How Do New Theorizing and Shifts in Learning Emerge?

[We’re pleased to welcome authors Birgit Helene Jevnaker and Atle A. Raa of the Norwegian Business School, Oslo. They recently published an article in Management Learning entitled, “Circles of intellectual discovery in Cambridge and management learning: A discourse analysis of Joan Robinson’s The Economics of Imperfect Competition,”  Below, Jevnaker and Raa describe the inspiration for the study and key findings:]

We share an interest in how ideas in management learning can originate from early thinkers aJevnaker_teaser.jpgnd books.  For instance, we are interested in how classic economic thinking has influenced management learning and practice. In our article, we elaborate and discuss how Joan Robinson – in interaction with a circle of other Cambridge economists – developed a new theory of the firm in imperfect competition. In her opinion, imperfect competition was the normal market situation. It could be a limited number of firms that represented the total supply of a consumer product like carbonated soft drinks.

Joan Violet Robinson was a member of an informal group of a younger generation of economists in Cambridge, UK. Through her first book, The Economics of Imperfect Competition, she actually became an innovator of new ideas and comlqncepts. In this book, published in the wake of the Great Depression in the early 1930s, she explains new principles of how markets operate in different ways depending on the nature of the competition. By recognizing that some enterprises can affect prices and competition, this opened up for later, new thinking of how firms act and learn differently.

We were surprised by two things:

  • First, she became a transformer of earlier ideas of perfect competition into ideas of imperfect competition. It is remarkable that a young woman economist, without any formal position in the academy of Cambridge, could quickly synthetize new thinking of how markets are different.
  • Secondly, we noted that a younger generation of academics engaged collectively in critical and alternative theorizing. Robinson and her friend, the economist Richard F. Kahn, as well as other companions met regularly and discussed the strengths and weaknesses of each other’s arguments. We call this “epistemic interaction”. By this we understand mutual or reciprocal actions or influence in developing the grounds of knowledge and understanding among agents. In Greek, knowing and its possibility of understanding is episteme.

Through our discourse analysis of Robinson’s 1933-book and its emergence, we seek to explain our story beyond the perspective of a great economist finding new ideas by herself. Her book uncovers several important contributors; Robinson herself anchors her book in both established and new theorizing of firms and markets.

Joan Robinson points to the common existence of a limited number of firms with monopoly power over their offerings. Inspired by the 1930s reality as well as earlier writings, she offers new concepts, for example for exchange situations with only one buyer (monopsony). This is a situation where exploitation of labour can emerge, she points out. Robinson no doubt had a certain pedagogical style. She made many of the complicated economic ideas easier to understand by examples and metaphoric language. She claimed that the tool-users had been given “stones for bread” from the toolmakers (the economic thinkers). Still, she stressed that economics is one of the social sciences that study how society works.

From the circle of young economists’ debating in the 1930s, it is worth noting that firms and managers can be commonly acting within dissimilar or “imperfect” market conditions rather than principally “perfect” ones where firms are facing similar price mechanisms, often discussed in past economic literature. This critique and shift in understanding eventually opened up for management studies recognizing also fundamental differences in managerial knowledge, learning and strategizing. We think that more research on how earlier economic thinking has influenced management practice is a fruitful approach to the study of how management learning have developed through most of the 20th century up to our days. It is of general interest how new academic ideas come about.

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Influences of Multiple Role Management Strategies

[We’re pleased to welcome author Guillaume Carton of the Institut Supérieur de Gestion, France. Carton recently published an article in the Journal of Management Inquiry entitled “Bridging the Research-Practice Divide: A Study of Scholar-Practitioners’ Multiple Role Management Strategies and Knowledge Spillovers across Roles,” co-authored by  Paula Ungureanu of the University of Modena and Reggio Emilia, Italy. From Carton:]

What inspired you to be interested in this topic? We both did our PhD investigating the theory-practice divide in management. We wanted to cJMI_72ppiRGB_powerpoint.jpgontribute to the debate by bringing empirical data sets of exemplar situations through which people successfully bridge the divide. While some studies have argued that focus of rigor versus relevance determine an unbridgeable research-practice divide, others have suggested that successful exchanges occur on a daily basis thanks to people that dedicate their careers to spanning these boundaries. Yet, few studies have investigated if and how research-practice boundary spanners make it there where others are accused of failing. That is how we got interested in scholar-practitioners, individuals who successfully keep one foot each in the worlds of academia and practice and advance knowledge of both research and practice. We contacted recipients of scholar-practitioners’ prizes, and other recognized scholar-practitioners and simply asked them how they were dealing with their day-to-day multiple professional roles. Our study speaks both to the theory-practice debate and to the literature on strategies of multiple role management.

Were there findings that were surprising to you? One may think that getting a PhD or a DBA after an experience in industry, or working part-time as a consultant throughout academic tenure automatically awards the status of boundary spanner, and all the benefits it implies, such as, for instance, the knowledge advantages of a financial broker or the reputation of a cultural mediator. However, our study shows that scholar-practitioners have a very hard time defining who they are, professionally and personally speaking, because they are caught in between institutional pressures for role separation, on the one side, and their personal desideratum for role integration, on the other side.

Specifically, we show that scholar-practitioners move differently on the separation-integration continuum, according to how experienced they are. The less experienced scholar-practitioners seem to be more subject to pressures for role separation and follow a strategy that constantly reorders the priority of their roles, avoiding this way an overloading integration. The more the scholar-practitioners progress in their career, the more they are willing to integrate their roles, through strategies that we called “role interspacing” and “temporary role bundling” which, however, do not reach a full level of integration.

An important feature of the study is the concern not only with how boundary spanning occurs but also with what kind of knowledge gets transferred from one role to another. We found that role management strategies that are closer to the separation pole allow scholar-practitioners to make operations with contents, while strategies that are closer to the integration pole enable them to transfer across roles procedural knowledge, and, in the condition of highest role integration, metaknowledge -i.e., knowledge about who knows whom and who knows what in their social networks.

How do you see this study influencing future research and/or practice? Currently, we know almost nothing about how people or organizations successfully bridge the research/practice divide. Our paper gives a first impulse to investigate and recognize the key role of scholar-practitioners. We also go beyond scholar practitioners and provocatively suggest that a solution to bridge the academia-practice gap is to encourage also traditional scholars and practitioners to perceive themselves as fragile and at the same time resourceful boundary spanners.
Our study also brings significant contributions to role theory. The finding that professionals move differently on the separation-integration continuum according to experience can have important consequences for setting up motivational strategies for professionals at different stages of their career, as well as assisting them in their struggles to maintain a delicate equilibrium between pressures for separation and integration.

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Institutional Theory Needs to Rethink its Neglect of Morality

[We’re pleased to welcome authors Geoff Moore of Durham University, UK and Gina Grandy of the University of Regina, Saskatchewan, Canada. They recently published an article in the Journal of Management Inquiry entitled “Bringing Morality Back in: Institutional Theory and MacIntyre.” From Moore and Grandy:]

We have had an interest for many years in the work of the moral philosopher Alasdair MacIntyre and the ways in which, despite his highly critical approach to capitalism and corporate management, his work can be used to explain and explore what a virtue-based understanding of organizations means in both theory and practice. In particular, his distinctions between practices and institutions, and between two types of goods (internal and external) which are pursued by organizationJMI_72ppiRGB_powerpoint.jpgs has led to a series of papers exploring the implications of this approach. In this endeavour, we have been encouraged by a steady stream of articles, both theoretical and practical, which have explored this understanding of practices and organizations in such diverse settings as circuses, jazz, investment advising, banking, health and beauty retailing, and pharmaceuticals.

At the same time, we have noted the potential links with Institutional Theory and in particular its notions of logics and legitimacy and wanted to explore these links in greater depth. We were also concerned that new Institutional Theory lacks a positive account or morality and felt that this could be addressed by integrating it with MacIntyre’s work.

An empirical project involving an ecumenical study of churches in the north east of England led to some findings which we felt could be best explained by just such an integration of Institutional Theory and MacIntyre’s work. In particular, consistent throughout the empirical evidence was practitioners’ concern with the telos (overall purpose) of their organizations and the core practices of their faith, and their concern for the legitimacy of their organizations both to internal and external audiences, and hence of the moral nature of organizational life.

We argue that these findings can be generalized to any practice-based organization and conclude that ignoring or underplaying the moral dimension will give, at best, a diminished account of organizational life. Hence, we argue that Institutional Theory needs to rethink its neglect of morality and we suggest several implications for Institutional Theory as a result. We hope this might lead to further studies which follow up our lead and so to the bringing of morality back in to Institutional Theory. We also hope that a wider recognition of the moral dimension as an essential component in organizational life will impact practitioners and lead to organizations fulfilling their potential for the common good.

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Using Theory Elaboration to Make Theoretical Advancements

[We’re pleased to welcome author Herman Aguinis of George Washington University. He recently published an article in Organizational Research Methods entitled, “Using Theory Elaboration to Make Theoretical Advancements,”co-authored by Greg Fisher of Indiana University. From Aguinis:]

“Our field is rapidly being pulled apart by centrifugal forces. Like a supernova that once packed a wallop, our energy is now dissipating and we are quickly growing cold”
Donald Hambrick (2004, p. 91)

“Like symphony orchestras that play a repertoire of a dozen baroque and classical composers year in and year out, management research can sometimes appear like a living museum of the 1970s.”
Jerry Davis (2010, p. 691)

As highlighted by the above two quotes, theory development in the management field is fragmented and lacks novelty. What then can we do about this?

We propose that one way to address the opposing forces of fragmentation and lack of novelty is to adopt an approach to theory development that has loosely been referred to as theory ORM_72ppiRGB_powerpoint.jpgelaboration. Lee, Mitchell and Sablynski (1999) suggested that “Theory elaboration occurs when preexisting conceptual ideas or a preliminary model drives [a] study’s design” (p. 164) and they contrasted it with theory generation that “occurs when the inquiry’s design produces formal and testable research propositions” and theory testing that “occurs when formal hypotheses or a formal theory determines the study’s design” (Lee et al., 1999, p. 164). We provide a more comprehensive definition of theory elaboration as the process of conceptualizing and executing empirical research using pre-existing conceptual ideas or a preliminary model as a basis for developing new theoretical insights by contrasting, specifying, or structuring theoretical constructs and relations to account for and explain empirical observations.

To better understand theory elaboration we identified published articles that have implicitly or explicitly adopted such an approach, and although the overall number of articles is small we recognized that many such articles are among the most highly cited and impactful in the management field. We therefore set about to codify such an approach. To do so we used a reverse-engineering process to extract fundamental features of impactful theory elaboration studies.

Our goal is adopting such a reverse engineering process was to explain how to conduct a theory elaboration study, to offer illustrations of how to use particular tactics to achieve specific theory advancement goals, and to point out particular contexts and circumstances where theory elaboration is most fruitful. As such our paper serves as a catalyst for “cloning” the important theoretical advancements that have been achieved by the handful of studies that have adopted a theory elaboration perspective.

From this reverse engineering process we describe seven specific tactics for conducting a theory elaboration study:

  • Horizontal contrasting – contrasting observations across different contexts
  • Vertical contrasting – contrasting observations across different levels of analysis
  • New construct specification – identifying and defining new constructs
  • Construct splitting – identifying a need or oppo
    rtunity to break a broad construct into specific constructs
  • Structuring specific relations – defining/redefining a specific relation between two constructs
  • Structuring sequence relations – providing an explanation of a sequence of events or relations
  • Structuring recursive relations – Accounting for a recursive relation between two or more entities over repeated interactions

We link each of these tactics with different types of theory advancements and we provide a sequential decision-making process for deciding whether to adopt a theory elaboration approach. Finally, we identify research domains and specific topics in OBHR, strategic management, and entrepreneurship for which theory elaboration is likely to be highly effective as a means to make theoretical advancements. We believe that theory elaboration holds a great promise as a perspective to empower scholars to overcome some of the current challenges associated with theory advancement in the management field.

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How to Promote More Inclusive and Equitable Ways of Managing

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[We’re pleased to welcome Stephen Allen of the University of Hull, UK. Stephen recently published an article in Management Learning entitled “Learning from Friends: Developing appreciations for unknowing in reflexive practice.”  From Stephen:]

  • What inspired you to be interested in this topic?

The concept of ‘reflexivity’ (involving appreciating and exploring how our knowing about being in a world is situated historically, socially, culturally and materially) has been a key interest in my research over the past six years or so.  This article was developed around my interest in understanding more about what being reflexive can mean for our day-to-day practice.  From attending a Quaker meeting over the past four or so years I began to wonder how Quaker processes could be seen to offer images of what it means to practice reflexivity in how we conduct ourselves.  The potential to consider how the Quaker ‘Business Method’ can help us to embrace our inevitably limited view of the world, our unknowing, is fascinating.

  • Were there findings that were surprising to you?

This is a conceptual paper so there are not really ‘findings’ as such.  However, through writing the paper I became increasingly surprised and impressed by the intellectual quality of Quaker ideas and processes for helping us to explore how we can better come together in the pursuit of equitable and democratic ways of working and living.  Understanding how we can interac
t with others in light of an awareness of our inevitably limited view of the world I see as a crucial challenge in how we go about organising ourselves.  The article hopefully offers some insight in this area.

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

As mentioned the article is all about exploring reflexivity in practice.  It offers images of possible ways that we can hopefully make wise decisions together.  There are a lot of opportunities for future research in relation to Quaker processes – I mention some in the article – and so my hope is that these 350 year old ways of organising which have seen limited academic attention become more interesting to researchers.

 

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How Does Organization Culture Act As A Driver Of Competitive Advantage?

[We’re pleased to welcome back Pankaj M. Madhani of ICFAI Business School (IBS). Pankaj cbrpublished an article in Compensation & Benefits Review entitled “Sales Organization Culture, Compensation Strategy and Firm Valuation.” Notes from Madhani:]

The culture of sales organization is comprised of fundamental principles and beliefs that are shared by its members and hence determines the norms that dictate how sales employees should think and behave. In addition to this, compensation systems promote behaviour of sales employees that ultimately becomes dominant behaviour in the sales organization. Thus, many sales organizations today are focusing on their culture as a strategic tool, deciding what it should be, aligning with strategic goals, business strategy and sales compensation design. Sales organization culture is defined both in terms of its causes and effects such as process-oriented culture and outcome-oriented culture, respectively.

A process-oriented culture focuses on behavior controls and emphasizes sales behaviors, whereas an outcome-oriented culture focuses on outcome controls and emphasizes sales outcomes. This research provides various frameworks and models for establishing relationship between organization culture and compensation structure and deriving its impact on sales performance. Study also provides numerous illustrations to calculate optimal compensation structure and corresponding organization culture to achieve maximum valuation of sales organization. An effective sales performance supported by an appropriate compensation strategy and culture of sales organization plays a significant role in determining financial performance, enhancing valuation of the sales organizations and increasing competitive advantage in the market place.

 

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New Podcast: Kincy Madison on Agency and Stewardship Theory

Podcast MicrophoneIn the latest podcast from Family Business Review, assistant editor Karen Vinton speaks with Kincy Madison of Mississippi State University about the article “Viewing Family Firm Behavior and Governance Through the Lens of Agency and Stewardship Theories,” co-authored with Daniel Holt, Franz Kellermanns, and Annette Ranft.

You can find the podcast on the Family Business Review website here, or click here to download the podcast. You can also read the full article here.

The abstract:

Agency and stewardship theories are prominent perspectives to examine myriad FBR_C1_revised authors color.inddissues within family firms. Although considered opposing theories, both address the same phenomena: the individual-level behaviors and firm-level governance mechanisms that predict organizational outcomes. Accordingly, we review and synthesize these theories concurrently, using the concepts of behavior and governance as our organizing framework. Our review encompasses 107 family firm articles grounded in agency and/or stewardship theory, published between 2000 and 2014 in 24 journals across several disciplines. Additionally, we identify future research areas that provide scholars opportunities to push theoretical boundaries and offer further insights into the family firm.

Want to hear more? Click here to browse more podcasts from Family Business Review and here to subscribe to the SAGE Management and Business podcast channel on iTunes. You can also sign up for e-alerts and get notifications of all the latest research from Family Business Review sent directly to your inbox!


 

 Kincy  Madison, Ph.D.Kristen (“Kincy”) Madison is an Assistant Professor of Management in the College of Business at Mississippi State University. She received her PhD in Organizations and Strategy from the University of Tennessee. She has a BS in Management and a MS in Human Resources, both from Auburn University. Kincy’s research interest is family business, with a focus on topics that intersect strategic management and human resources, such as governance, leadership, and competitive advantage.

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Karen L. Vinton, Ph.D., is assistant editor of FBR and a 1999 Barbara Hollander Award winner and Professor Emeritus of Business at the College of Business at Montana State University, where she founded the University’s Family Business Program. An FFI Fellow, she has served on its Board of Directors and chaired the Body of Knowledge committee.