Headlines, grapevines, and masterminds: Understanding the transmission capacity and propensity of social relations in organizations

                         Gibbons, Deborah Ellen; PhD

                         CARNEGIE-MELLON UNIVERSITY, 1996
                         RELATIONS (0629)

                         Diffusion theories argue that social relations can influence the transfer of information and practices in
                         organizations. Yet little is known about the principles that constrain or facilitate such transmissions. This
                         dissertation proposes and examines one such principle--that social relations differ systematically in their
                         capacity and propensity for transmission of various kinds of information or resources from one person to
                         another. A theory is developed to explain how the interaction history underlying each relation shapes its
                         diffusion potential. Specifically, I propose that the amount of shared knowledge and social
                         understanding that develops as a relation evolves determines its capacity for transmission of complex
                         information. Similarly, the prototypical behaviors, interpersonal bonds, and foundational characteristics
                         that support the existence of the relation determine its propensity for particular kinds of transfer. Given
                         adequate capacity, disseminations that are compatible with the propensities of the relation are more likely
                         to occur. Disseminations that endanger the relation should not occur. Together, capacity and propensity
                         influence the likelihood that particular disseminations will occur through a social relation. The intensity of
                         each individual relationship, as determined by the importance or amount of interaction ascribed to it by
                         participants, should scale the effects of the relation's transmission characteristics by regulating
                         opportunities for transfer. I tested these propositions through a year-long panel study observing
                         diffusion of complex knowledge, professional values, and technology use through work relations in four
                         organizations. This design enabled concurrent examination of multiple disseminations through the same
                         social systems. In effect, it held constant everything except the information type and corresponding
                         diffusions. Thus, I determined the extent to which different kinds of transmissions followed paths
                         predicted by the theory and failed to occur through less compatible relations. Estimated transmission
                         capacities of various formal and informal relations accurately predicted their contributions to diffusion of
                         knowledge regarding a complex process innovation. Further, transmission propensities of friendship and
                         advice relations were analyzed, and specific predictions were made for the roles of these networks in
                         transfer of professional attitudes and internet use. As expected, friendship and advice networks played
                         unique, dynamic, and predictable roles. Overall, results supported the proposed theory.

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