Will Intelligent Machines Take Over Decision Making in Organizations?

August 26, 2016 by

20445410340_c1a0fe6a6a_z[We’re pleased to welcome Sukanto Bhattacharya of Deakin University. Sukanto recently published an article in Group & Organization Management with co-authors Ken Parry and Michael Cohen, entitled “Rise of the Machines: A Critical Consideration of Automated Leadership Decision Making in Organizations.”]

What if it is a machine that provides an organization’s vision for the future instead of a visionary human? Are you willing to accept a machine as your boss? What might happen if your next promotion is decided by a robot?

Intelligent machines, from automobiles to dishwashers, are increasingly making forays into every conceivable dimension of human life with a promise of making things better but perhaps not always quite delivering on that promise. Machine intelligence has permeated various levels of organizational decision-making ranging from robotic technology on production shop-floors to intelligent decision support systems for top management.

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In their recent article published in Group & Organization Management, authors Ken Parry, Michael Cohen and Sukanto Bhattacharya hypothesize a scenario where it is possible for an intelligent machine to assume the role of an organizational leader and carry out the decision-making tasks. Without engaging in a debate as to the likelihood of such a scenario, the authors present an overview of the current state of the art in artificial intelligence research, allowing readers to form their own opinion on the plausibility of such a scenario. Assuming the eventuation of such a scenario, the authors then proceed to critically consider some of the potential outcomes, both positive as well as negative, from automated organizational leadership. They posit a design framework for developing an intelligent leadership decision-making system with the objective of ensuring the positive outcomes while thwarting some of the negative (and in some cases, outright dangerous) ones. Their article aims to open up a new line of intellectual deliberations, involving organizational and management sciences on one hand and artificial intelligence as well as systems development on the other, in addressing a number of important moral/ethical issues that they identified.

The abstract for the paper:

Machines are increasingly becoming a substitute for human skills and intelligence in a number of fields where decisions that are crucial to group performance have to be taken under stringent constraints—for example, when an army contingent has to devise battlefield tactics or when a medical team has to diagnose and treat a life-threatening condition or illness. We hypothesize a scenario where similar machine-based intelligent technology is available to support, and even substitute human decision making in an organizational leadership context. We do not engage in any metaphysical debate on the plausibility of such a scenario. Rather, we contend that given what we observe in several other fields of human decision making, such a scenario may very well eventuate in the near future. We argue a number of “positives” that can be expected to emerge out of automated group and organizational leadership decision making. We also posit several anti-theses—“negatives” that can also potentially emerge from the hypothesized scenario and critically consider their implications. We aim to bring leadership and organization theorists, as well as researchers in machine intelligence, together at the discussion table for the first time and postulate that while leadership decision making in a group/organizational context could be effectively delegated to an artificial-intelligence (AI)-based decision system, this would need to be subject to the devising of crucial safeguarding conditions.

You can read “Rise of the Machines: A Critical Consideration of Automated Leadership Decision Making in Organizations” from Group & Organization Management free for the next two weeks by clicking here.

Want to stay up to date on all of the latest research published by Group & Organization Management? Click here to sign up for e-alerts! You can also follow the journal on Twitter by clicking here.

*Binary code image attributed to Christiaan Colen (CC)

Does Family Management Inhibit the Technological Innovation of Family Firms?

August 24, 2016 by

9595272759_0f40945def_z[We’re pleased to welcome Julio Diéguez Soto of Universidad de Málaga. Julio recently published an article in the September 2016 issue of Family Business Review with co-authors Montserrat Manzaneque and  Alfonso A. Rojo-Ramírez, entitled Technological Innovation Inputs, Outputs and Performance: the Moderating Role of Family Involvement in Management.”]

  • What inspired you to be interested in this topic?

The enormous impact of innovation on economic growth and job creation worldwide and their particular importance for family SMEs.

  • Were there findings that were surprising to you?

Family management reduces the efficiency in converting R&D into technological innovation outcome. However, Current Issue Coverfamily management more effectively leverages technological innovation, thereby increasing long-term performance.

  • How do you see this study influencing future research and/or practice?

Given the importance of R&D to firm performance, family managers should understand the potential pitfalls that attempting to protect their socio-emotional wealth can have on technological innovation outcomes. Simultaneously, family businesses should consider the competitive advantages associated to family managers, who are more efficient in exploiting their given technological innovation outputs, which in turn increases long term performance.

Although this study considers family-managed firms as a particular group, future research should take into account that there is heterogeneity among them and should evaluate the differences among family-managed firms with regard to long-term innovation strategies.

The abstract for the article:

The aim of this research is to study the moderating role of family management in the relationships between the intensity of research and development and the occurrence of continuous technological innovation and between the existence of technological innovation outcomes and long-term firm performance. The results show that family management reduces efficiency in the conversion of research and development expenses into technological innovation outcomes over time. Our findings also suggest that the influence of family management significantly contributes to improving the effect of the achievement of technological innovation on long-term performance.

You can read “Technological Innovation Inputs, Outputs and Performance: the Moderating Role of Family Involvement in Management” from Family Business Review free for the next two weeks by clicking here. There’s also still time for you to read Family Business Review‘s inaugural review issue, which closes at the end of August–click here to read it!

Want to keep current on all of the latest research published by Family Business ReviewClick here to sign up for e-alerts!

*Technology image attributed to Cory M. Grenler (CC)

A Broader Look at Firms’ Corporate Social Performance in 2000-2010

August 23, 2016 by


10310820984_fb57a27068_z[We’re pleased to welcome Elise Perrault of College of Charleston. Elise recently published an article in Business & Society, entitled “What have firms been doing? Exploring what KLD data report about firms’ corporate social performance (CSP) in the period 2000-2010,” with co-author Michael Quinn of Bentley University.]

With a strong interest for firms’ relationship with stakeholders and, more broadly, society, we constantly read about how firms address – or not – a wide variety of social issues. However, this stream of research generally provides anecdotal evidence or analyzes antecedents and consequences of firms’ involvement in a targeted issue (such as philanthrophy or environmental management, for example). In short, we felt the need for a broad, 30,000 ft, view of how firms generally engage with stakeholders through addressing social issues. At the same time, with the soaring popularity of KLD data in the field, we wanted to gain a more precise appreciation of how this data source pictured firms’ actions in society.

We find our results quite revealing and at times surprising. For instance, the results show that firms are increasingly attending to secondary stakeholders, even while garnering more concerns on primary stakeholder dimensions. This points us to question whether managers are experiencing shifting beliefs regarding the value of BAS CoverCSR; specifically that it represents less a mechanism to attract stakeholder support and more a cornerstone to their risk management approach in terms of how society values the firm’s existence. We also find, as expected, that firms generally nurture strengths in the same dimensions in which they present concerns.

The most surprising finding is the extent to which prior corporate social performance (CSP) in a given dimension is linked to CSP in other dimensions over time. This suggests that as firms engage in CSP, they find rewards that drives them to further invest in yet other dimensions of CSP. As a result, we are led to reconsider the notion of a “virtuous circle” (Waddock & Graves, 1997) and suggest that future research examines in greater depth the real benefits that firms perceive from CSP and the motives that drive their increasing commitment to CSP.

Having provided this broader view of firms’ involvement with stakeholders and social issues, we hope this research will serve as a foundation for future research in several ways. For starters, we note the significance of industry dummies in the analysis. This finding confirms what previous research indicates, that industry matters to CSP strenghts and concerns. However, the extent to which industry affiliation predisposes a population of firms to certain CSP strenghts or concerns remains unaddressed. Pushing further in this direction would be to explore how industry affiliation affects stakeholders’ perceptions, and whether stakeholders are more forgiving or scrutinizing of firms in certain industries, for example.

Another insight from our analyses is the importance of using a long time frame when analyzing firms’ CSP, which has seldom been used in previous research. Doing so would enable researchers to see patterns and connections between various dimensions of CSP, answering questions such as “Do strengths (concerns) on certain dimensions of CSP generally prompt firms to subsequently perform better or worse on these and other dimensions?” While this would shed light on the ways in which firms can be primed to address certin social issues, on a broader scale, these analyses contribute to the conversation debating the fundamental question regarding the purpose of the firm and its obligations to shareholders and stakeholders.

The abstract for the paper:

With the blossoming of research on corporate social performance (CSP), the data produced by Kinder, Lydenberg, Domini (KLD) have become the standard to measure firms’ social and stakeholder actions. However, to date, only a few studies have focused on examining the data directly, and have done so largely in terms of validating the concepts and methods in the data set’s construction. The present study seeks to complement these efforts by contributing knowledge about what the KLD data report on firms’ actions toward primary and secondary stakeholders, and the dimensions of CSP that firms generally engage in, together or sequentially. With data on 3,073 firms over the period 2000-2010, results show that firms expend more resources on garnering strengths in primary stakeholder dimensions, although this trend is sharply deteriorating to the benefit of secondary stakeholders—notably the natural environment. Results also show that firms generally approach CSP with a mixed behavior, with strengths and concerns in the same dimensions, especially as it pertains to secondary stakeholders. These are the same dimensions in which firms show the longer, more intrinsic commitments, suggesting that secondary stakeholder strengths and concerns may be structural in nature. However, there is also evidence of relationships across dimensions, indicating that firms’ involvement in CSP can generate momentum. The rich implications of these findings are discussed.

You can read “What have firms been doing? Exploring what KLD data report about firms’ corporate social performance (CSP) in the period 2000-2010” from Business & Society free for the next two weeks by clicking here. Want to stay current on the latest research published by Business & SocietyClick here to sign up for e-alerts!

Interested in submitting a manuscript to the journal? You can learn more about Business & Society‘s manuscript guidelines by clicking here.

*Conference sponsorship image attributed to Fortune Live Media (CC)

Do Family-Friendly Programs Reduce Employee Turnover?

August 22, 2016 by

4329856959_d420346295_zHow can organization’s prevent employee turnover? The recent Public Personnel Management article “Does Satisfaction with Family-Friendly Programs Reduce Turnover? A Panel Study Conducted in U.S. Federal Agencies” from author James Gerard Caillier of University of Alabama suggests that the key to employee retention for an organization could be family-friendly programs. Programs like telework, alternative work schedules, child care subsidies, employee assistance programs, and other similar programs not only attract new talent, but help companies retain long-standing employees. The abstract for the paper:

This article sought to understand the association between employee satisfaction with several family-friendly programs and turnover in U.S. federal agencies. It also built on previous cross-sectional studies that examined the relationship between these benefits and both attitudes and outcomes. More specifically, this article used social exchange theory to develop hypotheses regarding the effect of telework, alternative work schedules, child care subsidies, elder care, employee assistance programs, and health and wellness programs on turnover. Furthermore, 4 years of panel data were Current Issue Coverobtained from the Federal Employee Viewpoint Survey and FedScope to test the hypotheses. Consistent with social exchange theory, results from the balanced panel model indicate that satisfaction with family-friendly programs in general had a significant, negative effect on turnover. The results also indicate that telework, alternative work schedules, child care programs, and health and wellness programs reduced turnover. Telework, employee assistance programs, and health and wellness programs were significant at the .10 level. Elder care programs, on the other hand, were not found to have an impact on turnover. The implications the results have for theory and practice are discussed in the article.

You can read “Does Satisfaction with Family-Friendly Programs Reduce Turnover? A Panel Study Conducted in U.S. Federal Agencies” from Public Personnel Management free for the next two weeks by clicking here.

Want to know all about the latest research from Public Personnel ManagementClick here to sign up for e-alerts! 

* Family image attributed to bniice (CC)

How are Research Methods Taught?

August 19, 2016 by

[This blog post was originally posted on the SAGE Connection – Insight blog. To read the original blog post and find more content from SAGE Connection – Insight, click here.]

How can librarians better support faculty who teach research methods? What materials do students look for in their libraries? Sharlene Hesse-Biber, a celebrated research methods author and faculty member at Boston College, sought out the answers to these questions by working closely with her library to teach research methods to students. In this clip, Hesse-Biber shares insight on the type of research instruction that students receive in the classroom and where library research resources and support can fit into that process. Watch as she addresses several big questions surrounding research methods instruction such as:

  • How can faculty and librarians provide students with good exemplars of great research?
  • How can faculty and librarians support students conducting their first research project?
  • What do students learn at various levels of their academic careers?

For more information on research methods check out MethodSpace, home of the research methods community.

via How are Research Methods Taught? — SAGE Connection – Insight

Book Review: Selling Our Souls: The Commodification of Hospital Care in the United States

August 18, 2016 by

bookjacketSelling Our Souls: The Commodification of Hospital Care in the United States. By Adam D. Reich Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2014. 248 pp. ISBN 978-0-6911-60405, $39.50

Nick Krachler recently published a book review in ILR ReviewAn excerpt from the review:

Reich’s main focus is on the institutional legacies that shape how the people working in his cases reconcile the contradictions between their non-economic values and market pressures. The former public hospital’s contradiction is between the scarcity of resources and the practice of providing extensive uncompensated care to underinsured and uninsured patients. The people in this hospital view care as a social right, and Reich interprets their disregard for efficiency and profitability as rebuffing market pressures. In the Catholic hospital, the contradiction is between the values of sacrifice and dignity, with which many in the hospital identify, and management’s Current Issue Covermarketing of these values to attract high-paying patients, the treatment of uninsured patients with little dignity, and the lowest wages for nurses and ancillary workers among the three cases studied. Reich interprets this case as moralizing market pressures. In the integrated health management organization, customized care according to each patient’s special needs contradicts the organization’s prevailing operating principle of standardizing and rationing care by scaling up efficient practices. Reich interprets this case as taming market pressures through the use of bureaucracy and big data. The author lays out these three types of moral–market relationships by examining the conception of care, the structure of physicians’ work, and the power and division of labor between physicians, nurses, and ancillary workers including the role of labor relations in each of the cases. Another interesting argument in the book is that these three different moral–market relationships correspond to three different historical periods. I find Reich’s well-grounded discussion and critique of the three models highly persuasive.

If you’d like to read the full review from ILR Review, you can click here to access the book review for the next two weeks. Interested in staying up to date with all the latest content published by ILR ReviewClick here to sign up for e-alerts!

Job Satisfaction Plays A Large Part in Employee Engagement

August 17, 2016 by

3911231181_6754709d83_z[We’re pleased to welcome Brad Shuck of University of Louisville. Brad recently published an article in Group & Organization Management entitled “Untangling the Predictive Nomological Validity of Employee Engagement: Decomposing Variance in Employee Engagement Using Job Attitude Measures” with co-authors Kim Nimon of University of Texas at Tyler and Drea Zigarmi of The Ken Blanchard Companies and the University of San Diego.]

Our interest in this work was driven by the need for practical understanding of the employee engagement construct in connection with precise theoretical positioning – we knew from growing citations in the literature that many scholars and practitioners are using employee engagement in their work, but there remained some level of confusion about what employee engagement was, and how it should be applied.

Of great interest to us was whether employee engagement was adding anything to the research literature or, if engagement was redundant as some scholars had suggested. We believed, based on our experience and understanding, that employee engagement did offer something unique from say, job satisfaction or organizational commitment, but beyond the primary use of bivariate relationships, no work had deconstructed the inner empirical makeup of the psychological construct. More, no one had graphed the theoretical structure of the relationships physically, so we took that task on. The purpose of our work was to examine the predictive nomological validity of employee engagement using a set of three job attitudes commonly linked to employee engagement – that, is we opened up the hood to explore its inner make-up.

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Roughly speaking, our findings suggested that that across two overall measures of engagement (the UWES and the JES), job satisfaction contributed the most unique variance to employee engagement, followed by job involvement, and organizational commitment. We were not surprised that job satisfaction contributed the most variance to employee engagement, but we were surprised that job involvement lacked almost any degree of emotion – rather, it functioned at a mostly cognitive level and was identify related, versus emotionally driven. The main finding from our work was that no 1st-order, 2nd-order, or 3rd-order commonality coefficients fully explained, stand-alone or in combination, all the variance in the two engagement measures. In fact, there remained a substantial amount of unexplained variance in each measurement (47% of the variance remained unexplained in the JES and 34% of the variance remains unexplained in the UWES-9). In short, this told us that engagement operated as a standalone construct and was not fully redundant with anyone job attitude or combination of job attitudes. We were not surprised by this finding, but we suspect that others might be.

Within this work, we see many possibilities for future research. First, there is no question that researchers will need to continually examine the underlying meaning and quality of measurement used in building the still emerging nomological network of engagement. We also see an opportunity to more fully explore the role of affect in the engagement construct and the job attitudes. For example, in our results, affect demonstrated noteworthy and interesting theoretical patterns. As such, one avenue for future research might focus toward disentangling affect as a common factor between like constructs and engagement. Research might fully examine how measures of affect (both positive and negative) operate in context with JS, JI, OC, and engagement and how indicators of performance might be connected. Finally – and what we think is one of the more novel outcomes of this work  – is the naming those spaces of joint common variance we uncovered. For example, in our work Coc.js explained the greatest amount of variance across both engagement scales, but what exactly is Coc.js? At present, research has not adequately explored such combinations and when paired together – such as the case with organizational commitment and job satisfaction – combined constructs might take on a new identity. For example, theoretically, when an employee is both satisfied with their work and committed to the organization, we might call that organizational contentment as the employee is both satiated and committed to the organization, making them more likely to express a state of overall organizational contentment. A construct called organizational contentment is all but absent in the research literature yet our results would indicate that this construct – whether we call it organizational contentment or something else – explains sizeable portions of variance in employee engagement.

As a final note, we hope or work brings about conversation and dialogue. This work has brought about many new questions for our team and, we know that only through dialogue and working together with other scholars can we really begin to understand what it means to be engaged and, how the experience of employee engagement unfolds overtime.

The abstract for the paper:

The purpose of this study was to examine the predictive nomological validity of employee engagement using a set of three job attitudes commonly linked to employee engagement. Prior research concerned with the nomological network of employee engagement has predominantly considered bivariate relationships, thus missing the opportunity to fully understand the intricate and interrelated relationship between employee engagement and job attitudes. Scale- and subscale-level correlations were obtained from a previously published set of survey responses (n = 1,580) to decompose employee engagement variance into orthogonal (i.e., non-overlapping) components associated with every possible combination of the three job attitude predictor set (2k − 1 = 7). Results suggested that across both overall measures, job satisfaction contributed the most unique variance to employee engagement, followed by job involvement and organizational commitment. Findings indicated that when applying employee engagement in both research and practice, care should be taken in scale selection across models—especially those involving such as constructs. This study provides evidence of the importance for considering a construct’s nomological network within the broader management and human resource–related literature. This research not only advances the theoretical and research understanding of employee engagement but also assists practitioners in deploying precise, well-crafted measures of engagement in the field.

You can read “Untangling the Predictive Nomological Validity of Employee Engagement: Decomposing Variance in Employee Engagement Using Job Attitude Measures” from Group & Organization Management free for the next two weeks by clicking here.

Want to stay up to date with all of the latest research from Group & Organization ManagementClick here to sign up for e-alerts! You can also find the journal on Twitter here.

*Office work image attributed to Carbon Tippy Toes (CC)

How to Grow the Impact of Your Paper: A Step by Step Guide to Using Kudos

August 16, 2016 by

[This post comes from the SAGE Connection blog. It was written by Rebecca Wray of Group Marketing Manager, SAGE Publishing. You can find the original blog post here.]

becky wrayAfter an intense period of researching, writing, re-writing, submitting, and proofing an article, authors are then able to experience the delight of seeing it published online. They can now relax, sit back and watch as the downloads and citations stack up. But wait! There are also over 2.5 million other articles publishing this year too. How will people find this paper among this increasing landscape of research output and what can be done to make the author’s article more visible?

This is where Kudos comes inkudos logo

We’ve partnered with Kudos, a service designed specifically for authors, to help them maximize the visibility of their work. SAGE has always put its authors and their content first through supporting both dissemination and accessibility, and we’re really excited by this new partnership that enables us to further achieve our aims.  I’m not a researcher, or an author of any kind (other than this, my first published blog post!), but I’ve been marketing scholarly journals for over 10 years. During this time, I’ve seen that authors can be powerful advocates for their own work, complementing and extending the discoverability, circulation and marketing services that the publisher already provides to ensure their article reaches the widest possible audience. So how can Kudos help authors grow the impact of their papers?

Getting started with Kudos

When an author’s paper is published online on SAGE Journals, they will receive an email from Kudos inviting them to register on the website and ‘claim’ their paper. Authors also have the option to go back and claim all of their past papers that have a CrossRef DOI. Another key thing to point out: Kudos is free for SAGE authors to use!

Once the author has completed the brief registration form, they will have access to their own private author dashboard. Here they will be able to see all of the articles they claim (including those from other publishers) listed out, and track their actions and results.

The 4 stages of Kudos

Kudos offers four author tools, and authors are free to mix and match from the below:

  • Explain: Add a lay summary, impact statement and personal perspective to their Kudos publications page. This will make their article stand-out to researchers within their field, as well as make it more accessible to a broader audience.
  • Enrich: Add supplementary data such as podcasts and videos to enrich their article. This helps to engage readers with their work, and provide them with more context for the research.
  • Share: Kudos generates a trackable URL for the author’s article page. Here they can sync their Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn accounts and post directly from Kudos using their trackable link. Kudos also provides a tool to share the link to their paper by email.
  • Measure: Authors can track clicks from their sharing link in step 3, and see the impact of their actions in the dashboard with official citations and Altmetric scores for their article.

Spare a few minutes for many downloads

Authors can spend as little or as long on Kudos as they like. Needless to say, the more time spent on the site, the more they are likely to get out of it. In a pilot program, authors using the Kudos tools saw 19% higher downloads than those in a control group. So, now over to you to get creative with your communications and get Kudos!

Looking for me information on Kudos? Read our interview with Kudos co-founders Charlie Rapple, David Sommer, Melinda Kenneway, along with Ann Lawson, Head of Business Development, on how the key features of the service can help you grow citations for your articles here.

Profiling Employee Time Bandits: Weasels, Mercenaries, Sandbaggers, and Parasites

August 15, 2016 by

8562416557_4eb71bbab7_zNothing is more counterproductive for organizations than when employees use work time to engage in non-task-related activities. That said, time banditry is widespread and sometimes difficult for organizations prevent. A recent article published in Journal of Leadership & Organizational Studies, entitled “Time Banditry and Impression Management Behavior: Prediction and Profiling of Time Bandit Types,” authors Meagan E. Brock Baskin, Victoria McKee, and M. Ronald Buckley investigate the characteristics of time bandits. Their paper outlines situational and dispositional variables that can help predict the four time bandit types–the weasel, the mercenary, the sandbagger, and the parasite. The abstract for the article:

Time banditry recently has been introduced as a distinct construct in the JLOcounterproductive work behavior literature. Employees are engaged in time banditry when they pursue non–task-related activities during work time. We posit that they capitalize on the ambiguity in most work environments to manage impressions that their time banditry behavior really is productive and not counterproductive work behavior. In this investigation, two studies were conducted to explore variables that can be used to classify time bandits into four different categories. Discriminant function analysis was used to determine individual-level and job-level factors that classify time bandits. Results revealed that both situational and dispositional variables can be used to predict time bandit type. Suggestions for future research and implications for managing, reducing, and changing time banditry behaviors are discussed.

Interested in reading more and finding out what kind of time bandit you are? You can read “Time Banditry and Impression Management Behavior: Prediction and Profiling Time Bandit Types” from Journal of Leadership and Organizational Studies free for the next two weeks by clicking here.

Want to stay up to date on all of the latest research from Journal of Leadership and Organizational StudiesClick here to sign up for e-alerts! 

*Post-it prank image attributed to Michael Arrighi (CC)

Bringing Foundational Research in from the Cold

August 12, 2016 by

[This post features an interview originally featured on the Social Science Space blog. You can find the original blog post here.]

Like a favorite quote that turns out not to have passed the lips of Churchill or Twain, foundational research often is honored as its interpreters see it and not as the original author presented it. That’s one premise of a new paper from the journal Human Relations that examines how secondary research, in this case on Kurt Lewin’s change management theory, has frozen out Lewin’s original insights (which appeared in the first paper in the then-new journal Human Relations in 1947, the same year Lewin would die of a heart attack).

The authors –Stephen Cummings and Todd Bridgman of Victoria University of Wellington and Kenneth G. Brown of the University of Iowa – trawled through Lewin’s archives at the University of Iowa tracing the history of his famed three-step change management ideas, and found a corpus of subsequent work littered with misquotes, mis-citations, and possibly even fabrications, alongside a popularity in management textbooks and pop-management books on change management.

While they focus on the misapprehension of Lewin, in the following email interview the authors discuss how this sort of myopia is surprisingly common – and often pernicious – in academe, and offer a prescription for combating it: dig deeper into the past and look at what the founders actually wrote.

As Cummings told Social Science Space, “In the instance of Lewin, they would find far more thoughtful and nuanced ideas than what currently passes for best practice in change management today – ‘best practice’ that is based on overly simplistic reductions of what Lewin supposedly wrote, but didn’t — a fact not seen because nobody bothers to check.

I’d like to ask you about the idea behind your article, “Unfreezing change as three steps: Rethinking Kurt Lewin’s legacy for change management,” and what you are saying about the concept of ‘attention decay.’ But I think before we discuss the general case we should address the specific case, specifically your argument that Kurt Lewin’s now-classic ‘changing as three steps’ approach to managing change has been codified, into something other than what Lewin himself wrote. 

We argue that a small summary statement by Lewin, buried in one of his last articles, a Kurt Lewinstatement about how change could be thought of in three steps unfreezing, moving and freezing, was developed into something far more simplistic and linear (a three phase, a-b-c, one-size-fits-all framework for intervening to direct change) and grander (one of the main pillars of Lewin’s research). Over time, this became a convenient foundation for the fledgling field of change management. The notion that as great a scientist as Lewin, the ‘great experimenter’ as he was known, would have laid down this framework as a solid foundation stone is a useful one for those who sought to build change management into something important.

In the 1970s and 80s management textbooks reinforced this view, formatting the ‘Three Steps of Change’ into the diagram that many people who were management students during and after this time will recall, and naming it ‘Lewin’s classical model.’ More recently, the emphasis on encouraging research outputs and the digitization of research has led to two further things that have discouraged people looking back to see what Lewin might have actually written. One, the sheer proliferation of writing on this (and any) subject makes it hard to take everything in. Second the digitization of recent research outputs makes it easier to search the ‘archives’ from one’s own terminal rather than go look at the ‘hard copies’ of older works.

This leads to the notion of ‘attention decay’ that you mention in your question. It’s been shown that citation patterns in research outputs are broader (more references) but shallower (the average time between the publication of the article and the works it references is shrinking): greater immediacy but less depth, in other words. We argue that it has consequently become less likely that people would actually go back and look at primary sources, making the proliferation of misinterpretations, of the forgetting of what was originally written, more likely.


If that is the case, for Lewin and for others, I might ask what’s the harm? But you suggest, apart from doing violence to the original ideas, that this could actually work against substantive innovation and might even hem in the frontiers of knowledge. 

Yes. We argue that this isn’t just a historical curio. We are fighting against a lazy understanding of history in our field in general, as well as fighting against how we have ignored the potential of the specific ideas that Lewin would be more likely advocating today were he alive.

First, we would suggest the specific misinterpretation of Lewin may be harmful because it blinkers us from seeing the other, more substantive, insights that Lewin provided. In our article we look at the one empirical study of organization change that Lewin was heavily involved with, which has come to be known as the Harwood study. Perhaps the major conclusion from this study is that change management is more effective if it is based on plural conversations that involve those who will be affected by the change right from the outset, as opposed to a unitarist approach were change is directed by consultants, or the like, employing their model. We would argue that if change practice, following Lewin’s Harwood experiments, was more inclusive, we’d see less change fatigue and cynicism about change programs in contemporary organizations.

In addition, our article goes back to the original Lewin paper from the first ever issue of Human Relations that the ‘three steps’ statement is taken out of. This article was titled “Frontiers of Group Dynamics.” It was partly a review, partly a challenge to researchers to move the field forwards. The two major challenges that Lewin laid down were to focus on ‘groups’ within organizations as the unit of analysis, rather than individual or the organization as a whole; and relatedly, to develop the application of statistical analysis to enable us to better analyze multiple variables relating to individual and group responses to change as a system. One of the reasons that we haven’t made as much progress on these challenges as we could have is that we looked beyond them and alighted and focused attention on the idea that Lewin said we should base change interventions on a three-phase model.

Second, and more generally, what is the harm in mis-attributing or at least exaggerating the genesis of ideas? The harm is that it propagates simplistic understanding of the history of ideas, which makes it less likely that we can robustly assess what has gone before, debate different views and make true progress rather than just enjoy the illusion of progress. If we don’t know what Lewin really said, then how can we be challenged by it, learn from it and build on it or against it?


Current Issue CoverAs a corrective, I notice that you want to buck the apparent trend of academics citing lots of references that only go back a shorter time – what’s been termed attention decay by those documenting its existence — by advocating academics instead look back and dive deeper.

We can adapt the popular analogy of the ‘glass ceiling’ to illustrate this point. Let’s say that attention decay in this regard creates an ‘ice floor.’ We can really only see down a little way, skate across this surface and develop variations on the ‘foundation’ we are skating across (there’s a diagram in our article that shows how recent change frameworks can be seen as just elaborations of the three stage unfreeze-change-refreeze model).

The reflection makes us look pretty clever, and it justifies present ideas as advances on what feels like a solid foundation. But in justifying present ideas, this shallow view of the past makes it less likely that would we really challenge present ideas and seek new ways of operating, or substantive innovation.

The prospect that the ice that change management is skating on may be thin and a bit illusory is a scary one, and we’ve already got some flak about our article by people who are challenged by it. But we’re hoping that we might promote innovation in change management by starting a conversation that thaws out that ice enough to make some people think twice. Diving deeper and reading all of Lewin’s 1947 article, for example, could provide researchers with a lot of inspiration for developing new ideas. Probably more inspiration, we would argue, than reading everything that has been written on the topic in the last three years.


I’m intrigued by your concerns that digitization can in effect close pathways that it presumably might have opened. Do you expect this might self-correct as musty volumes or yellowing journals grudgingly make their way to digital formats, or is the temptation to draw from the shallowest and freshest pools too great?


It’s not that digitization closes pathways. Rather, digitization makes it easier to scan large amounts of current literature and this is what researchers have tended to do with the new technology. You can understand why. Often authors are criticized for not including enough up-to-date references to other works in the field when they submit work to academic journals or PhD committees. Very seldom are they criticized for not including well-referenced quotations from many decades ago.

Given that two of us are based in New Zealand and one in Iowa, it’s not that easy to visit the archives we want to see in person, so we use digital archives to scan large amounts of data and focus our searches a lot. We’d be crazy to suggest that digitization is not a great tool. It can preserve and improve access to older, hard copies of papers and correspondence. But it takes interest from users and effort and money from providers to facilitate the continued development of this. Last year we visited archives at the Stevens Institute in New Jersey and Brandeis and Harvard universities in Boston: all three hold fascinating ‘musty volumes’ and the librarians could not be more helpful. But it was a contrast. Institutions like Harvard have a great interest in to preserving and promoting their legacy and they have more money than others to do so.

So digitization is to be encouraged, but there is nothing quite the same as being able to see original hard copies and we are losing these every day as libraries with limited resources look at what people are using and make resourcing decisions accordingly. Invest in the archives, or better Wi-Fi? It’s hard to make a case for the archives if people aren’t using them. We would urge people to support local libraries to both maintain and digitize their collections by using them, engaging librarians, and providing support in other ways where they can.


I assume your thesis applies beyond Lewin’s case and beyond management theory, even if his academic afterlife makes a good case study. Do you have other examples where classic theories get lost? Other disciplines?

We’ve written on how Max Weber is subject to convenient re-assignment in management textbooks as an old German who madly promoted bureaucracy, which he didn’t. Rather, he saw that their development fitted with mechanized times and worried about their spread in this regard. (However, an understanding of Weber’s principles of how good bureaucratic controls had many strengths, might have worked against some of the worst vestiges of the recent GFC – if people were aware of what Weber wrote about this). And John Hassard and others have done great work debunking many of the foundational myths surrounding Elton Mayo and the Hawthorne experiments.

But looking more broadly, perhaps the historical misinterpretation that has had the biggest impact on our times has been the development of the myth that Adam Smith founded economics by advocating a laissez faire approach, whereby progress would come when governments get out of the way and leave the ‘invisible hand’ of the market to sort things out.

Smith did examine how the division of labor led to progress in Book I of The Wealth of Nations. But much in the latter books of TWON was devoted to how governments should best intervene to protect people against the unfortunate consequences of the division of labor and free markets. But most have conveniently forgotten about those later books. And they’ve forgotten that Smith never once used the term ‘laissez faire.’ And that the term ‘the invisible hand’ was only used once by Smith in the context that it is attributed now, and it was not original. For example, it was a phrase that Daniel Defoe had his character Moll Flanders use decades earlier.

And yet, the world’s most influential economics textbook, by Paul Samuelson, has told generations of students that Smith’s message is, verbatim, this: “You think you are helping the economic system by your well-meaning laws and interferences. You are not. Let be. The oil of self-interest will keep the gears working in almost miraculous fashion. No one need plan. No sovereign need rule. The market will answer all things.” Samuelson’s faux-archaic style here leads the student to believe that this is what Smith must have written. But none of these sentences are Smith’s. It’s all made up.

In fact, many economists and politicians who may have been forced to read Samuelson or its equivalent often pay homage to Smith as ‘the father’ of their thinking, without ever having seen a copy of TWON, let alone reading it. This, we would argue, is the sort of shallow thinking worth continuing the fight against.


Do you have hope then that your field, and others, will see researchers and theorists reaching back to the original work? Or is the ice too thick?

It’s not that the ice is too thick. It’s more that if we’re only interested in looking at the past to justify current views, or seeing our present reflection looking good in the ice as it were, we’re not motivated to look down into or through that ice to really see what’s behind it. So the ice itself is not the main barrier, it’s the way we look. All it requires is a shift in emphasis from seeing the past in terms of the present, toward seeing history as a source of challenging ideas and a way of inspiring us to think differently.

Young researchers, quite rightly, want to discover new knowledge. Because we tend to see history and innovation as opposites they often don’t see much value in historical research. But realizing that thinking critically about the history of ideas can in fact be a greater spur to innovation than just collating all that’s been written on a subject in the last five years, should be a great motivator. Recognizing that we forget so much about what has been previously thought about, or that great ideas get sidetracked as we focus on other things, means that there’s challenging ideas and spurs to innovation waiting to be rediscovered in the archives. Because the research itself, going back to original sources and correspondence, is not too difficult to do once your motivated to do it (it’s easier to get ethics approval, easier to ‘interview’ librarians and original sources than schedule interviews with busy business people), we are very hopeful that this stream of critical historical research, critical historical that inspires innovation in the social sciences, will grow over the next decade.

*Books image attributed to faungg’s photos (CC)


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