Doctor of Philosophy
Xin (Shane) Wang
My dissertation explores how public firms employ language in their Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) reports to lengthen the horizons of their strategic decisions. The three essays included in my dissertation introduce and investigate the pursuit of temporal equilibrium in the aftermath of the 2008 Financial Crisis. Specifically, I compare the emphasis placed on the short versus long- future in the annual sustainability reports of public firms and derive three explanations for the increased emphasis of long-termism.
In Essay 1 (Chapter 2), I describe how firms seek and find temporal equilibrium after the Financial Crisis. Using topic modeling, I linguistically and visually retrace the emergence of richer vocabularies by which firms describe their futures. This retrospective analysis shows how the emphasis on spatio-temporal metaphors (proximal and distal) qualified firms’ financial and social responsibilities.
In Essay 2 (Chapter 3), I investigate how firms allocate attention between the short- and long-future. I introduce the concept of bifocality to underscore that public firms focus on both the short- and long-future at once. Using fsQCA analysis on changes in four topics derived and described in Essay 1 over the decade following the Financial Crisis, I reveal four different ways in which organizations linguistically create their different futures.
In Essay 3 (Chapter 4), I elaborate on the role of third parties in accelerating firms’ long-termism. I focus on non-activist institutional investors who shared the fate of firms during the Financial Crisis by choosing to stay with the firms. I argue and find that these institutional investors increased long-termism whether they chose to stay (via a concentration mechanism) or leave (via a turnover mechanism) after the crisis. This essay extends the argument of attentional control by showing how attentional interdependencies during periods of adversity enable third parties to continue to influence firms’ horizons during periods of stability.
The three essays show how, in the decade following the Financial Crisis, public firms embraced spatio-temporal metaphors to qualify their activities, became bifocal by actively balancing near and far futures in their reports, and continued to match the longer-term horizons of institutional investors willing to share their fate.
Summary for Lay Audience
What does it mean to balance short-term and long-term horizons? Managers of public firms are always faced with diverse stakeholders, including shareholders, employees, governments, and non-government organizations, whose demands differ, and managers are expected to meet the demands to improve firm performance. For example, shareholders request firms to increase immediate revenues while non-government organizations ask firms to take environment-friendly actions with longer durations. Although understanding and managing different time perspectives are important, it remains puzzling for managers to know how to do so. This dissertation seeks to provide one way in which managers could better attend to multiple temporalities in developing firm strategy. I first define the concept of temporal equilibrium where short-term and long-term perspectives are balanced and explore how firms conceive of different temporalities that are reflected in language. I examine this question in the context of the period after the 2008 Financial Crisis when the financial market collapsed and firms were asked to accept social accountability, which led firms to more actively deal with short- and long-term demands together. I find that firms rely on spatio-temporal language and language associated with financial and social responsibilities to construe their short- and long-term plans and goals. I then use advanced statistical techniques to investigate how firms combine different time construals to focus on both short-term and long-term durations. My findings show that there exist multiple linguistic pathways through which firms integrate time construals and engage with short-term and long-term perspectives. Moreover, I examine one particular condition—an interdependent relationship between a firm and institutional investors—that could influence the firm’s management of short-term and long-term perspectives. I specifically look at how the interdependency between a firm and institutional investors generated during the Financial Crisis may affect the firm’s sensitivity to institutional investors in pursuing long-term orientation in the post-crisis period.
Kim, Nahyun, "Three Essays on Corporate Sustainability Language" (2021). Electronic Thesis and Dissertation Repository. 8206.