Institutional-Political Scenarios for Anthropocene Society

[We’re pleased to welcome authors Andrew J. Hoffman of the University of Michigan and P. Devereaux Jennings of University of Alberta. They recently published an article in Business & Society entitled “Institutional-Political Scenarios for Anthropocene Society,” which is currently free to read for a limited time. Below, they reflect on the impact and innovations of this research:]

We have been motivated to write about possible futures in Anthropocene Society because of our dire realization that humankind has entered a new period (the Anthropocene), one where environmental shifts may overwhelm our civilizing efforts on this planet. To us and many in the academic community, it is clear that humans are a key source of this shift and that focusing on just climate change is insufficient for capturing the pervasive and deep change effects manifest in biodiversity decreases, habitat loss, and rising ambient pollution. The Anthropocene is a completely new context for research on organizations and the natural environment.

Given the scope of this fundamental shift in the role of humans in the natural environment, our social reality will experience a concurrent shift in one way or another. We can be fatalistic about such a dark future, or accept our responsibility of re-choreographing it. As Stephen Jay Gould sardonically quipped, 

“we have become, by a glorious evolutionary accident called intelligence, the stewards of life’s continuity on earth. We did not ask for this role, but we cannot abjure it. We may not be suited to it, but here we are.”

In our article (and related book), we have tried to ask “what will Anthropocene Society look like if we do – or do not – respond?” We use an institutional lens to answer this question and derive four different scenarios for Anthropocene Society’s future: collapsing systems, market rules, technological fix, and cultural re-enlightenment. In each, we see a very different cultural and political reality in organizational fields and logics, our units of analysis. Who has voice in articulating our challenges and potential solutions, and what values or “logics” do these people and groups bring to bear for explaining our changing biophysical reality?

Fields may become chaotic and poorly coordinated by institutions, with inequities growing rapidly, or there may be efforts to stabilize certain domains (key markets, such as stock markets or commodity exchanges) or to employ engineering solutions to certain areas (like flooding in Florida or geo-engineering the atmosphere). However, ideally, a more mindful approach to change and adaptation would be taken, one based on re-oriented values that embrace principles of more thoughtful and limited consumption, better distribution, and the creation of more culturally enriched communities.

The tensions that we see in the Anthropocene and the organizations in Anthropocene Society are ones that we wrestle with in our research. Individually and jointly, we oscillate between more dystopian and utopian visions of the future; we have documented more skeptical and more progressive actions in climate change fields; we have read the tea leaves of climate events and have seen more mishaps and community hardship, but we also see fantastic efforts of survival and solidarity. Humans certainly have the capacity to respond to these unprecedented challenges, as we did with reversing ozone depletion. But future adaptations will depend on institutional and cultural processes.

Our exploration, in turn, offers us an opportunity to reexamine some basic tenets of institutional theory, thereby bringing them more closely in line with our changing bio-physical reality. And in the final analysis, our examination seeks to answer Max Weber’s call to bridge the philosophical divide between physical science and social science – e.g., between Naturwissenshaten and Kulturwissenshaften – where nature is understood through the cultural lens of society, not separate from it.

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Academic Gerrymandering; the Redistricting of Academic Work for Managerial Benefit

[We’re pleased to welcome author, Dr. Kathy Lund Dean of Gustavus Adolphus College. She recently published an article in the Journal of Management Inquiry entitled “Academic Gerrymandering? Expansion and Expressions of Academic Work” which is currently free to read for a limited time. Below, Dr. Dean reflects on this article:]


I am thrilled that “Academic gerrymandering? Expansion and expressions of academic work” will be published and hope it spurs conversations within the vision of the Generative Curiosity section. The article explores how traditional professors’ jobs are blurring the bright lines between faculty and administrative work. The main concept and title of the article mirror my dismay over the U.S. Supreme Court-level conflicts about electoral district gerrymandering, or how political parties remake electoral district boundaries for their own gains, circumventing fair election processes and citizen voice in favor of getting their candidate into office.

“Blended’ academic roles, or, new faculty roles that combine traditional faculty work with administrative responsibilities, are increasingly common. While some faculty are jobcrafting their work into blended roles—re-defining work responsibilities and creating customized jobs that speak to strengths, interests, passions, and desires to learn new things—others are living out blended roles that are demotivating and draining. In my article, I model how blended academic roles might be experienced—a range from liberating and energizing to exploitative and dispiriting. Where these new work roles fall in the model depends on two factors: faculty agency, or, whether faculty retain real power in selecting work parameters, and institutional instrumentality, or, whether institutions direct faculty energy toward their own agendas and goals. “Academic gerrymandering” is my biggest worry for this new form of work; gerrymandering occurs when institutions actively “redistrict” faculty roles, moving administrative responsibilities that it needs accomplished into a faculty role without commensurately removing other responsibilities, and/or circumventing that faculty member’s needs or input.

The good news is that blended faculty work can be inspiring, challenging, and directed toward learning new skills and testing out new abilities. I call that “positional dexterity,” when faculty have lots of control over their work parameters and the institution helps that faculty member be successful. My inspiration for writing the article came from living out my own blended faculty role, complete with its agency struggles, ambiguous boundaries, political challenges, as well as its opportunity, creativity and energy. I was also inspired to explore these new roles by observing colleagues in blended roles whose experiences have not been positive, and whose institutions have been, in my opinion, quite opportunistic in how administrative work is being parsed out and completed.

I recommend that faculty be alert to how their jobs are changing, and how jobcrafted work can result in synergy between faculty and administrative responsibilities when voice and agency are retained. Taking ownership over job boundaries can mean the difference between gerrymandered work roles and joyful, innovative ones. In my experience, there are many other responses to administrative ‘demands’ than simply saying ‘yes’ or ‘no’ and faculty may be in a unique position to partner with administration and find roles that fuse both institutional needs with faculty interests. What’s clear, however, is that the need to consider job ‘districting’ in new ways is getting much more important than ever before.

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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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Read Organization and Environment’s Special Issue for Free!

challenges-1221258-mCan institutional theorists constitute a society to better the relationship between organizations and the natural environment? What is the current state of the research on carbon disclosure? How have researchers addressed the tensions inherent in corporate sustainability? These topics and more are explored in Organization and Environment‘s Special Issue entitled “Review of the Literature on Organizations and Natural Environment: From the Past to the Future.”

Stephanie Bertels and Frances Bowen collaborated on the introduction to the Special Issue:

In summer 2015, the Organizations and the Natural Environment Division of the Academy of Management will celebrate the 20th anniversary of its first formal oae coverconference program back in 1995. Over the past two decades, a vibrant and engaged scholarly community has generated thousands of empirical and conceptual studies on the complex relationships between organizations and their natural and social environments. Each individual study focuses on specific research questions crafted to meet the rigorous requirements of academic journals. However, too often our journal publishing and professional norms push us to focus on small, incremental contributions to knowledge. Anniversaries can remind us to pause, take stock, and build on the past to shape a new future. The Organization & Environment (O&E) editorial board decided to provide a venue for this anniversary celebration: a special issue where as a community of scholars we can reflect on where we have been, what we have learned, and what remains to be understood to both further our field and help society address pressing environmental challenges.

In this first review issue of O&E, we hoped to draw insight and inspiration from in-depth reviews of specific topics. Our call for articles invited authors to reflect on the state of theory, empirical research, and practice in relation to key questions at the interface of organizations and the natural environment. We sought out comprehensive and analytical reviews of recent research that synthesized, integrated, and extended our thinking. We encouraged authors to anchor their thoughts in detailed retrospection on past and current research, and to identify the key theoretical, empirical, methodological, or practical challenges of future O&E research. There was an enthusiastic response from the community of scholars and in the end, we have assembled a group of six articles. Each offers a stand-alone review of a particular phenomenon within the O&E domain. Together they showcase the wide range of scholarship addressing topics ranging from the macro to the micro foundations of our field.

You can read Organization and Environment‘s Special Issue for free for the next 30 days! Click here to access the Table of Contents. Want to know when all the latest research like this becomes available from Organization and Environment? Click here to sign up for e-alerts!

What Drives Entrepreneurial Commitment?


“Not all the ventures that entrepreneurs
start culminate in success.”
photo credit: (cc)

Socially responsible businesses in emerging fields such as energy efficiency and renewable energy have great potential, but can be fraught with uncertainty. New research by Alfred A. Marcus of the University of Minnesota and Marc H. Anderson of Iowa State University finds what drives entrepreneurs’ continuing commitment in such fields:

BAS_v50_72ppiRGB_150pixWThe authors propose that when such a field is constrained by such factors as low energy prices and a lack of government support, the actions that entrepreneurs take to educate stakeholders drives the entrepreneurs’ continuing commitment to the field. These actions are supported by the entrepreneurs’ perceptions of the field’s attractiveness, their beliefs that they produce superior products and services, and their beliefs regarding the likelihood of disruptive exogeneous change.

Click here to read the article, “Commitment to an Emerging Organizational Field: An Enactment Theory,” published in the latest issue of Business & Society

Super Bowls, Super Storms, and the Olympics: How They Affect Cities and Corporations

Editor’s note: We are pleased to welcome András Tilcsik of the University of Toronto and Christopher Marquis of Harvard University, whose article “Punctuated Generosity: How Mega-events and Natural Disasters Affect Corporate Philanthropy in U.S. Communities” was published in the March 2013 issue of Administrative Science Quarterly.

When Los Angeles hosted the Olympic Games in 1984, the level of charitable contributions by locally based corporations increased dramatically and stayed at an unusually high level for over half a decade. When a city hosts the Super Bowl, associated events like fundraising breakfasts and charity golf events support a range of local nonprofit causes, and locally headquartered corporations tend to play a key role in such initiatives. And when a natural disaster strikes a city, local firms often contribute substantially to the rebuilding of the local community and its nonprofit sector—unless they themselves are also devastated by the disaster.

UntitledMuch research has shown that despite increasing globalization, longstanding characteristics of geographic communities (such as their persistent traditions, norms, and networks of relationships) have a powerful enduring influence on organizations. There is increasing evidence that, even in this era of globalization, knowing where a firm is headquartered remains key to understanding its strategy, governance, innovation, corporate social practices, and various other outcomes and activities. This is an important paradox of our time, and researchers have made great headway in understanding it.

54049_ASQ_v54n1_72ppiRGB_150pixWBut considering examples like those above suggested to us that a key mechanism by which communities matter was missing from the picture: the impact of major local events that shake up the life of communities—and of the locally headquartered organizations. For example, whether a firm is headquartered in Atlanta, New Orleans, or Detroit matters not only because of the enduring differences between these cities but also because these cities were the sites of major one-time events, such as Hurricane Katrina or the 1996 Summer Olympics. Geographic location matters because it determines whether and when organizations experience such large-scale (and sometimes destabilizing) events.

We studied this in the context of corporate philanthropy because corporate giving is a very locally focused activity even among large firms, which presents an intriguing question: What happens to the philanthropic giving of locally headquartered firms when a major event disrupts the life of a geographic community, such as a metropolitan area?  We studied the impact of both planned mega-events (like the Olympics, the Super Bowl, or political conventions) and destructive natural disasters (like hurricanes, earthquakes, and floods).

While prior research suggests philanthropic contributions are fairly stable over time, we found that both mega-events and disasters led to dramatic fluctuations in the charitable giving of locally headquartered firms. Mega-events generally had a positive impact, and in some cases, this effect began in anticipation of a mega-event and continued for several years even after the event. During such periods, local nonprofits saw a marked rise in the charitable contributions they received. Over time, however, the effects of even the most powerful mega-events tapered off. The impact of natural disasters was more complex and depended on their magnitude: while the most destructive disasters depressed charitable giving, smaller-scale disasters stimulated it. We also found that some of the event effects were especially strong in cities with a cohesive local business community and among firms with a prior history of generosity. These findings are consistent with our larger theoretical framework, which suggests that major local events matter by influencing both normative expectations and community networks that underlie corporate philanthropy.

We hope that our work will inspire further research on the impact of local events on organizations and, more broadly, on the persistence of local influences in an age of globalization. This research also has implications for important public issues. There is an intensive urban policy debate about the impact of hosting mega-events in cities; this study provides new evidence relevant to that debate. Likewise, in the wake of major disasters like Hurricane Katrina and Hurricane Sandy, scholars, policymakers, and the public are still looking to understand the full social and economic impact of these devastating events. This study provides direct evidence about a previously understudied aspect of such events, exploring their effects on corporate charitable donations and the health of the local nonprofit sector.

Click here to read the article, “Punctuated Generosity: How Mega-events and Natural Disasters Affect Corporate Philanthropy in U.S. Communities,” in Administrative Science Quarterly.

András Tilcsik is an assistant professor of strategic management at the Rotman School of Management. His current research focuses on the institutional context of organizational decisions, with a particular emphasis on decisions about financial resource allocation and employment practices. He received his Ph.D. in organizational behavior from Harvard University.

Christopher Marquis is an associate professor in the Organizational Behavior Unit at the Harvard Business School. His current research focus is the sustainability and corporate social responsibility strategies of global corporations, with a particular emphasis on firms in China. He received his Ph.D. in sociology and organizational behavior from the University of Michigan.


Regulatory Roulette: Ladies and Gentlemen, Please Place Your Bets…

Editor’s note: We are pleased to welcome Kim Soin of the University of Exeter in the U.K. and Christian Huber of Helmut-Schmidt-University in Germany, whose article “The Sedimentation of an Institution: Changing Governance in U.K. Financial Services” is forthcoming in the Journal of Management Inquiry and now available in the journal’s OnlineFirst section.

Regulation matters, and failures of regulation, have serious consequences. Post financial crisis – and faced with the tricky situation that the UK banks are now seen as ‘too big to fail’ – there is a new urgency in re-thinking how banks should be regulated. There is no doubt that re-building public trust and reputation in the financial system presents a serious challenge to policy makers. Is the solution to regulatory failure more of the same, as the current response seems to suggest and despite the abolition of the Financial Services Authority? Or, should we be thinking about other forms of regulation?

UntitledHow did we get to the situation where certain styles of regulation seem to be part of the problem – and yet more of the same regulation is being posed as the solution? Or, to put it another way: how did different forms of regulation – usually perceived as failing – become ‘taken-for-granted’ solutions to the various problems of the UK banks? Our research suggests that ‘new’ forms of regulation rely much more on their (failed) predecessors than regulators might like to think.

‘Big Bang’, or the deregulation of the UK financial services sector in 1986, was the first comprehensive attempt to create a unified system of regulation within the UK financial sector. Promoted by a neo-liberalist ideology led by ‘Thatcherism’ in the UK, and ‘Reagonomics’ in the US, the regulatory ethos was one of non-intervention and a conviction that free market forces, healthy competition and self-regulation would provide effective regulation. Big Bang generated a framework of regulation that was, and is to this day, in a continuous state of development and modification. Since then, we have witnessed a cycle of failing regulation, deregulation and re-regulation – encompassing self-regulation, State regulation, market-based regulation and risk-based regulation – none of which have provided the solution of how best to regulate the banks. We have seen scandal after scandal, ranging from the pensions scandal in the late 1980s through to PPI mis-selling, the global financial crisis, and the LIBOR rate fixing scandal – amongst many others. Is anyone else dizzy yet?

JMI_72ppiRGB_150pixwBy tracing the development of UK financial regulation between 1986 and 2011 in the field of retail financial services in the UK, we identify four phases of regulation. Each phase is characterised by the (co)existence of four competing approaches to regulation: the profession-based, the State-based, the market-based as well as the market – and risk-based approach – but in each phase one prevails. We show how advocates of the different regulatory approaches (the profession, the State and the market) engaged in fierce competition fuelled by various scandals and explain how these failing approaches have led to taken-for-granted, State-led financial regulation in its current form.

Our findings identify four catalysts that contribute to the taken-for-granted nature of financial regulation: The evocation of neo-liberal ideologies, the appropriation of scandals, the growing number of stakeholders and the increasing organization of stakeholders. We argue that these four catalysts contributed to a form of institutionalization that can best be described by the metaphor of sedimentation – the layering of one regulatory approach upon the other, which ultimately led to the taken-for-granted nature of financial regulation.

What can policy makers and regulators take from this? First, it appears that there are no alternatives to financial services regulation: the concept of financial regulation is seen as an inevitable way to organize the financial services sector. The big question however, is still the same: what type of regulation should be implemented? Second, the days of ‘gentlemanly capitalism’ are dead: recent, and past events have shown that the profession is no longer trusted to self-regulate and the State has become a central actor in this process. Third, even when regulatory approaches (be it the profession, State or market) seemingly become obsolete, they leave behind a sediment that must be taken into consideration: regulators promoting new financial regulations need to be wary of the taken-for-granted legacy of prior approaches. Finally, a web of organizations is seen as necessary for effective financial regulation.

Untitled2A number of questions remain: Is it enough to focus on preventing the failures of the past repeating themselves, or do we need to think about how to avoid the failures that might emerge in the future? During the last twenty-five years we have witnessed the failure of each form of regulation (the profession, the State and the market). The proposed solution is yet more regulation of the ‘interventionist’ kind, the abolition of the FSA, the creation of two new regulators and a crack down on commission based reward structures. Sound familiar?

But why don’t we look to other sectors for solutions: professionalizing the industry  – similar to doctors and lawyers? Or introducing soft regulations – like the new BSI governance standard, guidelines and codes of good practice? What about the role of compliance cultures – the values and beliefs about the purpose and significance of regulation? Can good compliance be good business? How can the regulator promote this? Similarly, a new vision for managing compliance risk is required.

Regulation matters. It matters in the sense of being vital to building an effective and accountable financial environment. Serious thought needs to be given to the role of banks in society – so that banks (and regulators) can re-build public confidence, trust and reputation. As we enter a new era of financial regulation, surely it is time for some lateral and creative thinking? After all, the banks have been doing it for years.

Read “The Sedimentation of an Institution: Changing Governance in U.K. Financial Services” in the Journal of Management Inquiry.