On a January morning in 2014, Mr Amit Kapoor, the Managing Director (MD) of Automotive Equipment Manufacturing Limited (AEML)1—a state government enterprise in India—was found in serious discussions with his senior management officials about the deteriorating condition of the company and how to devise a turnaround blueprint while working through many bottlenecks. The team seemed to be unable to reach any concrete decision about the future course of action.
Just the previous day, Kapoor was told in the Board of Directors’ meeting that the state government was unable to continue providing financial support to the sinking company, which had been incurring losses since 2008 (Exhibit 1). It was decided in the meeting that funds for employee salaries for the next six months would be provided by the government only under the condition that a revival plan would be produced to the Board within the next three months. The Board would decide the future course of action after evaluating the proposed plan and the financial condition of the company.
So far, the company had managed to focus only on immediate survival like earning next month’s salaries for the employees. This put the long-term survival of the company in question. The crisis management team had an idea for the revival of the organization, but that would essentially require capital flow for immediate breathing. The organization was already in adverse financial leverage condition. The only option to acquire working capital was government support. The condition of the organization would worsen if no relief fund was allotted to AEML in the next state government budget.
Kapoor and his team were appointed to the organization with the objective of bringing about a turnaround of the company. The financial health of the state government did not allow it to continue financial support to the organization. However, neither the state nor the union government, led by the ruling party of the state, was in favour of divestment due to hidden political agendas. Thus, the crisis team faced a new challenge of redesigning the revival plan under the provision of minimal external financial assistance. The state government did promise Kapoor that it would provide minimum support for the company revival if the turnaround blueprint was realistic.
A host of external and internal factors had led to the decline, and Kapoor and his team understood that some of the root causes required immediate focus. However, if the crisis team focused on these root causes, it would hold back the long-term strategy since finances would get redirected. Therefore, the team was in a dilemma about what to focus on in designing the revival plan—the immediate survival or the long-term growth of the company.
What kind of customer is CERN – the leading research organization for nuclear research in Europe – and what can a supplier learn from collaborating with them? In this paper we pursue questions that was originally raised by Susanne Åberg – one of the authors – during her study of collaboration between CERN and Swedish suppliers (see Åberg, S. (2013). Science in business interaction: A study of the collaboration between CERN and Swedish companies (Doctoral dissertation, Företagsekonomiska institutionen, Uppsala Universitet. The dissertation can be downloaded, using this link: http://www.diva-portal.org/smash/get/diva2:575589/FULLTEXT01.pdf).
In the paper, forthcoming in Competition and Change, we pose the question: What characterizes interacting with big-science organizations as lead users and how does it impact on suppliers’ potential innovation benefits?
We depart from Von Hippel’s Lead user concept to scrutinize user-supplier interaction and learning. We find that the lead-userness of CERN differs from other lead users on a number of vital points. Big-science organizations (BSOs), such as CERN represent a special breed of lead users as their demands are not necessarily the avant-garde of a coming market. Yet, they may be leading in other ways: they provide a valuable test bed for suppliers, because they are pushing the boundaries of technological capacities and thus challenging suppliers’ talents. Also, they are prestigious collaboration partners that help producers to be acknowledged as being at the technology forefront. Moreover, they are often deeply engaged in their suppliers’ manufacturing and development activities, which is seen as a characteristic of the customer-active paradigm, upon which the lead user notion builds. This paper investigates whether and how interacting with CERN concerning their development needs may contribute to suppliers’ innovation.
We believe that both managers and designers of innovation policy may learn from our study. Viewing CERN and other BSOs as lead users change the traditional science-push perspective on knowledge dissemination from leading science. Managers considering engaging with CERN and other BSOs can also learn more about potential benefits and challenges from engaging with customers such as CERN.
More and more private companies are voluntarily releasing statistics concerning how often they receive requests for their subscribers’ information, on what grounds the requests are made, and how many subscribers’ data has been disclosed. These statistics are bundled in transparency reports and their release has generally been seen as shedding light on otherwise secretive government activity, be it surveillance practices undertaken by intelligence agencies, by security intelligence agencies, or by law enforcement agencies. I wanted to understand a few things in my course of research: would companies that were not facing intense socio-economic pressures produce voluntary transparency reports that robustly revealed government surveillance practices? How effective are voluntarily produced transparency reports, generally, in shedding light on corporate and government activity? And what might be the impacts of standardizing these sorts of voluntary reports, and how might such standardization come about?
Were there any specific external events—political, social, or economic—that influenced your decision to pursue this research?
Countries around the world are grappling with the issue of government access to telecommunications data. The issue has become particularly poignant given revelations of international spying undertaken by Western countries, as well as a range of existing and proposed laws in Europe and North America that would facilitate police and security services’ access to communications information. However, governments have tended to be deeply secretive in how they use existing powers or how they would actually use proposed powers. Private companies’ voluntarily produced transparency reports, which provide statistics and narrative accounts of how often and on what grounds governments request access to companies’ data, act as a novel way of shining a light upon government practice. I was motivated to understand just how much these reports genuinely shed light on government practice and how much they cast shadows over the politics and policies of communications surveillance.
In what ways is your research innovative, and how do you think it will impact the field?
There is an extensive literature on corporate social responsibility documents and the extent to which those documents make private firms transparent, as well as a literature discussing the importance of rendering government surveillance transparent to the public. What is novel about my research is it explores how private firms’ reports are produced in contravention of state desires or interests and, thus, how transparency reporting can happen outside of situations where the market or government are clamoring for revelations of firm behavior. Core to my findings is that voluntarily produced reports could potentially be standardized to enhance comparability across firms and the reports’ revelatory nature, but that any such standardization may conceal as much about firm behavior as it reveals. Ultimately, this research advances the scholarly and public policy debate over how (in)effective private firms’ reports’ are in advancing the state of knowledge of government surveillance activities versus concealing some aspects of such activities.
Dorien and I were each working on a study on talent management (TM) in the public sector. While we met each other several time at academic conferences we were intrigued by the differences in the TM approached adopted by the public sector organizations under study. What could explain that the public sector organizations in the Dutch study all aimed for an exclusive and performance oriented talent approach, while the Flemish governmental entities opted for an inclusive approach? This interesting phenomenon was for us the starting point to compare our data and to explore what characteristics of the external and internal context could explain the differences.
While analyzing the data we realized that using theory on institutional mechanisms was insufficient to explain what happened and we decided to include institutional logics in our conceptual model. The data indeed shows that multiple factors in the organizational context affect the intended TM strategy. Market pressures resulting from the external labor market (and the position as an employer on that market) and budgetary constraints, as well as institutional pressures have an effect as well. Moreover, we found that ‘attributes’ of the organization filter the institutional mechanism. In our study the composition of the workforce combined with internal economy measures can be an explanation for choosing a specific TM approach. But most of all organizational culture seems to be crucial (e.g., Stahl et al., 2012; Kontoghiorghes, 2016). Yet, we have seen that the influence of organizational culture cannot be separated from the logics adopted by the actors in the dominant coalition. Moreover, the research also indicates that the origins of the key employees – being public service works or classic professionals such as the academics – has an significant impact on organizational culture and the logics dominant in the organization (Greenwood et al, 2011; Thornton et al., 2005). This is an important theoretical contribution of the paper. The impact of belief systems has been mentioned by Meyers and Van Woerkom (2014) and Nijs et al. (2013) but not yet studied in empirical TM research. Nonetheless, the data points out that the mechanisms, actors and logics are entangled and not easy to separate.
All in all, the data supports our statement that TM is not an instrumental, rational and independent process. Although key actors in the dominant coalition take notice of the contextual factors, TM also proves to be an intuitive and micro-political process. Therefore, our comparison highlights the importance of an institutional and organizational fit, but in particular the significance of a consistent ‘talent mindset’ embedded in organizational culture and leadership style (also see Stahl et al., 2012; Kontoghiorghes, 2016). We think that it is necessary for HR and managers in practice to show consideration for the potential impact of ‘tangible’ mechanisms such as labor market pressures and economy measures, but also to be more aware of the influence of personal beliefs and logics regarding talent and how to deal with those mechanisms and logics in the decision process.
What motivated you to pursue this research?
Machine Learning assisted text analysis is still uncommon in organizational research, although its use holds promise. Most manual text analysis procedures conducted by researchers in this field are about the assignment of text to categories such as in thematic and template analyses. However, manual classification of text becomes laborious and time consuming (and sometimes subject to reliability issues) when one needs to do this for a sizeable amount (hundreds of thousands or millions) of pieces of text. An alternative is to use automatic text classification systems that can be constructed by researchers, which allow them to speed up the process of labeling or coding large sets of textual data. The design and building of text classifiers could be of use for various areas of organizational research. Our aim was to illustrate how this could be done and provide a tutorial. We used the example of building a text classifier to automatically sort job type information contained in job vacancies. The importance of validating the results of text classification was demonstrated through data triangulation, using expert input. We believe that the use of this procedure among organizational researchers can improve reliability and efficiency in analysis that involves classification. What has been the most challenging aspect of conducting your research? Were there any surprising findings?
Building classifiers involves several rounds of training, testing, and validation before they can be deployed in practice and the most challenging aspect is training the classifier and choosing the parameters in such a way that the results are valid from the standpoint of application. The classifier we built for the job analysis task was able to recover job task sentences with high precision as assessed by an expert in the field, although the classifier was initially trained with minimum expert input. Our results thus suggest that job vacancies are a reliable alternative source of job information that can augment existing approaches to job analysis. More generally, we believe this also suggests that wider use of text classification holds promise for organizational research in a broader sense. What did not make it into your published manuscript that you would like to share with us?
One class of techniques that are now increasingly applied in the area of text classification are word embeddings. Word embeddings map each word to vectors of real numbers. The similarities among word vectors can be used to quantify and categorize the meaning of words in specific contexts. We initially planned to include a short discussion about this but we decided not to because these techniques warrant more in depth discussion which go beyond the scope of our current article. However, organizational researchers interested in recovering context specific meaning of words may benefit from the specific approach taken with word embeddings and we recommend them to get to know these techniques as well.
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When people think of business ethics they normally imagine what businesses can or should do to be judged as ethical. Whether the focus is on breaches of ethical norms by corporations, or models for the achievement of ethical business, the common approach is that it is organizations themselves who are the ethical agents.
This assumption is limited because it fails to account for how corporate responsibility does not necessarily arrive through the voluntary actions of corporations themselves. In response, in my own research I have been exploring a more democratic and socially focussed understanding of how business ethics is practiced. The results were recently published in my article in Organization Studies called ‘Democratic Business Ethics: Volkswagen’s Emissions Scandal and the Disruption of Corporate Sovereignty’
The 2015 Volkswagen emission scandal illustrates what I call democratic business ethics; an ethics where citizens and the institutions of civil society hold corporations to account for their actions, and in so doing disrupt the self-interested abuse of corporate power. At the time the scandal broke, Volkswagen was the world’s largest auto manufacturer, and a company widely heralded for its environmentalism and its corporate social responsibly activities. Despite impeccable ethical credentials, the scandal revealed a corporation whose success had been boosted by sophisticated cheating on fuel emission tests.
The paper shows how Volkswagen was brought to justice for its actions not because of its own proclaimed ethics or moral hubris, but because of the interaction of individuals and institutions from outside of business, in this case NGOs, scientists, law makers, government agencies, the media, and the general public. This was a demonstration how business ethics manifested in the interruption of a flagrant case of corporate fraud, deceit and criminality.
The paper develops the idea of democratic business ethics by focussing on how civil society in particular can and should ensure that corporations are made morally responsible for what they do. This is an ethics made practical through forms of dissent and contestation that redirect power away from centres of organized wealth and capital, returning it to its democratically rightful place with the people.
The conclusion is that business ethics is far too important to be left in the hands of business, and needs to be exercised in the democratic sphere so that corporations are serving society rather than the other way around.