Expectational Gap

There’s a great article –

Wartick, S. and Mahon, J. 1994. Toward a Substantive Definition of the Corporate Issue Construct: A Review and Synthesis of the Literature. Business & Society, Vol. 33, (3),  pp.293-311.

that makes excellent use of the notion of “expectational gaps”.  Obviously norm entrepreneurs try to open these gaps, and status quo fans try to close them (de-agenda-ising, de-dramatazing etc)


In his ground-breaking work on corporate responsiveness, Ackerman (1973) used the idea of expectational gaps …. From this discussion of three themes in the existing attempts at defining the corporate issue construct, it is clear that efforts from the business strategy literature, the public policy literature, and the business and society literature are quite different and that each has its strengths and weaknesses.  However, drawing from the strengths of each, it is possible to integrate the approaches by suggesting that a corporate issue may be defined initially as (a) a controversial inconsistency (b) between stakeholder perceptions of what is and what ought to be corporate performance (c) that creates some significant perceived present or future impact on the organization.
(Wartick and Mahon, 1994:299)


The evolving literature on issue life cycles (Bartha, 1983; Bigelow et al., 1993, Mahon, 1989; Starling, 1980) suggests that there is a close relationship between gaps and issues but that the two are not synonymous. Any version of the issue life cycle posits that, with time, issues move through states related to public attention or stakeholder interests. How quickly an issue moves through its life cycle depends on public support, knowledge and logic, communications patterns and access, anticipated results, targets, triggering events, and leadership (Eyestone, 1978). In all stages of the life cycle, an expectational gap must be present for an issue to exist. The gap may not be widely acknowledged during the early stages of an issue, by [sic] it is present nonetheless. The gap may be the subject of reinterpretation and redefinition in the developing stages of the life cycle, but it is always there in some form. After resolution, the gap (and issue) may disappear, but the threat of the resolution being inadequate leading to new gaps, is always present. Thus the issue life cycle supports the idea that if an issue exists, then an underlying expectational gap also exists.
(Wartick and Mahon, 1994:300)

Expectational gaps are necessary but not sufficient elements within corporate issues. Gaps and issues are therefore not synonymous although they are closely related
(Wartick and Mahon, 1994:302)

Adding these three additional points results in the corporate issue construct being defined as (a) a controversial inconsistency based on one or more expectational gaps (b) involving management perceptions of changing legitimacy and other stakeholder perceptions of changing cost/benefit positions (c) that occur within or between views of what is and/or what ought to be corporate performance or stakeholder perceptions of corporate performance and (d) imply an actual or anticipated resolution that creates significant, identifiable present or future impact on the organisation. This reformulated definition clarifies the process of development of corporate issues as well as their origins and characteristics. It differentiates corporate issues from nonissues and from social change in general.
(Wartick and Mahon, 1994:306)

Blog at WordPress.com.

Up ↑

%d bloggers like this: