Listening to the Heart or the Head? Exploring the “Willingness Versus Ability” Succession Dilemma

[We’re pleased to welcome authors Melanie Richards of University of Bath, Nadine Kammerlander of WHU–Otto Beisheim School of Management, and Thomas Zellweger of the University of St. Gallen. They recently published an article in the Family Business Review entitled “Listening to the Heart or the Head? Exploring the “Willingness Versus Ability” Succession Dilemma,” which is currently free to read for a limited time. Below, they reflect on the influences and possible impact of this research:]

What motivated you to pursue this research?

When talking to entrepreneurs, we increasingly realized that finding a willing and able successor from the family was often a challenge. Often, the incumbents reported about very capable children who were, however, not willing to take over the business but wanted to start a different career. In other cases the successors showed willingness, but lacked the ability, according to their parents. Thus, we started to wonder whether willingness or ability was more important to the incumbents.

Were there any specific external events—political, social, or economic—that influenced your decision to pursue this research?

In the year 2019, succession is generally not considered a “hot topic” – neither in academia nor in the public press. Yet it is of utmost relevance. Each year, tenthousands of small- and medium-sized (family) business are up for succession in Germany and Switzerland only. Those businesses are the backbone of our economy, they provide a large number of job positions and trainee jobs. Hence, keeping them up and alive should be of interest not only for incumbents, but also for politicians and basically everyone interested in the continued prosperity of the economy. As such, I find it particularly important to understand how successor decisions and succession decisions are made. I hope that our study on successor preferences makes it clear that there are many important research gaps left in the field of succession and that they are worth being closed.

In what ways is your research innovative, and how do you think it will impact the field?

In this study, we provided a scenario – or case vignette – to the respondents of our study. That is, we describe a specific retirement situation and availability of succession candidates to them and ask them whom they would choose. Such survey based “policy capturing” has several advantages over traditional, questionnaire-based research asking for past successions or asking for intentions. The big advantage is that we can really learn about preferences here, which are undistorted by the specific situation of the entrepreneur. Thus, they help us to build up a better conceptualization and theorizing of how the entrepreneurs make sense and decide.

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Talent Management in the Public Sector: How to Explain Different Approaches?

education-1580143_1920 (1)[We’re pleased to welcome author Dr. Marian Thunnissen of Fontys University of Applied Sciences. Dr. Thunnissen recently published an article in Public Personnel Management entitled “Talent Management in Public Sector Organizations: A Study on the Impact of Contextual Factors on the TM Approach in Flemish and Dutch Public Sector Organizations,” which is currently free to read for a limited time. Below, Dr. Thunnissen recounts how her research began and developed.]

PPM_C1 template_rev.inddDorien and I were each working on a study on talent management (TM) in the public sector. While we met each other several time at academic conferences we were intrigued by the differences in the TM approached adopted by the public sector organizations under study. What could explain that the public sector organizations in the Dutch study all aimed for an exclusive and performance oriented talent approach, while the Flemish governmental entities opted for an inclusive approach? This interesting phenomenon was for us the starting point to compare our data and to explore what characteristics of the external and internal context could explain the differences.

While analyzing the data we realized that using theory on institutional mechanisms was insufficient to explain what happened and we decided to include institutional logics in our conceptual model. The data indeed shows that multiple factors in the organizational context affect the intended TM strategy. Market pressures resulting from the external labor market (and the position as an employer on that market) and budgetary constraints, as well as institutional pressures have an effect as well. Moreover, we found that ‘attributes’ of the organization filter the institutional mechanism. In our study the composition of the workforce combined with internal economy measures can be an explanation for choosing a specific TM approach. But most of all organizational culture seems to be crucial (e.g., Stahl et al., 2012; Kontoghiorghes, 2016). Yet, we have seen that the influence of organizational culture cannot be separated from the logics adopted by the actors in the dominant coalition. Moreover, the research also indicates that the origins of the key employees – being public service works or classic professionals such as the academics – has an significant impact on organizational culture and the logics dominant in the organization (Greenwood et al, 2011; Thornton et al., 2005). This is an important theoretical contribution of the paper. The impact of belief systems has been mentioned by Meyers and Van Woerkom (2014) and Nijs et al. (2013) but not yet studied in empirical TM research. Nonetheless, the data points out that the mechanisms, actors and logics are entangled and not easy to separate.

All in all, the data supports our statement that TM is not an instrumental, rational and independent process. Although key actors in the dominant coalition take notice of the contextual factors, TM also proves to be an intuitive and micro-political process. Therefore, our comparison highlights the importance of an institutional and organizational fit, but in particular the significance of a consistent ‘talent mindset’ embedded in organizational culture and leadership style (also see Stahl et al., 2012; Kontoghiorghes, 2016). We think that it is necessary for HR and managers in practice to show consideration for the potential impact of ‘tangible’ mechanisms such as labor market pressures and economy measures, but also to be more aware of the influence of personal beliefs and logics regarding talent and how to deal with those mechanisms and logics in the decision process.

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Quattrone (2015). Governing Social Orders, Unfolding Rationality, and Jesuit Accounting Practices: A Procedural Approach to Institutional Logics

Republished with permission. The original post was published on the ASQ Blog.

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Authors:
Paolo Quattrone – University of Edinburgh Business School

Interviewers:
Federica Foce Massa Saluzzo – Universita´di Bologna
Daniela Iubatti – IESE Business School

Article link: http://asq.sagepub.com/content/60/3/411

Question 1. An eye-opening element of your paper is the discussion on the procedural approach to logics in which you suggest that scholars should develop methodologies that allow them to explain what “cannot be framed”. In the case of the Jesuits what cannot be framed is God, or more generally social order. What would the “unframed” be in the modern corporation and who are the agents enacting the practices of the progressively updating logic?

Many things are unframed in the modern and corporate world; a ‘value’ to begin ASQ_v60n3_Sept2015_cover.inddwith. It is increasingly clear that we live in dissonant orders of worth (I refer to the work of David Stark, Boltanki and Thévenot and some work I am doing with Roger Friedland) and a ‘value’ cannot be reduced to shareholder’s values anymore. Enlarging the realms of the measurable (for example, from the ‘economic’ to the ‘environmental’ and the ‘social’) is not the solution in my view. Interrogating what cannot be framed, values in this case, and mediate amongst views, which are impossible to align anyhow, is a possible way forward to regain sanity in the financial word. Other ‘unframable’ categories are uncertainty, risk, volatility, complexity; but those are more immediate and obvious, although the approach to those tends to presuppose that these categories can be framed and do not overflow (as Michel Callon would say). I am currently doing some work on managing major programs (such as mega infrastructure projects). They are interesting sites to explore this impossibility of framing: the risks, the unknowns are everywhere and cannot be reduced.

You also ask about the agents of the updating logics. They are many as well. Technology, if we give agency to material objects, as Bruno Latour and Wanda Orlikowski would do, is surely one of these agents. As much as a medieval book, technologies of representation are increasingly affecting the way in which we imagine the future, our identities and rituals of interaction and social order. Nothing new here, but what is new is to think of technologies as procedures themselves which create spaces of engagement, exploration and mediation which constitute the fabric of institutional logics change.

Question 2. Your work provides alternative lenses to look at the relationship between rationality and techniques of representation, in the specific case of accounting. In the paper you suggest that today, accounting requires less reflection and inventio, having become a taken-for-granted institution. If you were to study rationality through contemporary accounting what would you expect to observe?

If I were to observe rationality through the narrow lenses of what accounting has become (at least in some mainstream departments of accounting of a university completely detached from the world of practice), I would see very little. Contemporary accounting glasses promise transparency but their lenses are opaque. The result is that a search for transparency makes us blind to what being ‘rational’ may mean in different spatial-temporal contexts. There is lot to be done in order to transform these lenses in prisms that are able to show multifaceted worlds. And, interestingly enough, in organization studies, very little attention is given to systems of representation, not to mention to accounting, although accounting is one of the most pervasive technology of calculation of the modern corporate world.

Question 3. Many studies test their theories on contemporary empirical contexts, while few do so analyzing specific contexts from the past. How did you choose this empirical context and how would you generalize your study in different contexts? What would you advice to students willing to follow your example and analyze historical data?

An articulated question that I’ll try to answer in sequence. How did I choose? It happened by chance, of course! Often one becomes interested in research sites and topics because of serendipitous encounters. My case was not different. It dates back to my PhD (a long time ago) in Palermo, my hometown in Italy. My supervisor, who loves history, asked me to look at the accounting books kept at the State Archive of Palermo. I naively thought this was going to be one of the most boring things on earth. It was instead the beginning of a very exciting journey of discovering, which is still ongoing. The paper in ASQ is just the last stop of this journey.

You ask me about generalization. I am not a historian (by no means I can claim I am) and therefore my primary interest in the evidence is theoretical not empirical. So I aim try to generalize in every work I do (also because being Italian we love abstraction and we tend to think, wrongly, that the empirical world cannot surprise us). How can we generalize from particular and unfamiliar cases? By linking them to general and familiar theoretical debates to de-familiarize us from them. This is, I think, what the paper does in relation to institutional logics. I think it always more difficult to look at the normal in a different way than to look at what differs from the norm. Accounting is a very ‘normal’ (and normalized) practice. It becomes interesting only if we look at it in a different way. History, in that sense, helps, as it is a form of ethnography that leads us not only to a different space (the Jesuit Order in my case) but also a different time.

Now the advice. Not sure I am the right person to give advice on whether historical work is worth exploring. I am too biased towards a yes! But think of how relatively ‘easy’ access is when doing historical works: the sources are there waiting to be discovered. They do not escape! But here is also where the easy part ends. Historical work, as much and possibly more than field studies, requires a long process of familiarization with these sources, especially if we go back a long time (I still remember the difficulties I had in understanding handwriting, abbreviations, notations, old Sicilian texts, archaic forms of accounting records, just to name but a few of these difficulties). The issue is also that the sources always change meaning. For me this happened often when I went back to them in the various iterations of the research process. Every time I knew something more about religious, cultural and economic contexts and practices and this made me see in the apparently ‘out there’ archival sources something new. This is possibly the most fascinating aspect I recall from the research, the moment of establishing a connection, for example, between ratio, rationality, accounting and late medieval practices of rhetoric and art of memory is something that has changed not only the way in which I looked at those sources but also how I now conceive of accounting as a contemporary practice. The rewards are huge if one is prepared to link, connect and explore primary and secondary sources in ways that are novel. Another aspect of going to the archive that is worth mentioning? One of the most relaxing things I have done in my life! Archives are interesting and relaxing spaces.

Question 4. The procedural nature of the Jesuits’ logics suggests a drastically different approach to institutional logics. Nevertheless Jesuits are a closed community that diligently and profoundly applies the procedures demanded within the college. In contemporary firms, community spirit and self-reflection are generally considered as less fundamental. How do you think that this contemporary lack of reflection relates to scholars’ understanding of institutional logics? More specifically, do you think that the common lack of reflection in the typical contemporary organization has brought scholars to observe the more substantialist rather than the procedural side of logics?

Are you sure the Jesuits were closed and the contemporary lack a community spirit (I would agree on the lack of reflection)? Let me respond with an anecdote. Once, when I was at Christ Church at Oxford, I organized a series of meetings on religion, institutions and practices. Participants disagreed on many things but we all agreed that nowadays there is more religion in business schools than in the Church and more business in the Church than in business schools! This is also what Michel Antebi suggests with his ethnography of Harvard Business School: the not said points towards the mystery of manufacturing morals and the belief in to a common spirit at Harvard.

This point also relates to the other things you ask. Some of the current literature on institutional logics takes such logics almost for granted: logics are not mysterious anymore. One can observe them in hospitals, markets, in the profession. The risk is to make them less interesting and powerful as heuristic devices. And once one has lost the mystery, what is left is only the material. Imagination, vision, feelings, emotions, and symbols are gone. This is possibly also why capitalism is so material: if one believes that everything can be reduced to a number, to a transaction, to money then the material is the only think one can think of. This applies to researchers as well; especially those who seek to operationalize statistically variables that cannot be reduced to a statistical issue. In Hebrew, the word ‘God’ cannot even be pronounced, otherwise mystery is lost. Uttering ‘God’ would be the “end of the world” (to quote Alessandro Baricco or to refer to Giorgio Agamben’s The Kingdom and the Glory).

Question 5. The search for what cannot be categorically framed, “the unsaid”, is fundamental for scholars wishing to understand the dynamics involving institutional logics. Yet, for the logic update to occur a certain disposition is crucial. What do you think is the role of disposition of the agents both in your paper and more broadly in the debate on institutional logics?

This is a difficult question to answer, as my reply could smell of ‘ontological gerrymandering’. The first reaction would be: Of course dispositions matters! But would not that be a substantive answer? A possible way out is that if we interpret a disposition as a way of looking at the world (and thus in procedural terms) there is hope for not falling back into the trap of a positivist view of this disposition. In other words, I could be disposed towards the ‘other’ and what differs or not. The latter is dangerous and would make research a technical exercise of finding what we already know in a supposedly out there world; the former makes of research a journey of exploration into unchartered territory. So my question to you and the readers is: are you technicians or explorers? Both are useful but the latter is much more fun!

Administrative Science Quarterly June Issue Now Online!

????????????????????????????Volume 58, No. 2 (June 2013) of Administrative Science Quarterly is now available online. We hope you will find this issue insightful and thought-provoking. You can view the Table of Contents here.

The lead article, “Logics in Action: Managing Institutional Complexity in a Drug Court” was published by Chad Michael McPherson and Michael Sauder, both of the University of Iowa. From the abstract:

Drawing on a 15-month ethnographic study of a drug court, we investigate how actors from different institutional and professional backgrounds employ logical frameworks in their micro-level interactions and thus how logics affect day-to-day organizational activity. While institutional theory presumes that professionals closely adhere to the logics of their professional groups, we find that actors exercise a great deal of agency in their everyday use of logics, both in terms of which logics they adopt and for what purpose.

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CSR: Institutional Models

Bjørn-Tore Blindheim of the University of Stavanger published “Institutional Models of Corporate Social
Responsibility: A Proposed Refinement of the Explicit-Implicit Framework” on May 23, 2012 in Business & Society. To see other OnlineFirst articles, please click here.

The abstract:

Matten and Moon studied cross-national variations in corporate social responsibility (CSR) forms using an explicit-implicit framework. This article proposes a development and refinement of the explicit-implicit framework to account for, first, intranational variations of CSR, and, second, the role of individual managers in the actual process of developing CSR constructs within a given country. The specific national, institutional context, such as Norway, within which managers construct personal meaning for CSR, is ambiguous and possesses both different and potentially conflicting institutional logics of the role and responsibility of business in a given society. The author suggests that explicit and implicit models of CSR differ in two key respects. One difference concerns whether corporate or collective responsibility mechanisms should be used to address social issues. The other difference concerns whether the scope of issues to which the corporate entity is expected to attend should be broad or narrow. The author proposes four institutional models of CSR that combine the explicit-implicit distinction with these two differences: Explicit Expansionist CSR, Implicit Contractive CSR, Implicit Expansionist CSR, and Explicit Contractive CSR. Focus group interviews with Norwegian managers empirically illuminate these models and the micro-level individual construction of variable meanings for CSR within a national, institutional context.

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