Go with the Flow or Buck the Trend? (IO Psychology)

Topic(s): Uncategorized

Topic: Change Management, Culture, Decision Making
Publication: Academy of Management Journal
Article: Fools breaking out: The role of symbolic and material immunity in explaining institutional non-conformity
Authors: J. M. W. N. Lepoutre & M. Valente
Reviewed By: Katie Bachman

How do those innovative companies do it? They stay on the cutting edge, seem invulnerable to the status quo, and break out of the doldrums of regular old marketplace goings on. We’re getting a few steps closer to understanding how an organization can embrace a culture of change and innovation and it comes from this article using a sample of organizations from the Flemish ornamental horticulture sector. Go figure.

“I’m not involved in Flemish ornamental horticulture,” says you. “No, wait, listen. It gets good,” says I. This research used a very traditional market (an institution, really) that has recently been presented with changes reflecting the global movement toward eco-friendliness.

Some organizations have embraced and even sought out change, while others are acting like those two old men from the Muppets. What is it about an organization that makes them willing to step out of convention and get down with Mother Nature (or whatever the change might be in your organization)?

Immunity! It’s not just for medicine any more. Lepoutre and Valente identified two types of carriers (note the medical jargon) to which people, and by extension organizations, can become immune: symbolic and material. Symbolic carriers are all of those rules and norms that keep an organization traditional. Material carriers are the routines and systems that function to keep everything the way it always was. The two act together to create stodgy workplaces.

What’s the vaccine? Well, that seems to be a bit of an individual difference. It depends on the decision makers in the organization. Some people simply approach the possibility of change differently. You can be the kind of person who seeks out new challenges (hint: this is probably the best one to spur innovation), you can preemptively accept change so that you can get used to the system before it becomes compulsory (I like to think of this as the “grin-and-bear-it’ approach), or you can reject everything and stay in your non-innovative (re: vegetative) state. Similarly, organizations can have processes and mechanisms in place that promote change or not. In all of this, the end goal is to have the kinds of people and the kinds of organizational policies that promote innovation.

Now, go forth and conquer the new horizons!

Lepoutre, J. M. W. N., & Valente, M. (2012). Fools breaking out: The role of symbolic and material immunity in explaining institutional nonconformity. Academy of Management Journal, 55, 285-313.

human resource management, organizational industrial psychology, organizational management



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