How do organizations strategically change practices and culture?





I am an Assistant Professor in the Strategic Management and Organization Department at the University of Alberta. I study the question, How do organizations strategically change practices and culture? Most of my research revolves around three inter-related concepts naturally associated with organizational efforts to change practices and/or culture: language, tools and technology, and professional expertise.

Theoretical topics of interest include:

  • Strategic Management
  • Organization Theory
  • Culture and Social Cognition
  • Institutional Logics
  • Strategy-as-Practice
  • Family Business
  • Technology Innovation and Entrepreneurship
  • Routines and Capabilities
  • Framing and Analogies
  • Performativity and Rationality
  • Strategic Change
  • Big Data and Analytics

I primarily use qualitative research methods. Recently, I have spent field time in the online display advertising and predictive analytics industries. I have also been conducting a longitudinal study of an entrepreneurial organization that is attempting to commercialize a new business model in the security industry.



DESIGN PERFORMANCES: How Organizations Inscribe Artifacts to Change Routines

Academy of Management Journal 2017.

(Link to Author Accepted Manuscript)

Vern Glaser


Organizations often use artifacts to accomplish strategic objectives. Existing research conceptualizes artifacts as either tools deployed by designers to realize strategic goals or as objects used by skillful actors in repetitive, ongoing routine performances. In this paper, I explore how organizations strategically design artifacts to change routines by analyzing the actions associated with designing performances. I study this phenomenon by conducting an inductive, ethnographic study that investigates how a law enforcement agency uses a game theoretic artifact to modify its patrolling routine. I theorize that an organization uses a series of iterative designing performances to materialize an artifact by articulating action scripts and parameterizing knowledge. In doing so, the organization enacts three inscribing practices: reflecting on assumptions, distributing agency, and appraising outcomes. These inscribing practices integrally shape the form and function of a materialized artifact and also influence organizational actors’ understandings of existing routines. By empirically studying the practices organizations use to design artifacts to change routines, I introduce theoretical insights that reveal the generativity of artifacts and develop a more dynamic account of the performativity of artifacts.


MAKING SNOWFLAKES LIKE STOCKS: Stretching, Bending, and Positioning to Make Financial Market Analogies Work in Online Advertising

Organization Science 2016.

(Link to Author Accepted Manuscript)

Vern Glaser, Peer Fiss, and Mark Kennedy


Analogies to financial markets have proven powerful in establishing novel or potentially controversial business concepts, even in  contexts that deviate significantly from financial markets. This phenomenon challenges theory that suggests analogies work best when elements from a source and target domain map closely to each other. To develop a theory that explains how organizations make initially imperfect analogies "work," we use a case study of online advertising exchanges, a market-inspired model for buying and selling online advertising space. We find that as organizations stretch an initially misfitting exchange analogy from financial markets to online advertising, they iteratively bend their activities in superficial, structural, and generative ways to match the analogy and position themselves for advantage in the new space being created. Whereas prior studies emphasize shared cognition about familiar domains as the reason why analogies work, our study offers a dynamic account in which stretching, bending, and positioning combine to not only establish the financial market analogy but also subtly change the understanding of markets.

FINDING THEORY-METHOD FIT: A Comparison of Three Approaches to Qualitative Theory Building

Joel Gehman, Vern Glaser, Kathy Eisenhardt, Denny Gioia, Ann Langley and Kevin Corley

Journal of Management Inquiry 2018.

(Link to Author Accepted Manuscript)

This article, together with a companion video, provides a synthesized summary of a Showcase Symposium held at the 2016 Academy of Management Annual Meeting in which prominent scholars—Denny Gioia, Kathy Eisenhardt, Ann Langley, and Kevin Corley—discussed different approaches to theory buil[ding with qualitative research. Our goal for the symposium was to increase management scholars' sensitivity to the importance of theory-method "fit" in qualitative research. We have integrated the panelists' prepared remarks and interactive discussion into three sections: an introduction by each scholar, who articulates their own approach to qualitative research; their personal reflections on the similarities and differences between approaches to qualitative research; and answers to general questions posed by the audience during the symposium. We conclude by summarizing insights gleaned from the symposium about important distinctions among these three qualitative research approaches and their appropriate usages.

INSTITUTIONAL FRAME SWITCHING: How Institutional Logics Shape Individual Action

Research in the Sociology of Organizations 2016.

(Link to Author Accepted Manuscript)

Vern Glaser, Nathanael Fast, Derek Harmon, and Sandy Green


Although scholars increasingly use institutional logics to explain macro-level phenomena, we still know little about the micro-level psychological mechanisms by which institutional logics shape individual action. In this paper, we propose that individuals internalize institutional logics as an associative network of schemas that shapes individual actions through a process we call institutional frame switching. Specifically, we conduct two novel experiments that demonstrate how one particularly important schema associated with institutional logics—the implicit theory—can drive individual action. This work further develops the psychological underpinnings of the institutional logics perspective by connecting macro-level cultural understandings with micro-level situational behavior. 


Forthcoming in Research in the Sociology of Organizations 2019. 

(Link to Author Accepted Manuscript)

Trish Reay, Asma Zafar, Pedro Monteiro, and Vern Glaser


In this chapter, we explore the state of our field in terms of ways to present qualitative findings. We analyze all articles based on qualitative research methods published in the Academy of Management Journal from 2010 to 2017 and supplement this by informally surveying colleagues about their ‘favorite’ qualitative authors. As a result, we identify five ways of presenting qualitative findings in research articles. We suggest that each approach has advantages as well as limitations, and that the type of data and theorizing is an important consideration in determining the most appropriate approach for the presentation of findings. We hope that by identifying these approaches, we enrich the way authors, reviewers and editors approach the presentation of qualitative findings.


GOAL-BASED CATEGORIZATION: Shifting Levels of Categorical Abstraction in the Display Advertising Industry

Vern Glaser, Mariam Krikorian, and Peer Fiss

Prior work on the relationship between categories and valuation assumes that market actors value products and/or producers by assessing conformity to a categorical prototype or exemplar. In this paper, we use an inductive, qualitative study of the display advertising industry to advance an alternative perspective on categories that seeks to understand how actors use goal-based categories to realize their objectives. We find that market actors dynamically use goal-based categories by shifting their perspective of categorical abstraction: at a high level of abstraction, they use broad, aggregated, averaged categories with few dimensions and features; at a low level of abstraction, they use granular, individualized categories with multiple dimensions and features. We also find that their valuation process differs depending on the level of categorical abstraction: at a high level, buyers rely on deductive theories of value and sellers construct custom solutions for buyers that promote these theories; while at a low level, buyers and sellers conduct inductive experiments to clarify and realize value by adding or reducing granular categorical dimensions and features. Our goal-based categorization perspective thus shows how categories provide actors with conceptual infrastructure that can be dynamically adjusted to pursue market objectives.

WHAT WE DON'T KNOW MAKES US STRONGER: A Performative Perspective on Uncertainty in Entrepreneurship

Vern Glaser, Matthew Grimes and Joel Gehman

The navigation of uncertainty is a critical part of the entrepreneurial process. Extant research on entrepreneurship argues that perceived uncertainties are exogenous constraints on the entrepreneurial process. However, a performative perspective challenges this assumption by suggesting that uncertainty emerges from the performances of particular actions. In this paper, we conduct a 26-month ethnographic case study of Algo-Security, a new venture promoting radical innovation in the security industry, to introduce a performative model of uncertainty practices. We develop a theoretical model of the performativity of uncertainty that revolves around three sets of practices: constructing uncertainty, establishing uncertainty space, and creating artificial détentes. By showing how uncertainty is performed in the entrepreneurial process, we introduce a performative perspective on uncertainty that enables scholars to better theorize the emergence of new innovations.

THE COMPLEXITY AND CENTRALITY OF PROFESSIONAL SCHEMAS: Understanding the Influence of Institutional Logics

Vern L. Glaser, Richard F. J. Haans, Jochem J. Kroezen and Patricia Thornton

Why has the market logic invaded professional domains originally established to counteract market guile? We propose scholars can examine this question by studying differences in the cognitive schemas associated with institutional logics. We theorize that professions more associated with a market logic have less complex and more central cognitive schemas than professions less associated with a market logic.  Comparative topic-model analysis of the foundational texts used to educate finance and nursing professionals supports this proposition. Implications are discussed for new research on the micro-level mechanisms of institutional logics and why some institutional logics are more influential than others in spreading to new domains. 

PASSING THE BATON: How Family Firms Transfer Values across Generations

Vern Glaser and Pursey Heugens

Values are at the heart of family firms and significantly contribute to family firm resilience. However, since family firms must continually reproduce these values, such values are fragile— particularly during times of generational succession. In this paper, we set out to resolve this paradox of resilience and fragility by studying how family firms reproduce their values across generations. We use an inductive, theory-building comparative case study of 4 North American and European family firms to develop a process model of intergenerational values transfer and transformation. By developing theory to explain the micro-mechanisms undergirding generational transitions, we help scholars and practitioners better understand how family firms can reproduce and magnify competitive advantages associated with familiness. 

STRUCTURED AMBIGUITY: How Meaning Emerges through the Faultlines of Institutional Logics

Nina Eliasoph, Jade Lo, and Vern Glaser

Categorical concepts like “spheres” or “institutional logics” are important for social scientists, including organization theorists. Yet scholars who study these categories also make it clear that they are only ideal types, never fully incarnated in everyday life. How then, if at all, can ethnographers and others who examine everyday interaction use these ideal types? Focusing on one version of such ideal types, “institutional logics,” we propose a framework and a set of conceptual tools for analyzing how such broad cultural categories inform everyday practices in organizations. Our framework is based on three inter-related arguments. First, we argue that there are three analytically distinct elements of institutional logics: a) explicit missions, b) implicit expectations, and c) material affordances. Second, in everyday practice, these elements of logics come apart. These inevitable disconnections are patterned and eventually become relatively predictable; we call this “structured ambiguity.” Third, through repeated interactions, actors learn to navigate this ambiguity, by connecting and disconnecting elements of logics in patterned ways. This process is what we call “scene.” Through it, meaning arises. We thus propose an epistemological agenda that does not try to avoid ambiguity, but to search for it, positively ferreting out its predictable fault lines.

CATEGORICAL EVOLUTION OR REVOLUTION? How Organizations Promote Emergent Categories

Hovig Tchalian, Vern Glaser, and Mark Kennedy

Current scholarship on categories has developed theory to explain the relationship between categorization and market valuation. This literature has traditionally relied on static conceptions of category definition based on cognitive psychology that fails to take into account the faceted nature of current product markets. We answer calls to go beyond studying mechanisms of legitimacy to pay closer attention to processes of emergence and particularly the dynamic promotion of emergent categories. We build theory about strategic category promotion by studying introductions in the Electric Vehicle (EV) product category. Incorporating the literature on faceted (or non-hierarchical) categorization schemes and dynamic categories, we use an inductive, process-based analytical approach to study the introduction of two vehicles, the GM Impact/EV1 and Tesla Roaster, and associated approaches to category promotion in the emerging EV category. We conduct an in-depth study of a corpus of organizational (sense-giving) and popular and expert (sense-making) texts, coding them for discursive markers and associative links across our two aggregate dimensions of temporal stance (attitude toward change and agency) and ontological orientation (specific category promotion mechanisms). We use our coding scheme to inductively build a theoretical framework for understanding dynamic approaches to the promotion of emerging categories. We find that category promotion relies on a configuration of promotional choices, including: correspondence with novel, faceted feature sets; positive alignment with new and emerging categories; straddling multiple categories; and what we call “casting,” emphasis on the full development of a product as an “exemplar” in a newly emergent category.

CRAFTING CONSISTENCY FROM COMPLEXITY: Tension-Smoothing Strategies in Everyday Interaction

Nina Eliasoph, Jade Lo, and Vern Glaser

Contemporary organizations reside in a pluralistic environment that features multiple and even competing institutional logics. Moreover, organizational members from different backgrounds often have different expectations and interpretations of even the same logic. How do organizational members manage the tensions and ambiguities that arise from such external and internal complexity in their everyday interaction? To answer this question, we conduct an ethnographic study of a set of hybrid organizations characterized by unusual institutional complexity: government- and nonprofit-sponsored volunteer organizations that aim to help disadvantaged youth. We observe organizational members dealing with two different types of institutional complexity: external complexity (arising from the presence of multiple, diverse audiences) and internal complexity (arising from the presence of diverse participants from highly divergent social backgrounds). To resolve the tensions that emerged from these complexities, organizational members mastered five tension-management strategies. Through these strategies, tensions are not resolved, but normalized. 




This course introduces the concepts, tools, and first principles of strategy formation and competitive analysis. It is concerned with managerial decisions and actions that materially affect the success and survival of business enterprises. The course focuses on the information, analyses, organizational processes, skills, and business judgment managers must use to design strategies, position their business and assets, and define firm boundaries. The goal: to learn how to maximize long-term profits or other strategic objectives in the face of uncertainty and competition.


This course introduces the concepts, tools, and first principles of advising family businesses. It is concerned with how professional service advisors help family businesses make managerial decisions and actions that materially affect the success and survival of their business enterprises. The course focuses on the information, analyses, organizational processes, skills, and business judgments advisors to family businesses are expected to understand and apply. 

EUROPEAN STUDY TOUR: Competitive Dynamics and Cultural Differences - Family Business and Entrepreneurship in European Governance Systems

This course stresses the important role of entrepreneurship and family business in different corporate governance systems throughout the world. The field trip focuses on Europe and examines Germany, Austria, and the Netherlands in particular. There are four objectives: (1) to become familiar with the diversity and relevance of family business and entrepreneurship in different governance systems, with focus on Europe; (2) to understand governance differences within Europe that impact family businesses and entrepreneurship; (3) to provide face-to-face interactions with key business executives and scholars regarding issues affecting entrepreneurship and family businesses in Europe; and (4) to understand European culture, the political and economic dynamics of that continent, and its role in the global economy.



Prior to entering academia, I gained experience in sales, customer service, operations management, business development, merger integration, and management consulting. In 2005, I founded Red Hill Advisors, a niche consulting firm which provided management consulting services for medium-sized businesses in a variety of industries. Products and services offered by Red Hill include the Red Hill Enterprise Strategic Insight System, Organizational Assessments and Restructurings, Process Improvement Initiatives, Strategic Planning, and Customized Financial Modeling. Additionally, I co-founded Red Hill Technology Solutions, a joint venture software company that utilizes dashboarding technology and mobile devices to provide real-time Business Intelligence solutions for the construction materials industry.

In addition to consulting experience, I have worked in the areas of finance, operations, sales, customer service, and maintenance. I have held positions including being the Controller for Southdown, Inc.'s concrete and aggregates group and the Production Manager for Cemex, Inc.'s Southern California ready-mixed concrete operations. Previously, I worked as a business analyst for ARCO Products Company's Los Angeles Refinery.

I am a graduate of the University of California at Los Angeles (BA, Economics), Duke University's Fuqua School of Business (MBA), and the University of Southern California (PhD). Our family currently lives in Edmonton, Alberta.


For an updated copy of my CV, please click here.