography at a desk sales unit within a large telecommunications firmand discovered that middle managers coerced their subordinates into deceiving upper management about the unit's performance. Based upon our findings and relying on the routine dynamics literature, we propose that middle managers engaged in a process that we label "corruptive routine translation." It involves the translation by middle managers of upper management's more abstract and higher level performance routine into a corrupted, lower level version of that routine that is enacted by frontline employees. In corruptive routine translation, middle managers respond to performance obstacles by identifying and exploiting structural vulnerabilities to generate and conceal deceptive performance. We also illustrate how routines are interdependent across levels within an organization's hierarchy, implicating upper management, middle management, and lower level employees in the collective phenomenon that is the social production of deceit. Our model contributes to the routines dynamics literature as well as to the literature on ethics at work by highlighting the corruptive routine translation process through which middle managers use routines as tools to induce deceptive performance in their subordinates.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)781-803
Number of pages23
JournalOrganization Science
Issue number5
StatePublished - 2017

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Strategy and Management
  • Organizational Behavior and Human Resource Management
  • Management of Technology and Innovation


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