Obaid, Rawia (2014) An approach-avoidance examination of corporate project (de) escalation decisions in Saudi Companies. Doctoral thesis, University of Huddersfield.

The escalation/de-escalation of commitment to capital investment decisions is a complex phenomenon that is under-researched not least because of the fragmented nature of the extant literature, the absence of comprehensive studies of why managers escalate commitment particularly for projects that are perceived to be failing, and the overlooking of the capital investment project initiating process in the existing studies. These deficiencies in the existing literature seriously limit the understanding of this phenomenon and its impact on practice, hence the motivation for the present study.

Drawing on an extensive review of the relevant literature that spans a period of five decades and includes a careful scrutiny of theoretical alternatives and more than 130 empirical works, this research develops an encapsulating approach-avoidance model that is applied in a large mixed-methods study of corporate managers in 274 Saudi companies. This model not only systematically groups and examines the direct effect of a large array of project-specific and non-project-specific variables, but it also captures the intervening role of project auditing in the escalation/de-escalation decisions.

Primary data were mainly collected by means of a survey using a Likert-scale questionnaire that was specifically designed to take into account the purposes and data requirements of the present study as embodied in its theoretical model and hypotheses. Additional data were collected from conducting face-to-face interviews in three companies. To overcome one of the deficiencies of existing studies as mentioned above, sufficient data on the capital investment process were sought and obtained through the survey and interviews. Besides descriptive statistics, multinomial logistic regression and MODPROBE macro tests were applied to examine direct and indirect relationships and levels of data fit.

An overall finding of this study is that the (de)-escalation phenomenon is not only present in the Saudi corporate environment but it is pervasive throughout the industrial spectrum, thus confirming the need for the comprehensive and insightful approach adopted by the present research to examine its determinants and their policy implications. The detailed statistical analysis provides sufficient evidence to support this approach. While it is found that contextual and project determinants have the most influence on how Saudi managers commit to a course of action, the (de)-escalation of commitment is, contrary to what is portrayed in most existing studies, influenced by a combination of rather than by isolated factors. Notwithstanding these results, of significant relevance to knowledge in this under researched area are the findings that:

a) the commitment determinants are underlined by the type of capital investment process, and b) that project audit plays a major moderating role in how the determinants impact the (de)-escalation of commitment.

Apart from the usual limitations associated with using a survey method, this study would have been able to offer more insights had it not been for the sensitivity of the topic and the socio-cultural inhibitors that prevented managers from taking part in more interviews. Nevertheless, the richness of the data collected and the findings from the elaborate analysis undertaken offer not only opportunities for future research but also practical guidelines to managers with respect to making capital project decisions.

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