DOI: 10.2308/jmar-2022-051 ISSN:

Superior-Subordinate Divergence in Controllability Judgments

Jonathan Gay, Scott B. Jackson, Nate Waddoups, Xiaomei Xiong
  • Accounting
  • Business and International Management


The controllability principle states that superiors should hold subordinates responsible only for outcomes and events that the subordinates can control. Although the principle is intuitively appealing, the extent to which this principle is applied can vary substantially in practice. Using four experiments, we predict and find evidence suggesting that the controllability judgments of superiors and subordinates can diverge even when the objective controllability of the outcome is held constant. Specifically, we find that subordinates' controllability judgments, relative to those of superiors, are consistently lower when performance outcomes are negative and sometimes higher when performance outcomes are positive. Further, we find that divergence in controllability judgments has important, negative implications for subordinates' perceptions of fairness and trust, intended effort, job satisfaction, and turnover intentions. Our results highlight several costs of implementing the controllability principle, which may help explain why the controllability principle is not universally adopted.

Data Availability: Data are available from the authors upon written request.