Posts filed under ‘Strategic Management’
| Dick Langlois |
The title of this paper caught my attention.
“Cognition & Capabilities: A Multi-Level Perspective”
J. P. Eggers and Sarah Kaplan
Academy of Management Annals 7(1): 293-338
Research on managerial cognition and on organizational capabilities has essentially developed in two parallel tracks. We know much from the resource-based view about the relationship between capabilities and organizational performance. Separately, managerial cognition scholars have shown how interpretations of the environment shape organizational responses. Only recently have scholars begun to link the two sets of insights. These new links suggest that routines and capabilities are based in particular understandings about how things should be done, that the value of these capabilities is subject to interpretation, and that even the presence of capabilities may be useless without managerial interpretations of their match to the environment. This review organizes these emerging insights in a multi-level cognitive model of capability development and deployment. The model focuses on the recursive processes of constructing routines (capability building blocks), assembling routines into capabilities, and matching capabilities to perceived opportunities. To date, scholars have focused most attention on the organizational-level process of matching. Emerging research on the microfoundations of routines contributes to the micro-level of analysis. The lack of research on capability assembly leaves the field without a bridge connecting the macro and micro levels. The model offers suggestions for research directions to address these challenges.
The reason it caught my eye is that some 16 years ago I published a paper with exactly the same title (albeit with a different subtitle). Of course, I didn’t approach the issue in exactly the way these authors do, which is obviously close to Nicolai’s work on microfoundations. But I did arguably try to “link the two sets of insights,” and I did not do so “only recently.”
| Peter Klein |
The new issue of the Academy of Management Perspectives features a symposium, edited by Mike Wright, on “Private Equity: Managerial and Policy Implications.” The symposium includes “Private Equity, HRM, and Employment” by Mike with Nick Bacon, Rod Ball, and Miguel Meuleman; “The Evolution and Strategic Positioning of Private Equity Firms” by Robert E. Hoskisson, Wei Shi, Xiwei Yi, and Jing Jin; and “Private Equity and Entrepreneurial Governance: Time for a Balanced View” by John L. Chapman, Mario P. Mondelli, and me. The symposium came out very nicely, if I may say so, covering a variety of strategic, entrepreneurial, and organizational issues related to private equity firms and companies receiving private equity finance.
In his introduction Mike highlights five main contributions:
First, the papers address the need to consider the systematic evidence on the managerial and strategic aspects of PE, in relation to both portfolio firms and PE firms, which has been largely fragmented if not nonexistent. Second, the papers analyze the impact of PE during economic downturns and demonstrate the underlying resilience of PE-backed portfolio firms. Third, the symposium provides an opportunity to develop insights that compare the managerial impact of PE with different forms of ownership and governance. Fourth, the articles in this symposium highlight the heterogeneity of the private equity phenomenon. Finally, in the context of continuing public attention to PE, which has been heightened by the U.S. presidential race and the global recession, the evidence presented in this symposium paints a rather more positive view than the hyperbole of some of the industry’s critics would suggest. Taken together, these contributions indicate a need for caution in attempts to tighten the regulation of PE lest the economic, financial, and social benefits be lost.
| Peter Klein |
That’s the title of a new NBER paper by Philippe Aghion, Nicholas Bloom, and John Van Reenen, indicating that organization design, from the perspective of incomplete-contracting theory, continues to be a hot topic among the top economists. Like all NBER papers this one is gated, but intrepid readers may be able to locate a freebie.
Incomplete Contracts and the Internal Organization of Firms
Philippe Aghion, Nicholas Bloom, John Van Reenen
NBER Working Paper No. 18842, February 2013
We survey the theoretical and empirical literature on decentralization within firms. We first discuss how the concept of incomplete contracts shapes our views about the organization of decision-making within firms. We then overview the empirical evidence on the determinants of decentralization and on the effects of decentralization on firm performance. A number of factors highlighted in the theory are shown to be important in accounting for delegation, such as heterogeneity and congruence of preferences as proxied by trust. Empirically, competition, human capital and IT also appear to foster decentralization. There are substantial gaps between theoretical and empirical work and we suggest avenues for future research in bridging this gap.
| Peter Klein |
It was designed in 1854 for the New York and Erie Railroad and reflects a highly decentralized structure, with operational decisions concentrated at the local level. McKinsey’s Caitlin Rosenthal describes it as an early attempt to grapple with “big data,” one of today’s favored buzzwords. See her article, “Big Data in the Age of the Telegraph,” for a fascinating discussion. And remember, there’s little new under the sun (1, 2, 3).
| Peter Klein |
The econ and strategy literatures on multinational firms have grown dramatically since the pioneering works of Caves, Casson, Teece, and others. Besides established journals like the Journal of International Economics and Journal of International Business Studies, there is the new Global Strategy Journal and plenty of space in the general-interest journals for issues dealing with multinationals.
Pol Antràs and Stephen Yeaple have written a new survey paper for the Handbook of International Economics, 4th edition, and it’s available as a NBER working paper, “Multinational Firms and the Structure of International Trade.” The review focuses on the mainstream economics literature but should be useful for management and organization scholars as well — particularly section 7 on firm boundaries which includes both transaction cost and property rights theories. Here’s the abstract:
This article reviews the state of the international trade literature on multinational firms. This literature addresses three main questions. First, why do some firms operate in more than one country while others do not? Second, what determines in which countries production facilities are located? Finally, why do firms own foreign facilities rather than simply contract with local producers or distributors? We organize our exposition of the trade literature on multinational firms around the workhorse monopolistic competition model with constant-elasticity-of-substitution (CES) preferences. On the theoretical side, we review alternative ways to introduce multinational activity into this unifying framework, illustrating some key mechanisms emphasized in the literature. On the empirical side, we discuss the key studies and provide updated empirical results and further robustness tests using new sources of data.
The NBER version is gated but I’m sure our intrepid readers can dig up an open-access copy.
| Peter Klein |
Jim Surowiecki is a good business writer (and my college classmate) and I always learn from his essays (and his 2004 book The Wisdom of Crowds). But I think he gets it wrong on the Boeing 787 case. Jim echoes what is becoming the conventional management wisdom on the Dreamliner, namely that it’s long list of woes (the current battery problem being only the most recent) results from the decision to outsource most of the plane’s production. “The Dreamliner was supposed to become famous for its revolutionary design. Instead, it’s become an object lesson in how not to build an airplane.” Specifically:
[T]he Dreamliner’s advocates came up with a development strategy that was supposed to be cheaper and quicker than the traditional approach: outsourcing. And Boeing didn’t outsource just the manufacturing of parts; it turned over the design, the engineering, and the manufacture of entire sections of the plane to some fifty “strategic partners.” Boeing itself ended up building less than forty per cent of the plane.
This strategy was trumpeted as a reinvention of manufacturing. But while the finance guys loved it — since it meant that Boeing had to put up less money — it was a huge headache for the engineers. . . . The more complex a supply chain, the more chances there are for something to go wrong, and Boeing had far less control than it would have if more of the operation had been in-house.
The assumption here is that vertical integration is better for quality control and for coordinating complex production systems. But that assumption is just plain wrong. As the property-rights approach to the firm has emphasized, control and coordination problems occur in internal as well as external contracting. As Thomas Hubbard points out,
The more modern thinking about procurement emphasizes that this problem appears — albeit in different forms — both when a company procures internally and when it subcontracts. The problem of getting procurement incentives right does not disappear when you produce internally rather than subcontract; it just changes. Companies struggle to get their subcontractors to produce what they want at low cost; they also struggle to get their own divisions to do so.
In other words, Boeing might have had the same problems with in-house production. “It is certainly possible that the Dreamliner’s current problems are derived from its design — it relies far more on electrical systems than Boeing’s previous planes — and that these problems would have been just as significant (and worse on the cost front) had Boeing sourced more sub-assemblies internally.” Hubbard’s essay includes a number of additional insights derived from modern theories of the firm, such as the Williamsonian idea that adaptation is the central issue distinguishing markets from hierarchies.
So, the next time you read that firms should vertically integrate to maintain quality, as yourself, are employees always easier to control than subcontractors?
| Peter Klein |
Josh Gans asks if “we have yet evolved to the right set of institutions in the app economy,” comparing contracts between app developers and distributors/publishers to those between book authors and publishers. He also notes, correctly I think, that app development may have more to do with signaling programming skill than making money from selling the app. Still, there are important contractual issues to be sorted out in the age of the app.
More generally, Josh’s post highlights the need for organizational scholars to think more broadly about the complementarities between technology, organization, and strategy. Milgrom and Roberts (1990, 1995) are the pioneers here, but there management literatures on modularity and other aspects of fit among organizational attributes are relevant too. (Here’s an example from outside the tech sector.) Milgrom and Roberts put it this way:
[C]hange in a system marked by strong and widespread complementarities may be difficult and . . . centrally directed change may be important for altering systems. Changing only a few of the system elements at a time to their optimal values may not come at all close to achieving all the benefits that are available through a fully coordinated move, and may even have negative payoffs. Of course, if those making the choices fail to recognize all the dimensions across which the complementarities operate, then they may fail to make the full range of necessary adaptations, with unfortunate results. At the same time, coordinating the general direction of a move may substantially ease the coordination problem while still retaining most of the potential benefits of change. Moreover, the systematic errors associated with centrally directed change are less costly than similarly large but uncoordinated errors of independently operating units.
In other words, when a system is characterized by strong complementarities, the diffusion and evolution of business practices requires simultaneous, coordinated changes among all complementary features within the system — technology, organizational form, strategy, and perhaps other elements as well. When simultaneous or coordinated changes occur within strongly complementary systems, business practices like contractual form will also tend to evolve, and to do so rapidly. By contrast, when simultaneous or coordinated changes within systems characterized by strong complementarities do not occur, organizational change will tend to be slow or uneven.
The rapid growth of the app economy might seem an exception to these principles, as the app market has exploded without (it appears) complementary changes in the contractual and organizational aspects of app production. As noted above, this may be because app design performs a signaling role independent of its ability to generate profits. If this becomes less important over time — perhaps because clever programmers find more effective ways to signal ability — then getting the compensation system right will be critical to ensure the success of this particular business model.
| Peter Klein |
| Peter Klein |
An important contribution to the history of technology and the relationship between technology, organization, and strategy:
Gordon Winder’s The American Reaper is a solid and significant contribution to the history of American grain harvesting implements. Winder offers several revisionist challenges to standard accounts, both those that have treated Cyrus McCormick as a heroic inventor, as well as those that have touted the International Harvester Corporation (IHC, formed in 1902) as a path-breaking model of a vertically integrated and internationally dominant firm. . . . Reaper manufacturers forged licensing agreements, subcontracted with suppliers and branch factories, shared expert personnel and innovations, hired widely dispersed sales agents, and formed alliances to protect patent advantages in order to remain competitive.
Read the rest of the EH.Net review here.
| Peter Klein |
The standard approach to multiask agency problems is to recognize that, if the output of some tasks is more easily measured than the output of other tasks, than others, then piece-rate incentive schemes will lead to a distortion of effort toward the more easily monitored tasks. Ask a sales clerk to sell merchandise and keep the store clean and the displays spiffy, and pay on a commission basis, and you’ll get a messy store. A new paper by Omar Al-Ubaydli, Steffen Andersen, Uri Gneezy, and John List challenges this view, arguing that using a piece-rate schemes signals that the principal is a good monitor in general, which can motivate performance even on the not-easily-measured tasks in a multitask setting:
Carrots that Look Like Sticks: Toward an Understanding of Multitasking Incentive Schemes
Omar Al-Ubaydli, Steffen Andersen, Uri Gneezy, John A. List
NBER Working Paper No. 18453, October 2012
Constructing compensation schemes for effort in multi-dimensional tasks is complex, particularly when some dimensions are not easily observable. When incentive schemes contractually reward workers for easily observed measures, such as quantity produced, the standard model predicts that unrewarded dimensions, such as quality, will be neglected. Yet, there remains mixed empirical evidence in favor of this standard principal-agent model prediction. This paper reconciles the literature by using both theory and empirical evidence. The theory outlines conditions under which principals can use a piece rate scheme to induce higher quantity and quality levels than analogous fixed wage schemes. Making use of a series of complementary laboratory and field experiments we show that this effect occurs because the agent is uncertain about the principal’s monitoring ability and the principal’s choice of a piece rate signals to the agent that she is efficient at monitoring.
| Peter Klein |
There’s an old joke about God calling the Pope. “I’ve got good news and bad news. The good news is that I’ve answered your prayer — I’m uniting all the world’s religions under one church and one leader.” Great, the Pope responds, what’s the bad news? “I’m calling from Salt Lake City.”
It’s commonly observed that the academic fields of strategy, organization, and entrepreneurship are over-represented by scholars from the Mormon faith: Christensen, Clark, Barney, Hoskisson, Dyer, Whetten, Zenger, and Felin, to name just a few. Often this is explained by superior social networking and the role of BYU as an anchor entity. But I don’t know any systematic academic research on the phenomenon.
A Wednesday HBR blog entry, “How Mormons Have Shaped Modern Management,” takes a different tack, focusing on the beliefs and practices of the Mormon church. An interesting read. See also a 2011 Business Week piece on the role of the Mormon mission.
| Nicolai Foss |
From the official SMG blog, Strategy and Organization:
A long-standing discussion in management research concerns the relation between capabilities perspectives on the firm and organizational economics, including transaction cost economics and agency theory. In particular, proponents of capabilities ideas have criticized organizational economics for exaggerating the role of opportunism (and similar constructs), neglecting value creation and downplaying dynamics. Conversely, proponents of organizational economics have criticized the lack of a clear unit of analysis, causal mechanisms and micro-foundations in the capabilities approach.
“While these early debates clarified many things,” says SMG Professor Nicolai J Foss, “the field is increasingly moving towards a more conciliatory stance in which the two perspectives are seen as capable of cross-fertilizing each other. This is going further than merely stressing a relation of complementarity in which capabilities ideas lend themselves to the explanation of organizational heterogeneity while organizational economics provides the understanding of the organization of heterogeneous resources and capabilities. The new view is that, notably, organizational economics has the potential of illuminating capability emergence and therefore organizational heterogeneity.”
With Nicholas Argyres (Washington University), Teppo Felin (Brigham Young University), and Todd Zenger (Washington University) Foss is an editor of the September-October issue of the leading management research journal, Organization Science, titled “Organizational Economics and Capabilities: From Opposition and Complementarity to Real Integration” (http://orgsci.journal.informs.org/content/23/5.toc). This special issue contains a number of articles by leading contributors to the discussion, and mixes theoretical, empirical and modeling approaches, as well as an introduction by the editors that survey the debate and defines a new agenda for research in the field.
“We are pleased that we got so many high-level contributions for this special issue,” says Foss, “and in particular that these contributions truly manage to define a new, creative research frontier where the emphasis is on researching the interplay between theoretical mechanisms identified by the two perspectives.
| Peter Klein |
The Strategic Management Society conference has just wrapped up from the lovely city of Prague. Three-fourths of the O&M team,along with several former guest bloggers, enjoyed the festivities. There were many excellent papers, panels, workshops, and social events. Too many to summarize here, but I’ll mention a few highlights:
- A panel organized by good-twin Teppo Felin, “What Are the Big Questions in Strategy?” More on this soon from one of the participants, who used the opportunity to plug his new book shamelessly.
- The Dan and Mary Lou Schendel Best Paper Prize, “to honor substantial work published in the SMJ,” at least five years prior to the award, to Oliver Williamson for his 1991 paper “Strategizing, Economizing, and Economic Organization.”
- A panel on teaching strategic entrepreneurship at the undergraduate, MBA, and PhD levels. I covered the third of these; my slides are here.
- A “common ground” session on “Austrian Economics and Creative Destruction,” demonstrating the growing interest in the Austrian school among management and organizational scholars.
I also participated in a pre-conference workshop on career strategy, and was asked to talk about social media. Should PhD students and untenured assistant professors blog, tweet, share professional information on Facebook, etc.? I said I could see no evidence that a social media presence had hurt any young scholar; quite the contrary, blogs (like this one) and other, appropriate, uses of social media, can enhance a scholar’s presence and reputation. I argued that it’s a mistake to view these as competing with serious research; after all, it’s not like someone’s going to say, “I was going to complete a major research article today, but decided to send a tweet instead.” Rather, judicious use of blogs, Facebook, Twitter, etc. is a complement to serious research. I think of it as water-cooler or lunch-table chatter with colleagues. You learn about people’s broader interests, their sense of the field, what topics they think are particularly interesting, what they’re reading, etc. Professionals like to know this about each other. Learning these sorts of things about colleagues certainly doesn’t make you think less of them!
There’s much more to report — including an episode of me impersonating a female colleague — but that will have to wait for a future post.
| Peter Klein |
The University Paris-Dauphine is awarding an honorary doctorate to Oliver Williamson Friday, 19 October 2012, and organizing a one-day conference to honor his work. The conference is co-sponsored by the European School on New Institutional Economics (ESNIE). Speakers include Carmine Guerriero (U. of Amsterdam), Roger Guesnerie (Collège de France), David Martimort (EHESS & PSE), Marian Moszoro (IESE Business School, Barcelona), Jens Prüfer (Tilburg U.), and Brian Silverman (Rotman Business School, U. of Toronto), and Williamson will give a speech during the formal award ceremony. Registration is required. See the conference website for details.
| Peter Klein |
Following up an earlier post on the longevity of obsolete technologies, as specialty markets: Francesco Schiavone has a nice paper, “Vintage Innovation: How to Improve the Service Characteristics and Costumer Effectiveness of Products becoming Obsolete,” reviewing the core theory and discussing the case of the analog turntable (little did I know, not being a club DJ, that you can by a “vinyl emulator” to go wacka-wacka-wacka on your MP3s). Francesco’s Vintage Innovation website has more examples. Check it out!
| Peter Klein |
Carpenter’s Strategy Toolbox, named for the late Mason Carpenter, is a terrific resource for teachers in strategic management and related fields. Here’s an advertisement from former guest blogger Russ Coff:
Some of you may be familiar with Mason Carpenter’s old teaching toolkit. I have initiated a new site that includes everything from that site plus quite a few additional exercises and videos. Please check it out at:
You can filter by type of tool (exercise, video, etc.) using the tabs at the top or you can filter by topic (entrepreneurship, 5 forces, RBV, global, alliances, etc.) using the categories on the right side. You should find something useful in no time at all.
Here are links to a few exercises and resources that you might find especially useful (to give you a quick feel):
- Egg Drop Auction is an exercise where profit is determined by finding new uses for materials that others did not anticipate.
- Blue Ocean Strategy summary video (plus several related videos like Cirque Du Soliel).
- Tinkertoy exercise for scenario planning or first mover advantage.
- Entrepreneurship and innovation tool page. This is a listing of the resources that are tagged for entrepreneurship content.
Please help make the site more useful:
- Comment on tools you have used (adding tips, etc.)
- Submit new tools so the resource is always growing
- Let me know if you have any questions or suggestions
| Peter Klein |
Do bosses matter? Stephen Marglin famously argued that management doesn’t affect productivity, just the share of output appropriated by managers. (I’ll take David Landes instead, thank you very much.) Despite a huge management literature on bosses, economists have not quite known how to answer the question. Ed Lazear, Kathryn Shaw (ironically, a former boss of mine), and Christopher Stanton have an interesting new take on this using detailed microdata, showing substantial effects of supervisor on worker productivity:
The Value of Bosses
Edward P. Lazear, Kathryn L. Shaw, Christopher T. Stanton
NBER Working Paper No. 18317, August 2012
Do supervisors enhance productivity? Arguably, the most important relationship in the firm is between worker and supervisor. The supervisor may hire, fire, assign work, instruct, motivate and reward workers. Models of incentives and productivity build at least some subset of these functions in explicitly, but because of lack of data, little work exists that demonstrates the importance of bosses and the channels through which their productivity enhancing effects operate. As more data become available, it is possible to examine the effects of people and practices on productivity. Using a company-based data set on the productivity of technology-based services workers, supervisor effects are estimated and found to be large. Three findings stand out. First, the choice of boss matters. There is substantial variation in boss quality as measured by the effect on worker productivity. Replacing a boss who is in the lower 10% of boss quality with one who is in the upper 10% of boss quality increases a team’s total output by about the same amount as would adding one worker to a nine member team. Using a normalization, this implies that the average boss is about 1.75 times as productive as the average worker. Second, boss’s primary activity is teaching skills that persist. Third, efficient assignment allocates the better bosses to the better workers because good bosses increase the productivity of high quality workers by more than that of low quality workers.
NB: For some reason, my graduate students are circulating this piece from last week’s WSJ.
| Peter Klein |
The French love hierarchy, right? Well, yes, but all hierarchies are not alike. Here’s a comoprehensive study of French manufacturing firms:
The Anatomy of French Production Hierarchies
Lorenzo Caliendo, Ferdinando Monte, Esteban Rossi-Hansberg
NBER Working Paper No. 18259, July 2012
We use a comprehensive dataset of French manufacturing firms to study their internal organization. We first divide the employees of each firm into `layers’ using occupational categories. Layers are hierarchical in that the typical worker in a higher layer earns more, and the typical firm occupies less of them. In addition, the probability of adding (dropping) a layer is very positively (negatively) correlated with value added. We then explore the changes in the wages and number of employees that accompany expansions in layers, output, or markets (by becoming exporters). The empirical results indicate that reorganization, through changes in layers, is key to understand how firms expand and contract. For example, we find that firms that expand substantially add layers and pay lower average wages in all pre-existing layers. In contrast, firms that expand little and do not reorganize pay higher average wages in all pre-existing layers.
| Peter Klein |
Join Laura Cardinal, Bill Schulze, Tomi Laamanen, Bruce Lamont, Gerry McNamara, Karen Schnatterly, and me for a research-focused senior PhD/junior faculty and paper development workshop at the 2012 Strategic Management Society meetings in Prague. Full details below the fold. (more…)
| Peter Klein |
Kudos to Anna Grandori for her edited volume, Handbook of Economic Organization: Integrating Economic and Organization Theory, currently making its way through the editorial process at Edward Elgar. Blurb:
The volume distinctively aims at integrating economic and organization theories for the explanation and design of economic organization. Economic organization is therefore intended both as an object of enquiry and as an emerging disciplinary field: not economics applied to organization as an object, but a forefront interdisciplinary field attracting researches and integrating insights from economics, organization theory, strategy and management, economic sociology, and cognitive psychology. The authors are distinguished scholars at their productive peak in those fields, sharing an in interest in an integrated and enlarged approach to economic organization. Each chapter not only addresses foundational issues and provides a state-of-art, but also offers original contributions and identifies key issues for future research.
Table of Contents is below the fold. You”ll find many of your favorite authors. (more…)