[We’re pleased to welcome authors Violina P. Rindova of the University of Southern California, Luis L. Martins, Santosh B. Srinivas of the University of Texas at Austin, and David Chandler of the University of Colorado Denver. They recently published an article in the Journal of Management entitled “The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly of Organizational Rankings: A Multidisciplinary Review of the Literature and Directions for Future,” which is currently free to read for a limited time. Below, they discuss their motivations and findings:]
What motivated you to pursue this research?
In recent years, pressures on organizations for greater accountability, to a wider range of stakeholders, have increased. One of the most salient examples of this new culture of accountability is organizational rankings, such as rankings of best business schools, and best places to work. However, while rankings have grown in prevalence and popularity, and in spite of growing attention from scholars, there is much that we still do not know about how they are produced and, subsequently, consumed. This is particularly so in management research, where there is great interest in related constructs, such as reputation and status, but where a major review of the literature to identify exactly where we stand, and in what directions we need to conduct future research, remains notable by its absence. This paper is intended to fill this gap in the literature.
In what ways is your research innovative, and how do you think it will impact the field?
Our review is unique in that it takes a multi-disciplinary view of rankings. Rankings have been researched in many disciplines that do not often talk to each other, leading to a fragmentary understanding of the phenomenon. Our analysis of published work in the fields of management, sociology (including social, political, and cultural anthropology), education, and law reveals that research into rankings can be characterized by three perspectives: (i) rankings as forms of information intermediation, whereby they make information about organizations available, accessible, and comprehensible to stakeholders; (ii) comparative orderings, in that they confer reputation and/or status to organizations, thereby affecting resource exchanges; and (iii) means for surveillance and control, in that they serve a political purpose and impose a discipline on organizations. For each of these perspectives we identify core contributions, as well as additional questions that extend the current body of research. In addition to identifying potential avenues for future research within the existing three dominant perspectives, we also identify a new perspective: rankings entrepreneurship. This additional perspective has been largely overlooked to date, but promises exciting new avenues for investigating the motivations and characteristics of the actors who produce rankings, how they position and market their rankings, and how they influence stakeholders to grant their rankings legitimacy. Our comprehensive review of the literature on rankings across multiple disciplines provides researchers with a good starting point to quickly get a sense for the received knowledge on the topic, and our suggestions for future research provide guidance on where additional research could address important unanswered questions about rankings.
What did not make it into your published manuscript that you would like to share with us?
As a supplement to our paper, we present the detailed listing of all the relevant papers we identified in an online appendix. This appendix collects and orders these papers in a coherent table, as well as presents the complete reference list, which we were unable to fit into our published paper. We hope the comprehensive nature of our review will be informative to our colleagues, as well as encourage future research into this ever-important area of organization theory. The online appendix, along with our published article, should be very useful to doctoral students preparing for comprehensive exams and for scholars interested in entering this field of inquiry.
What advice would you give to new scholars and incoming researchers in this particular field of study?
Our examination of the literature across multiple disciplines identified some core theoretical foundations that can be used to build coherence within this area of research, but also a large proliferation of work that does not build well on existing research. We believe that our collective understanding of the phenomenon will be advanced in a more systematic fashion if researchers entering the field are cognizant of the multitude of lenses through which the phenomena of rankings can be understood, and clearly build on existing theoretical foundations. Importantly, despite the very large number of papers and books on the topic, there is tremendous room for new research on rankings. In particular, we believe that the entrepreneurial processes behind the production of rankings holds great potential for future research that can inform not just research but also the general public on some tricky realities behind the production and distribution of rankings and their role in markets in societies. As we note in our article, there are many questions on the motives, resources, and practices of rankings entrepreneurs that remain to be answered. Also, research on how organizations can come up with strategic responses to overcome the perverse influence that rankings can often wield over organizations would produce important guidelines for managers and organizations dealing with rankings.
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Top 10 photo attributed to Fotomek. (CC)