Management, Social Sustainability, Reputation, and Financial Performance Relationships

[We’re pleased to welcome authors, Dr. Robert Sroufe of Duquesne University Pittsburgh and Dr. Venugopal Gopalakrishna-Remani of The University of Texas at Tyler. They recently published an article in Organization & Environment entitled “Management, Social Sustainability, Reputation, and Financial Performance Relationships: An Empirical Examination of U.S. Firms,” which is currently free to read for a limited time. Below, Dr. Sroufe discusses the motivations for this research:]

O&E_72ppiRGB_powerpointThe motivation for this study on Management, Social Sustainability and Reputation can be found in our profound interest in how innovative organizations integrate sustainability. We developed a unique sample of top ranked Fortune 500 multinational companies to better understand how sustainability practices lead to improved performance. In doing so, we propose new constructs and item development while testing relationships to tradition measures of financial performance. This study looks at exemplary MNCs as identified by Newsweek, The Corporate Knights, and Best Corporate Citizens rankings. Firm level performance is assessed during the time of country level cuts to GHG emissions set by the Kyoto Protocol, and during a period of time in which there was a difficult recession in the U.S. The uniqueness of our study and the results operationalize multiple dimensions of sustainability and ask the question has social performance lived up to the promises made on its behalf?

A challenging aspect of this study is the development of new sustainability constructs involving management, social performance and reputation. We were able to utilize multiple measures from both Newsweek and Bloomberg to develop and assess new constructs. We found there are significant benefits to sustainability management practices, yet there is more to explore and learn about the practices and relationships involving social sustainability performance. We hope this study provides a foundation for future research into social sustainability and evolving management practices.

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The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly of Organizational Rankings

film-price-2930591_1920[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)

Dominance in the Organizational Learning Process

mark-516277_1920[We’re pleased to welcome author Isabel Collien of Freie Universität Berlin. Collien recently published an article in Management Learning entitled “Critical–reflexive–political: Dismantling the reproduction of dominance in organisational learning processes,” which is currently free to read for a limited time. Below, Collien reveals the motivation and challenges for her research:]


What motivated you to pursue this research?

I am both a researcher and a practitioner in the field of diversity and equal opportunities in organizations with a great interest in bridging theory and practice. In particular, I seek to understand how societal power relations influence micro-level practices, such that equal opportunities programs and other organizational practices sometimes fail to cater to the needs of those we seek to empower, motivate or sensitize.

Looking into power-sensitive organizational learning studies for theoretical and practical inspiration, I discovered that the research field provided nuanced discussions on the effect of micro-level power structures and dynamics or macro-level discourses on learning in organizations. What I was missing, was a theoretical framework for understanding the effect of societal power relations (related to persisting structures of dominance) on micro-level learning processes. My paper addresses this research gap. Based on Bourdieu’s theory of practice, I lay a theoretical foundation to explain the reproduction of dominance structures in micro-level learning processes.

What was the most challenging aspect of conducting your research?

The most challenging aspect in the process of writing the manuscript was the editor’s and reviewers’ advice to decide between a theoretical and an empirical paper. The final manuscript is a theoretical paper, which draws on a case study by Heinemann (2014) on advanced training participation in Germany to illustrate its key points. The study shows how a multi-level, historically grown system of othering leads to feelings of not-belonging and demotivates female migrants from participating in advanced training programs. Building on these insights, I suggest that researchers need to take three steps to understand and potentially counter the effect of societal power relations on learning processes: being critical, being reflexive and being political.

How will your research impact the field?

The answer to this question can only be speculative or wishful thinking. Yet, I hope that my proposed triad of being critical, being reflexive and being political inspires future research on power and organizational learning. Hopefully, researchers will agree that questioning taken-for-granted practices and structures requires a multi-level and historically informed perspective to dismantle the reproduction of dominance structures in learning processes (being critical). Furthermore, I argue for a broader notion of reflexivity in relation to societal power relations, encompassing questioning the researcher’s social position, the research field and ultimately, the scholastic point of view (being reflexive). Finally, I wish for researchers to understand the importance of making their particular perspective, their research motivations and their subsequent choices more transparent to a) make ethically informed judgements about the nature of organizational learning and b) allow for an in-depth, controversial discussion of their findings in the context of unequal power relations (being political).

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Diagram photo attributed to geralt. (CC)

Discover the Hidden or Not-So-Hidden Implications of ‘Entrepreneurship’ and ‘Knowledge Management’ That Facilitate Management of ‘Organizational Change’

BMC coverChange is constant in a business environment. Survival of the fittest is all about adaptability to a changing environment and adjusting to new competitive realities, in short ‘agility’.

We live in volatility, uncertainty, complexity and ambiguity world, which is an era of risk and instability. Globalization, new technologies, greater transparency and social responsibility have combined to increase the complexity of the business environment to give many CEOs a deep sense of unease. On the other hand, enterprising CEOs sense great opportunities in this uncertainty and change.

Industry competition has always been a fact of life, but in current business environment, the chasm between ‘relevance’ and ‘obsolescence’ threatens to grow wider every day. To avoid obsolescence, firms must be agile and be able to pre-empt the move embracing innovation. Global competition has become an entirely new game, with a more crowded playing field, with networked economies and a faster clock. In the past, executives could quickly size up their competitors and could anticipate their tactical moves. But now, firms in all sectors have to be on constant alert to face new technology-enabled challengers that are sprouting with surprising speed from unsuspected corners of the globe. Firms need to anticipate geopolitics, globally emerging trends and markets, and be proactive to these new demands with knowledge, innovation and entrepreneurship. They also need to be equipped on ‘How to evolve a strategy for coping with unanticipated events, challenges and crises? How does leadership create a work-environment and work-life that not only survives a crisis but capitalizes on today’s frequent and disruptive accelerating changes?’

Knowledge is a strategic resource in knowledge-intensive world, its effective management by the organizations is critical for competitiveness. The culture of innovation which enables continuous pumping of new technologies would have a strong impact on firm’s competitiveness, working life and expected behaviour.

To read in detail about Change Management Drivers and its relationship with Entrepreneurship and Knowledge Management, subscribe to the recent issue from South Asian Journal of Business Management.

Click here to read Change Management Drivers: Entrepreneurship and Knowledge Management for free from South Asian Journal of Business Management.

Is Play the Future of Office Space?

Sage Interiors
8th August 2017[We’re pleased to welcome authors Anna Alexandersson and  Viktorija Kalonaityte of Linnaeus University. Alexandersson and Kalonaityte recently published an article in Organization Studies entitled “Playing to Dissent: The Aesthetics and Politics of Playful Office Design,” which is currently free to read for a limited time. Below, they speak about the inspiration for conducting this research:]

OSSWhat motivated you to pursue this research?

The idea that play at work is a way to tap into employee creativity and boost their motivation has been growing in popularity over the recent years, particularly within industries that prize fast-paced innovation. Playful office design appears to be an extension of this idea, characterized by colorful open-plan office architecture alluding to non-work spaces such as nature, personal homes, clubs, fairs and amusement parks. Typically, images of playful offices are displayed online by the companies themselves, and re-posted by various office design communities, making them widely available to many different audiences. But what exactly is it that makes these spaces playful? What kind of play do they encourage? And, more importantly, are there limits to play even in the context of playful office design? With these overarching questions guiding our inquiry, our paper builds on a study of playful office images that are some of the most shared online, as these images provide a persuasive visual representation on how play at work can be understood.

Our analysis suggests that playful office design removes many of the traditional boundaries of the working life. For example, it builds in leisurely and private spaces into the office, makes it difficult to discern organizational hierarchies, and promotes collective forms of play and creativity. However, these office spaces cannot resolve a fundamental tension between play and work: even in the most playful work life settings, play needs to be aligned with corporate goals, meanwhile, free creative play disrupts and transcends all social divisions, including those of based on profitability and utility.

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Office photo attributed to James Robinson. (CC)

Seeing and Sensing the Railways: A Phenomenological View on Practice-Based Learning

gleise-1066111_1920[We’re pleased to welcome author Dr. Thijs AH Willems of Vrije Universiteit, Amsterdam. Dr. Willems recently published an article in Management Learning entitled “Seeing and sensing the railways: A phenomenological view on practice-based learning,” which is currently free to read for a limited time. Below, Dr. Willems reveals the inspiration for conducting this research and the impact it has on the field:]


What motivated you to pursue this research?

For my PhD research I conducted an ethnographic study on the Dutch railway system to understand how different railway organizations collaborate during various kinds of disruptions and incidents. The performance of the railway organizations is being watched closely by both the general public as well as by the government and public agencies. Large and unforeseen disruptions or a very unpunctual train service due to unexpected breakdowns or external influences are usually a topic of heated debates in the following days. During my research I found that many of the organizational attempts to deal with these unexpected events were aimed at providing rational explanations to legitimize the performance of the railways. So the structures, procedures and rules of many of the employees were made more rigid and their practices became more controlled by managers. While this did not strike me as particularly interesting in the beginning – as railway employees are responsible for offering a punctual and, most importantly, safe train journey to their customers – this kind of rational thinking and acting stood in stark contrast with the conversations I had with many train dispatchers. These professionals, who have often been dispatchers for several decennia, would explain their work much more in terms of their experience and that they would often ‘just feel’ what had to be done. This apparent discrepancy was the start of the study for this article.

What has been the most challenging aspect of conducting your research? Were there any surprising findings?

Without a doubt, the greatest challenge for this particular aspect of my study was how to methodologically study ‘feel’ and ‘experience’. At the beginning I tried to translate the suggestions and examples of train dispatchers into the more widely used vocabulary of the railway organizations. But I soon realized that, in the process of doing so, I would actually reduce dispatching work to a set of predefined and so-called rational parameters, something which had motivated my research in the first place. So I had to find ways to take the ‘feeling’ and ‘experiencing’ of dispatchers more seriously, and I then became interested in a phenomenological approach to the study of dispatching practices and knowledge.

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

I think my article will be valuable for scholars who are interested in knowing more about the role of the body and senses in the context of work practices. Moreover, I specifically focus on how such practices are learned and how the necessary knowledge to become a ‘good’ dispatcher is transferred not only through handbooks and procedures but also through the body and in practice. The field of organization studies has only just started exploring these issues and my phenomenological focus, I hope, extends this literature. I also think that the empirical richness of my study helps the field in understanding theoretical notions of embodiment and knowledge in more concrete and grounded ways.


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What Goes Unsaid: Studying Nonverbal Behavior in the Workplace

2177716513_8732301485_zEffective communication between employees is integral to the performance and success of any organization. Communication between individuals is much more complex than it may appear on the surface, with nonverbal cues adding depth to interactions beyond verbal exchanges. As a result, it comes as no surprise that studies of employee communication cannot be complete without considering the implications of nonverbal behaviors. In a Journal of Management paper published this year entitled “Nonverbal Behavior and Communication in the Workplace: A Review and an Agenda for Research,” authors Silvia Bonaccio, Jane O’Reilly, Sharon L. O’Sullivan, and François Chiocchio argue that nonverbal behavior should be further integrated into organizational research. The abstract for the article:

Nonverbal behavior is a hot topic in the popular management press. However, management scholars have lagged behind in understanding this important form of communication. Although some theories discuss limited aspects of nonverbal behavior, there has yet to be a comprehensive review of nonverbal behavior geared toward organizational scholars. Furthermore, the extant literature is scattered across several areas of inquiry, making the field appear disjointed and challenging to access. Current Issue CoverThe purpose of this paper is to review the literature on nonverbal behavior with an eye towards applying it to organizational phenomena. We begin by defining nonverbal behavior and its components. We review and discuss several areas in the organizational sciences that are ripe for further explorations of nonverbal behavior. Throughout the paper, we offer ideas for future research as well as information on methods to study nonverbal behavior in lab and field contexts. We hope our review will encourage organizational scholars to develop a deeper understanding of how nonverbal behavior influences the social world of organizations.

You can read “Nonverbal Behavior and Communication in the Workplace: A Review and an Agenda for Research” from Journal of Management free for the next two weeks by clicking here.

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*Employee image attributed to jeanbaptisteparis (CC)