The purpose of this paper is to examine a case of sham compliance performance reporting through the lens of Goffman’s dramaturgy to reveal its dramaturgical structure. It makes a methodological contribution to comprehending “lived experience” accounts of project work, and adds knowledge concerning the behind-the-scenes motivators to sham behaviour in project work.Design/methodology/approachUsing an ethnographic lived experience account, an aspect of project work is reconceptualised as a collection of dramaturgical scenes. These scenes disclose issues beyond the bounds of the traditional project management discourse, and increase knowledge and appreciation of sham and performative behaviour in project work.FindingsSham progress reporting can emerge in an environment where senior management’s ignorance of project work creates unworkable binds for project staff. Moreover, the sham behaviour succeeds at its objective because senior management are vulnerable to false impressions. This situation raises ethical issues for those involved, and creates an overhead in dealing with the reality of project work.Research limitations/implicationsLimitations to this study are due to the inherent nature of the ethnographic method, where it is difficult to recruit willing participants, particularly in terms of sham behaviour cases. This study has implications for research on sham and performativity behaviour in project work, as studies can benefit from the dramaturgical analysis and Goffmanesque scene illustration techniques that help give focus to particular aspects of social performance, and remove complexity from the narrative.Practical implicationsThe research provides practitioners with a way of discussing superfluous compliance process using additional lived experience vocabulary. This could reduce the undue pressure to behave unethically, and reduce the burden to create the extra impression management work.Originality/valueThis study brings a voice to sham behaviour in project work. Continued ignorance of sham behaviour results in unnecessary work and unprofitable projects. Individuals could pay a price in terms of stress and well-being, not discussed.
International Journal of Managing Projects in Business – Emerald Publishing
Published: Feb 15, 2021
Keywords: Ethics; Impression management; Ethnography; Cultural factors; Dramaturgy; Project organization culture; Sham compliance