Organizational Citizenship: Seven Behaviors that Go Above and Beyond the Expected

Laura Freebairn-Smith
Date Published: 2013, Organizational Performance Group

Just as general citizenship behaviors make our daily world better, so do organizational citizenship behaviors.

Which world would you rather live in? This one…

  • The person in front of you doesn’t hold the door for you.
  • A piece of garbage flies out of the car in front of you.
  • Several team members leave a meeting room a mess.

Or this one…

  • A neighbor is struggling to get the groceries out of his car and the teenager next door runs over to assist.
  • A car is broken down on the side of the road and five cars stop to help.
  • The local volunteer fire department is turning away volunteers.

Just as citizenship behaviors are critical to the success of a nation, so they are to an organization. Without a shared set of values and the behaviors those values imply, human groups cannot function well and smoothly with a minimum of control and enforcement mechanisms.

Most leaders and managers can quickly identify the best “organizational citizens” in their staff – the staff who understand the organization’s underlying dynamics and who put the organization and others first. Staff who are naturally good “organizational citizens,” who intuitively and with ease express concerns for others, weather setbacks well, and put the company first, are the staff that every manager wants on their team. In turn, managers can quickly identify the staff that fall short in this area.

What is organizational citizenship behavior? 

“…individual behavior that is discretionary, not directly or explicitly recognized by the formal reward system, and that in the aggregate promotes the effective functioning of the organization.

By discretionary, we mean that the behavior is not an enforceable requirement of the role or the job description…the behavior is  a matter of personal choice, such that its omission is not generally understood as punishable.”*

Leaders sometimes struggle to articulate the individual behaviors that these stellar organizational citizens display, which makes it hard to hire and train for these behaviors. In the last 25 years, research has clarified many of the behaviors of a good organizational citizen.

Seven key themes emerge:*

1. Helping Behaviors—voluntary actions that help another person with a work problem such as instructing a new hire on how to use equipment; altruism in all its forms.
2. Sportsmanship—a citizen-like posture of tolerating the inevitable inconveniences and impositions of work without whining and grievances.
3. Organizational Loyalty—identification with and allegiance to organizational leaders and the organization as a whole, transcending the parochial interests of individuals, work groups, and departments. These loyalty behaviors include defending the organization against threats; contributing to its good reputation; and cooperating with others to serve the interests of the whole.
4. Organizational Compliance—a person’s internalization and acceptance of the organization’s rules, regulations, and procedures, which results in adherence to them, even when no one observes or monitors.
5. Individual Initiative—the performance of specific tasks above and beyond the call of duty; communications to others in the workplace to improve individual and group performance.
6. Civic Virtue—interest in organizational affairs guided by ideal standards of virtue, validated by keeping informed and expressed through full and responsible involvement in organizational governance. This includes attending non-required meetings, sharing informed opinions and new ideas with others, and being willing to deliver bad news and support an unpopular view to combat groupthink. This also means challenging ideas that one thinks takes the organization off course or might be unethical.
7. Self-Development—all the steps that workers take to voluntarily improve their knowledge, skills, and abilities so as to be better able to contribute to their organizations. Seeking out and taking advantage of advanced training courses, keeping abreast of the latest developments in one’s field and area, or even learning a new set of skills so as to expand the range of one’s contributions to an organization.

Leaders, managers, and HR professionals can hire and train staff for these behaviors. To do so, your organization must embed these behaviors in the processes and procedures it uses for recruiting, utilizing, rewarding, and, if needed, terminating staff. At Organizational Performance Group (OPG), we work with clients to explore questions such as:

  • What are signs of good organizational citizenship on a resume?
  • What interview questions elicit evidence of good citizenship?
  • How can your organization evaluate performance to measure citizenship?
  • How can your organization reward it?

Based on answers to such questions and an examination of existing policies and procedures, both minor and major changes can be made to ensure a higher likelihood of hiring and retaining superb organizational citizens.


About the Author: 

Laura Freebairn-Smith is Partner and Cofounder of Organizational Performance Group.  Laura has been a consultant for such distinguished companies as the New York Times and People’s Bank. Her specialty is assisting leaders in realizing the full potential of their organizations through humanistic and analytical practices, while offering guidance in the redesign of infrastructure, the creation of strategic plans, and with organizational development.


For more information on Organizational Performance Group and our work with exceptional organizations, please visit us on the web at www.orgpg.com or email us at info@orgpg.com.