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

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.



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.

DESIGN PERFORMANCES: How Organizations Inscribe Artifacts to Change Routines

Conditionally Accepted in Academy of Management Journal

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.

INSTITUTIONAL FRAME SWITCHING: How Institutional Logics Shape Individual Action

Forthcoming in Research in the Sociology of Organizations

(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. 

SHIFTING LEVELS OF ABSTRACTION: How Faceted Category Systems Influence Market Valuation Processes

Vern Glaser, Mariam Krikorian, and Peer Fiss


While prior work on the relationship between categories and valuation has focused on hierarchical category systems, modern product markets increasingly rely on faceted category systems that classify products according to multiple dimensions. In this paper, we suggest that a faceted perspective on categories leads to fundamentally different processes for valuing products. We investigate this issue with an inductive, qualitative study in the online advertising industry, an industry that relies heavily on a faceted category system. We find that market actors primarily use this faceted category system in two ways: at a high level of abstraction, they use broad, aggregated, averaged categories with few facets; at a low level of abstraction, they use granular, de-aggregated, de-averaged categories with numerous facets. We also find that valuation processes differ at high and low levels of categorical abstraction. At high levels, buyers rely on deductive theories of value and sellers construct custom solutions for buyers that reinforce and promote these theories; while at low levels, buyers and sellers conduct inductive experiments in which they clarify and realize value by adding or reducing categorical facets. Buyers and sellers further dynamically shift their levels of categorical abstraction to clarify value and optimize yield, respectively. 

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

Vern Glaser and Matthew Grimes


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.

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. 


Vern Glaser, Jochem Kroezen, and Patricia Thornton

Why do nurses think differently than equity traders? Why is the market logic colonizing professional domains that originally emerged to counteract the guile of the market? To explore these questions, this paper presents an inductive, qualitative comparative study of the vocabularies of finance and nursing textbooks to identify central types of cognitive schemas learned by individuals during educational and professional socialization. We connect research in social psychology to the sociological view of institutional logics to theorize how individuals make sense of their world by forming particular types of schemas to shape professional decision-making. Our empirical findings indicate that professional training results in individuals learning four types of cognitive schemas: (1) a pragmatic reasoning schema; (2) and implicit theory of attributes; (3) an implicit theory of agency; and (4) an implicit theory of morality. These findings suggest propositions to articulate theory for how different institutional logics influence the formation of psychological schemas with consequences for differences in professional decision-making. This paper contributes to our understanding of the micro foundations of institutional theory and offers implications for the sociology of professional ethics, theories of morality, and the spread of the market logic.

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.

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 fragileparticularly 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. 



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 Consulting Group, Inc., 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). My wife and I currently live with our three boys in Edmonton, Alberta.


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