Balancing Profit and People: Corporate Social Responsibility in Business Education

[We’re pleased to welcome authors Shannon Deer of Mays Business School, and Jill Zarestky of Colorado State University. They recently published an article in the Journal of Management Education entitled “Balancing Profit and People: Corporate Social Responsibility in Business Education,” which is currently free to read for a limited time. Below, Deer discusses the research:]

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Together several events and circumstances motivated us to research sustainability education in business schools.

  1. My co-author, Jill, and I have PhDs in Education and Human Resource Development, with an emphasis in adult education. Jill has a background in mathematics and mine is accounting and finance.  Our experience in the PhD program really highlighted for us the lack of attention to issues of social justice in business and STEM disciplines. I could see a strong desire in my business students to make a difference in the world by addressing significant problems. This study, and the associated business solutions to social problems class, were one way for us to give them an outlet for exploring such issues.
  2. Mays Business School just developed a new strategic vision. Our vision statement is advancing the world’s prosperity.  To achieve this vision, we are challenging our students to broaden their focus from primarily profit driven to all three Ps – people, planet, and profit.  In the class studied in this article, students explored profitable ways to address problems we don’t always talk about in business schools – hunger, literacy, and human trafficking.  At Mays, we believe businesses can help fill the gap left by government and nonprofit organizations in solving the big economic, environmental, and social problems facing the world.  We are excited to see our students make an impact in this area in the future.
  3. At the same time, the Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business (AACSB) updated their requirements to require sustainability education in business curriculum. As instructors and researchers, we wanted to make an impact, but we were developing a new course with a paucity of research related to incorporating sustainability into business curriculum.  There are some programs that have done it well for a while, but limited information on how they did it and to what effect.  We wanted to research our process in implementing this curriculum to help others starting this journey.

A happy accident in the research was finding sustainability curriculum is also a great vehicle for teaching critical thinking.  The students chose problems they were motivated to solve – big problems without simple solutions.  The students gained confidence in their ability to solve big problem through exposure to the curriculum.  The course culminated in a case competition. The winning team developed a prototype for a backyard cricket farm using repurposed food barrels.  Families, especially in developing countries, can use the system to produce a quality protein source.  Though unconventional, cricket flour is becoming a popular, healthy alternative to wheat, even the US.  This was an innovative use of existing materials and technology to solve an emerging problem, which demonstrated the critical thinking skills we hoped students would develop.

As scholars, we took away a renewed hope in our students. Despite some faculty who grumble about Millennials, we saw a students who are truly committed to doing the work to help improves the lives of others was really heartening. These rewards are what make teaching worthwhile.

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Refugee Resettlement Volunteers: Committed or Compelled?

map-of-the-world-1005413_1920[We’re pleased to welcome author Kirstie McAllum of the Université de Montréal, Canada (Ph.D, University of Waikato, New Zealand). McAllum recently published an article in Human Relations entitled “Committing to refugee resettlement volunteering: Attaching, detaching, and displacing organizational ties,” which is currently free to read for a limited time. Below McAllum summarizes her research and findings:]

HUm coverBy summer 2015, one in every 122 human beings was a refugee, internally displaced person or asylum seeker. Volunteers play an essential role in helping newly arrived refugees adapt to their new country and local community, but sometimes volunteering can be difficult or disappointing when refugees do not want to be helped or expect volunteers to deliver the help differently. When this happens, volunteers can find staying committed difficult, and they often drop out.

This study focused on how the network of people around refugee resettlement volunteers influenced their involvement: the non-profit organization that recruited and supported them; the refugees they worked with; and their own families, friends, and work colleagues. These ‘others’ made a difference in decisions about committing depending on their presence (they were there for volunteers or they expected volunteers to ‘be there’ for them) or absence (they were not there when volunteers needed them).

Volunteers felt forced to be present at the beginning of their six month placement because of the small number of volunteers and the needs of highly vulnerable families. The organization focused on how volunteers could manage this pressure by creating ‘boundaries’ that would protect them from getting over-involved. Over the course of the placement, volunteers found these boundaries hard to manage. Over-worked and under-funded staff at the non-profit organization were frequently ‘absent’ or unavailable to help volunteers to furnish refugees’ new homes or deal with crises like the arrest of a family member. Their absence pushed volunteers to step in to make sure that refugees received support. Refugees, on the other hand, encouraged volunteers to be continually present. Volunteers were pulled toward the relationship for several reasons: the learning and pleasure involved in the placement; awareness of refugees’ needs; and at times, refugees’ demands that they visit more often, stay longer, or support them in a range of activities, even including driving lessons. Volunteers were only able to maintain their presence when their own family and friends supported them.

After six months, only a few volunteers kept up their relationships with families and the organization, because the organization had been there in difficult moments. Most volunteers stopped volunteering for the organization, but kept in touch with the family. They did not think they needed the organization’s help, since they had managed so far without it, but they felt guilty about stepping back from a rich, rewarding relationship with a family who needed ongoing emotional support or had major problems. A third group of volunteers abandoned the role completely. Guilt didn’t ‘work’ for the last group of volunteers, for whom volunteering had been a highly negative experience: the organization had been absent, their own social networks pressured them to be present elsewhere, and refugees had made too many unreasonable demands on them to be present.

Although the non-profit organization cannot influence the quality of the relationships that volunteers develop with refugees, the findings suggest that having professional staff to help volunteers deal with crises and manage day-to-day boundaries might stop experienced volunteers from dropping out. To do this, this non-profit organization needs to lobby decision-makers for more resources for volunteer support.

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Migration photo attributed to kalhh. (CC)

 

Business Cases for Sustainability – A Stakeholder Theory Perspective

[We’re pleased to welcome authors Stefan Schaltegger and Jacob Hörisch of Leuphana University, Luneburg and Edward Freeman of Darden Business School.  Schaltegger, Hörisch and Freeman recently published an article in Organization & Environment entitled “Business Cases for Sustainability: A Stakeholder Theory Perspective,” which is currently free to read for a limited time. Below, the three authors reflect on the inspiration for conducting this research:]

33048305825_efac4c4770_oWhat motivated you to pursue this research?

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.

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Stages of Corporate Sustainability: Integrating the Strong Sustainability Worldview

[We’re pleased to welcome author Nancy E. Landrum of Loyola University Chicago. Landrum recently published an article in Stages of Corporate Sustainability: Integrating the Strong Sustainability Worldview,” which is currently free to read for a limited time. Below, Landrum reflects on the inspiration for conducting her research and her contribution to the field:]

O&E_72ppiRGB_powerpointI recently read sustainability reports produced by mining companies.  The reports stated the companies were balancing economic, social, and environmental responsibilities, their environmental impact was minimized while their social benefits were maximized, and they were striving to be environmental leaders.  Yet the dictionary describes sustainability as using a resource in a way that it is not depleted or permanently damaged.  I thought it was ironic that mining companies could claim they were operating sustainably since resource depletion is the purpose of mining.

I went back to the literature on the sustainability spectrum which suggests that sustainability is a continuum that ranges from weak to strong sustainability.  It occurred to me that while the mining companies’ activities did not match my understanding of sustainability, there could, in fact, be multiple interpretations of sustainability.  Companies’ activities could be placed along the sustainability spectrum to define whether they were following the principles of weak sustainability, strong sustainability, or somewhere in between.

This lead to the integration of 22 micro- and macro-level models of stages of development in corporate sustainability which were then aligned with the sustainability spectrum.  I found that existing models had numerous stages that aligned with weak sustainability but did not include stages that aligned with strong sustainability.  The integration of existing models and subsequent alignment with the sustainability spectrum resulted in the creation of a new unified model for stages of corporate sustainability that now included strong sustainability.

This new model allows us to see that companies can be at varying points along the sustainability spectrum and reveals multiple interpretations of sustainability.  While mining companies might be at one end of the spectrum, more progressive companies might be further along the spectrum; they are at different stages based upon their differing interpretations of corporate sustainability.  Most importantly, with the inclusion of strong sustainability, this new model expands our view beyond what currently defines corporate sustainability and opens new territory for the pursuit of a more sustainable future.

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Highlights from California Management Review’s Latest Issue

Calicmra_59_2.cover.pngfornia Management Review has served as a bridge of communication between academia and management practice for sixty years. The newest issue of CMR is now online to view, and features articles covering various topics such as managing technology through outsourcing, managing customer relations, and analyzing sustainability in big corporations.

One article in particular, “Decentralization and Localization of Production: The Organizational and Economic Consequences of Additive Manufacturing (3D Printing),” co-authored by Avner Ben-Ner and Enno Siemsen, provides a glimpse into the research behind 3D printing, and how the phenomenon will likely become a local practice faster than you think.  The article is currently free to read for a limited time. Please find the abstract for the article below:

The future organizational landscape may change drastically by mid-century as a result of widespread implementation of 3D printing. This article argues that global will turn local; mega (factories, ships, malls) will become mini; long supply chains will shrink; many jobs will be broadened to combine design, consulting, sales, and production roles; and large organizations will make room for smaller ones. “A once-shuttered warehouse is now a state-of-the art lab where new workers are mastering the 3D printing that has the potential to revolutionize the way we make almost everything.” [President Obama, State of the Union Address, 2013].

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Studying Organization Theory “As If Matter Mattered”

[We’re pleased to welcome Bruno Dyck of University of Manitoba. Bruno recently published an article with co-author Nathan S. Greidanus in Journal of Management Inquiry entitled “Quantum Sustainable Organizing Theory: A Study of Organization Theory as if Matter Mattered.” From Bruno:]

From environmental concerns like climate change to social issues like economic inequality, sustainable development presents this century’s greatest challenges and opportunities for businesses.  Yet, businesses remain trapped by old paradigms and approaches to the business-society-environment interface. To break free of these chains, we start with a simple question: what would a theory of business look like if matter mattered?  In answering this question, we turned to the field that is focused on the fundamental building blocks of all matter, quantum physics.

Do you remember the first time you heard about the unbelievable findings coming Current Issue Coverfrom quantum mechanics? Maybe it was research on entanglement, which shows that two quantum particles (e.g., two electrons) are interconnected in such a way that a change in one will have an instantaneous change in another, even if it is light years away. Or do you remember hearing about the results from the double slit experiments—perhaps the most famous experiment in all of physics—which shows that observing a photon changes it from acting like a wave into acting like a particle (If you want to watch a simple video about this, check out https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DfPeprQ7oGc). Perhaps the most amazing variation of the double slit experiment shows that information is being sent backward in time. It has taken a century, but quantum physics has today become a dominant paradigm in the world of physics, even if we in the social sciences remain “stuck” in a Newtonian space-time box.

As co-authors we were fascinated by quantum research, and were curious about its implications for organization theory, and especially for sustainability. We believe that the ideas of entanglement and indeterminism provide a welcome and necessary framework to develop organizing theory that addresses key socio-ecological issues facing humankind, and which break free from the constraints associated with (Newtonian) notions of separateness, determinism and externalities. Moreover, a quantum perspective, which suggests that matter matters, provides a welcome counterpoint to the problematic fixation on socio-material well-being (e.g., money) that characterizes conventional theorizing.

We were pleasantly surprised by how readily the fundamental principles associated with the quantum world can serve as the basis to develop sustainable organization theory, As the sustainability issues facing humankind grow in urgency, we expect such non-Newtonian thinking to become as dominant in our field as it is in physics, but if this takes a century to happen then it may be too late.

The abstract for the paper:

We draw on quantum physics ideas of “entanglement” and “indeterminism” to introduce and develop “Quantum Sustainable Organizing Theory” (QSOT). Quantum entanglement points to the interconnectedness of matter in ways that defy Newtonian physics and commonsense assumptions that underlay conventional organizing theory. Quantum indeterminism suggests that uncertainty is an inherent feature of reality and not simply a lack of information that impedes rational decision making. Taken together, these quantum ideas challenge the assumptions of conventional organizational theorizing about the boundaries between a firm and its natural and social environment, the importance of self-interested individualism and (sociomaterial) financial measures of performance, the emphasis on competitiveness, and the hallmarks of rational theory and practice. We discuss implications for sustainable organizing in particular and for organization theory more generally.

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Employees and the Environment: Promoting Eco-Friendly Behavior in the Workplace

blue-truck-recycle[We’re pleased to welcome Jennifer Tosti-Kharas of Babson College. Jennifer recently published an article in Organization & Environment with co-authors Eric Lamm and Tom E. Thomas entitled “Organization OR Environment? Disentangling Employees’ Rationales Behind Organizational Citizenship Behavior Toward the Environment.” From Jennifer:]

The origin of this paper came from bridging two different research projects. My co-authors, Tom Thomas and Eric Lamm of SFSU, published a theoretical paper regarding how individuals develop attitudes toward organizational sustainability. Meanwhile, Eric and I have performed research on what motivates employees to perform sustainable behaviors. We look at what we term organizational citizenship behaviors toward the environment ­ OCB-Es for short ­ which are voluntary actions at work that help conserve resources, things like recycling, printing double-sided, etc. This paper joined these two streams of inquiry to examine how the reasons why people think it is important to act sustainably at work relates to their performance of OCB-Es and we tested it empirically.

Most past research on this topic has used a measure of how important people think O&E_Mar_2012_vol26_no1_Cover_Final.inddsustainability is in general, meaning for broad ecological reasons, but never contextualized within a work organization. In the paper we distinguish between believing sustainability is important in and of itself, what we term an ³eco-centric rationale,² and believing it is important as a means to an end, specifically a business end, which we term an ³organization-centric rationale.² We also differentiate employees¹ own rationales about why it is important for their companies to operate sustainably from their perceptions about why their organizations believe it is important. Perhaps the most surprising finding when we surveyed 489 working adults across a wide range of organizations and occupations was that people were more likely to perform OCB-Es when they believed their organizations valued sustainability, regardless of their own personal beliefs about the importance of sustainability. These findings held for both eco-centric and organization-centric rationales. This to us was surprising, as lots of research would lead us to predict that personal values would trump perceived organizational values. Yet, we find the opposite, which suggests that perhaps people perform voluntary sustainability behaviors at work not just because they think it¹s important, but because their company believes it is important. It is worth noting that we included in our OCB-E measure not only simple, everyday tasks, but also ³higher-level² behaviors, like collaborating with other employees or making suggestions to supervisors to increase organizational sustainability.

These findings raise several interesting and timely implications for organizational leaders looking to increase employee sustainability behaviors. Since employee perceptions of organizational rationales for sustainability were so important in motivating OCB-Es, we advise communicating corporate values around sustainability and resource conservation as clearly as possible. By contrast, trying to screen employees for pro-environmental values seemed to be less important in a company that clearly communicated these values, since even employees who didn¹t buy in on their own behaved more sustainably when they believed their employers cared about the environment.

The abstract for the article:

Scholars and managers have raised the question of how to encourage employees to perform discretionary pro-environmental behaviors at work, termed organizational citizenship behaviors toward the environment (OCB-Es). This study examined how rationales for organizational sustainability relate to employees’ OCB-Es. We considered two rationales—eco-centric and organization-centric—and two sources—employees’ rationales and their perceptions of their employers’ rationales. Results from 489 working adults across a variety of organizations and occupations revealed that both eco-centric and organization-centric rationales at both individual and perceived organizational levels related to employees’ OCB-Es. Furthermore, we found interactive effects, such that employees’ perceptions of their organizations’ rationales were more important than their own rationales in determining OCB-Es. These findings contribute to a theoretical understanding of the complex and interrelated factors motivating employees to perform voluntary sustainability behaviors in organizations. In addition, our results are valuable for managers looking to increase employee sustainability behaviors.

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*Truck image attributed to MIKI Yoshihito (CC)