Strategy-as-Practice meets Neo-Institutional Theory: David Seidl interviews Royston Greenwood

Emmanuelle Reuter and Florian Ueberbacher (University of St. Gallen)

There have been recent calls for better linking Strategy-as-Practice (SAP) research with macro-level phenomena such as the institutional and cultural context within which strategists and organizations operate (c.f. Seidl, 2007; Seidl & Whittington, 2014). In an interview with Royston Greenwood (Telus Professor of Strategic Management at University of Alberta, Canada), David Seidl (Professor of Organization and Management at University of Zürich, Switzerland) explored the opportunities and challenges of connecting the SAP research agenda and institutional theory. The key insights of this conversation with regards to researching and teaching SAP are summarized below:

Seidl-v-Greenwood

Researching Strategy as Practice

A number of opportunities for future research emerge at the intersections between SAP research and institutional theory. On the one hand, SAP can offer contributions to institutional research: Practice perspectives can to a significant extent help inform our current understanding of the micro processes of institutionalization and of the micro-foundations of macro-level institutions. Moreover, while institutional theory might sometimes have moved away from organizations as the focus of research, it can learn from the SAP research agenda to bring organizations, and in particular actors and practices inside organizations, back into the picture.

On the other hand, institutional theory can enrich and broaden the SAP research agenda: A challenge for SAP research concerns the ways in which SAP research can move to the institutional level. While SAP research has made tremendous advances in uncovering the nature of different types of practices that unfold inside organizations, much less research has so far connected these strategy practices to the more macro-level institutions and processes of institutionalization. In this regard, institutional theory could help and offer bridging constructs to connect these rather distant levels of analyses. For instance, institutional theorists refer to “institutional complexity” as a type of institutional environment in which competing logics (seemingly incompatible prescriptions of appropriate behavior) coexist at the same time. Such settings offer fertile grounds for looking at actors across levels of analyses and the different ways in which these seemingly incompatible prescriptions of appropriate behavior come to be settled.

Teaching Strategy as Practice

Teaching strategy-making without considering the institutional environment in which strategists and companies operate may suffer from developing a too short-sighted and myopic picture of strategic management. Strategic visions and the ways they are implemented inside organizations are fundamentally shaped by the institutional context, in which organizations are embedded. In turn, organizations need to take into consideration the institutional context when shaping their strategies. For instance, a phenomenon which institutional theorists refer to as “categorical imperative” (Zuckerman, 1999) suggests that organizational forms and strategies need to resonate with the outside world’s interpretation of appropriate behavior. Otherwise, stakeholders may penalize the organization by withdrawing the approval and resources necessary for operating successfully and sustainably.

This interview forms part of a wider strategic initiative between the Strategy Practice (SP) Interest Group of the Strategic Management Society and the Academy of Management’s Strategizing Activities & Practice (SAP) Division. The interview is available online on SAP’s new channel on Youtube here.

References:

  • Seidl, D. 2007. General strategy concepts and the ecology of strategy discourses: A systemic-discursive perspective. Organization Studies, 28(2): 197-218
  • Seidl, D., & Whittington, R. 2014. Enlarging the Strategy-as-Practice Research Agenda: Towards Taller and Flatter Ontologies. Organization Studies, in press: 1-15.
  • Zuckerman, E. W. 1999. The categorical imperative: Securities analysts and the illegitimacy discount. American Journal of Sociology, 104(5): 1398-1438.
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