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Decoupling isomorphisms: strategic responses to institutional pressures and organizational learning from performance feedback in the case of corporate social responsibility

Author: Watson, Noshua INSEAD Area: StrategyPublisher: Fontainebleau : INSEAD, 2009.Language: EnglishDescription: 135 p. : Ill. ; 30 cm.Type of document: INSEAD ThesisThesis Note: For the degree of Ph.D. in management, INSEAD, June 2009Bibliography/Index: Includes bibliographical referencesAbstract: Institutional theory asserts that organizations incorporate new isomorphic structures, but only symbolically, because substantive social performance and financial performance are in conflict. This dilemma appears intractable because substantive isomorphism and symbolic isomorphism are separate dimensions of isomorphism that are frequently confounded in predictions of strategic responses to institutional pressures. If isomorphism is viewed as a process of social comparison, models of organizational learning from performance feedback predict that isomorphism can be predicted by relative social performance. Through institutional and performance feedback lenses, I develop hypotheses about the decoupling of substantive and symbolic isomorphism. The data consist of social performance ratings for 811 US companies from 2003-2007 from the Ethical Investment Research Service (EIRIS) database on corporate policies on the environment, stakeholder relations, human rights, supply chain standards and governance. I construct measures of substantive and symbolic isomorphism based on the EIRIS data. In the process, I apply updated methods for constructing and testing the validity of a formative index of social performance. I find that symbolic isomorphism and substantive isomorphism are indeed separate constructs with different antecedents. Symbolic isomorphism increases as the difference between social performance and social peer performance increases, while controlling for the institutional context. By identifying organizations that are substantively isomorphic without being symbolically isomorphic, I demonstrate the conditions under which corporate social responsibility practices can potentially increase financial performance without risking organizational legitimacy and failure and create a basis for encouraging managerial practice. List(s) this item appears in: Ph.D. Thesis
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For the degree of Ph.D. in management, INSEAD, June 2009

Includes bibliographical references

Institutional theory asserts that organizations incorporate new isomorphic structures, but only symbolically, because substantive social performance and financial performance are in conflict. This dilemma appears intractable because substantive isomorphism and symbolic isomorphism are separate dimensions of isomorphism that are frequently confounded in predictions of strategic responses to institutional pressures. If isomorphism is viewed as a process of social comparison, models of organizational learning from performance feedback predict that isomorphism can be predicted by relative social performance. Through institutional and performance feedback lenses, I develop hypotheses about the decoupling of substantive and symbolic isomorphism.
The data consist of social performance ratings for 811 US companies from 2003-2007 from the Ethical Investment Research Service (EIRIS) database on corporate policies on the environment, stakeholder relations, human rights, supply chain standards and governance. I construct measures of substantive and symbolic isomorphism based on the EIRIS data. In the process, I apply updated methods for constructing and testing the validity of a formative index of social performance.
I find that symbolic isomorphism and substantive isomorphism are indeed separate constructs with different antecedents. Symbolic isomorphism increases as the difference between social performance and social peer performance increases, while controlling for the institutional context. By identifying organizations that are substantively isomorphic without being symbolically isomorphic, I demonstrate the conditions under which corporate social responsibility practices can potentially increase financial performance without risking organizational legitimacy and failure and create a basis for encouraging managerial practice.

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