This document is presenting an evaluation of the article “Discourse revisited: Dimensions and employment of first‐order strategy discourse during institutional adoption.” by Paroutis & Heracleous, published at Strategic management journal on 2013. In order to make a correct assessment, it has been chosen the guidelines of Bacharach (1989) and Whetten (1989). At the same time, this evaluation has been organized according the assessment criteria in 3 sections.
- Articulation of the phenomenon in question:
There are at least 2 claims in relation to the phenomena examined by Paroutis & Heracleous (2013). Firstly, the authors stated that there is a gap between the meaning of the concept of strategy (to strategists) and how it is actually used in a variety of contexts, specifically in the institutional adoption process. In order words, the lack of coherence in the relationship of management cognitions and practices as well as how this leads to organizational outcomes. Secondly, the authors manage to go further on the phenomenon by adding another layer to it: first-order strategy discourse, which is defined as a set of statements related to strategy. These statements are personified by institutionalized central themes of the organization, while at the same time they manage to constrain and enable the exercise of strategy.
It worth mention that the authors frequently articulate this phenomenon with a preceding assumption: “there is no prior explicit theoretical or empirical attention on this matter” (Paroutis & Heracleous, 2013, p.936) or “Despite of decades of research on strategy, we still know little about what the concept of strategy means…”. In contrast, a simple search in Google Scholar might beg to differ, by just typing “what strategy means for managers + practice”, it has been found at least 2,340,000 results without including patents nor citations (double the publications if you exclude the word practice). Perhaps the assumption could have been articulated better by emphasizing concepts versus application in terms of strategy literature found.
Finally, one question arises according to Whetten (1989): “why should colleagues give credence to this particular representation of the phenomena?”, makes sense, as the article is trying to link knowledge with action and how speech influences organizational outcomes.
2. Evaluation of the articulation of the theoretical contribution:
As mentioned in before, it seems that the theoretical contribution lies in the understanding of the gap found in the way the term strategy is employed in practice by those actors involved in the adoption of institutions. In that sense, Bacharach (1989) suggests to breakdown the potential contribution into the following:
To begin, the variables found on the theory are the four dimensions of first-order strategy discourse: Identity, Functional, Contextual, Metaphorical. Table 4 presented by (Paroutis & Heracleous, 2013, p.945) clearly shows how these observed units are empirically measured. As a result, the authors decided to measure each dimension by using the amount of references found in the interviews reviewed in UtilCo. Moving forward, in order for a variable to fulfil the assessment criteria of operationally defined (Falsifiability), it must be determined in terms of its own measurement, in other words a clear relation between its definition and measure. On this case, it seems the authors managed to clearly define each variable while still connecting them back with their stated phenomena of What the concept of strategy means for managers and how do they apply it. With this in mind, the authors build each definition, for instance Functional (“their particular activities that are central in strategizing (executing, reflecting, coordinating, etc.), as well as the norms, dominant logics, or procedures for doing so.” (Paroutis & Heracleous, 2013, p.941).
Likewise, the case of the variable Contextual “the meaning of strategy is contingent on where strategy is carried out within a complex organization, as well as the location” (p.941). When it comes to Identity, the definition could have been more focused to the organizational culture or the company identity, however the authors decided to consider as the person that practices strategy and what it means to “be” a strategist. Finally, the variable Metaphorical seemed to be a great fit as clearly managers tend to use a rhetorical speech full of metaphors to allow themselves been understood as well to relate to the employees.
Furthermore, in the matter of definitions, it worth mention these variables seem to have the right balance between scope and parsimony (meaning utility). By virtue of providing the simplest possible explanation for their specific phenomena in direct relation to the constructs and the theoretical contribution intended to establish by the authors.
On the other hand, considering measurement issues, the variables are subject to be assessed for validity, noncontinuousness, and reliability, however in order to keep this evaluation short, we’ll focus on the last one. According to Bacharach (1989), many researchers assumed that variables were appropriately measured by presenting their theories through embedding the construct validity criteria. This might not be an issue with this article, but surely posses as a suspicion if these variables were in fact correctly measured. Going deeper on this, the way they measure these variables is with the number of allusions to a specific dimension of first-order strategy discourse, the question is what if the manager interviewed meant something else during his statement? In which degree of reliability it can be concluded one word would be part of the dimensions Identity or Metaphorical?
Constructs: also known asapproximated units, were stated as phases of first-order strategy discourse and institutional work: Shaping, Settling, and Selling.
When it comes to construct validity convergent, Bacharach (1989)suggest thatthis criteria urges the researchers to specify time and space parameters of the variables encapsulated in the constructs, hence, the last ones might be considered appropriately measured. Having said that, failing to make these two parameters clear would render almost impossible to falsify constructs, thus the theory. This is also considered by Whetten (1989) with the element of “When”. As a result, if you notice each variable definition you can see how they attempt to include time by writing: “When discussing strategy…”(Metaphorical), “When strategy directors speak…” (identity).
Furthermore, the researchers made several assumptions related to these constructs, that worth mentioning, most of them are clearly stated. For example “we suggested that strategy directors and their teams can be perceived as institutional entrepreneurs”, this is a pivotal assumption as it is giving managers what it seems a different representation of what they really are in a organization. Another example is “Our approach therefore assumes a tightly coupled relationship between discourse and meaning, as well as discourse and social practices, where discourse constitutes actors’ meanings and influences their practices.” This is great as they linked the organizational outcomes with strategy speech patterns. However, other assumptions weren’t as clear, for instance, “discourse is fundamental and constitute of strategic change” (p. 937) they should have explained this assumption a little bit more to make a strong argument that speech has strategic impact on the organization.
Is the theoretical contribution relevant? useful (utility)? Yes, for several reasons, firstly the propositions stated by the authors nicely links the constructs with the variables in a seamlessly way, providing a sense of time and space on each proposition by virtue of each phase during institutional adoptions. Secondly, the researchers definitely considered falsifiability as they attempted to construct a theory coherent enough to be refuted, while their mechanism of measuring each variable might be debatable, they manage to make a good argument out of it. Third, why would this fit as a theoretical contribution? Well, they discussed studies in strategy-as-practice and institutional entrepreneurship, to showcase how discourse can link these lines of enquiry while at the same time trying to address the phenomena of what it means to strategists the concept of strategy and how they apply it in practice.
Finally, one recommendation is that the authors failed to at least mention was body language. They focus so much on the speech patterns, words, message of the discourse that missed the opportunity to complement their arguments with how the message of strategies is also being shared through body language. “During coding, careful attention was paid to how our interviewees described and made sense of the concept of strategy, both through their response to our specific question about what strategy means to them as well as their related responses across the whole interview narrative.” (p. 941).