This week kicks off the 2017 Annual Meeting of the Academy of Management in Atlanta Georgia. This year’s theme is At the Interface. In introducing the theme, Carol T. Kulik, Academy of Management Vice President and Program Chair, had this to say:
Interface: A common boundary or interconnection between systems, concepts or human beings (Random House Dictionary, 2016)
That definition highlights the dual nature of interfaces. Interfaces establish boundaries that differentiate and separate; they mark a space where insiders can jointly define an organization’s mission, develop an organizational identity, and participate in organizational activities. But interfaces also develop connections that facilitate communication, negotiation, and exchange across organizational boundaries.
Interfaces are increasingly relevant to today’s organizations, as information, people, and other resources cross organizational boundaries at unprecedented rates. An employee conversation held around the company water cooler today is likely to appear on social media tomorrow. In the “gig economy,” people may work as employees for only a few short weeks or a handful of quick shifts, moving from one organization to another without fully integrating into any of them. And even when people are in traditional employment relationships with a single organization, mobile phones and Internet capabilities let them psychologically cross the organizational boundary dozens of times a day. As traffic at the interface intensifies, how do we distinguish between insiders and outsiders, and identify who has a legitimate stake in influencing organizational missions, decisions, and activities?
Interfaces create “interstitial spaces” in which information, people and resources are situated neither inside nor outside, but somewhere in between. Organizations leverage these interstitial spaces as they develop alumni networks for former employees, encourage family and friend referrals to job openings, ask customers to bag their own groceries, and crowdsource ideas for new products and markets. These activities are designed to benefit the organization, but society might benefit as well. Today’s Grand Challenges (e.g., aging populations, climate change) increasingly demand large-scale multi-perspective strategies. When the interstitial space is large, organizations may feel greater responsibility to tackle societal issues that are not part of their formal mandate and are unlikely to deliver any immediate benefit to their traditional stakeholders (e.g., employees, customers and investors). But how far can organizations expand their missions before they are rudderless and off course?
Organizations continually redesign their interfaces as they decide which activities they will undertake and which activities will be purchased or contracted out. Organizations form and disband partnerships and alliances, changing the shape of organizational networks. These interface changes affect outcomes ranging from the employment opportunities of individuals to the wealth of nations. And when the interfaces connecting organizations and networks span national boundaries, new opportunities for organizations to shape (and be shaped by) political and social systems also emerge. The sheer scale of organizations and interorganizational networks permits organizations to unintentionally and/or deliberately influence governments and societies in ways that are controversial. How accountable should organizations be for the economic and social consequences of their actions at the interface?
Are you going to be attending AOM this year? If so, make sure to stop by SAGE booths #224, 226, 228, 230! You can speak to SAGE employees about your publishing questions and learn more about SAGE’s management books and journals, including top-tier journals like Journal of Management, Administrative Science Quarterly, ILR Review, and more!
Stay tuned for more information about SAGE at AOM 2017!
Interested in more information about this year’s conference? Click here to view the 2017 program.