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 four inter-related concepts naturally associated with organizational efforts to change practices and/or culture: language, tools and technology, professional expertise, and organizational consciousness.
Theoretical topics of interest include:
MAKING ANALOGIES WORK: The Extension of Financial Market Concepts to Online Advertising
Vern Glaser, Peer Fiss, and Mark Kennedy
Prior work suggests analogies work best when an innovation aligns closely with a familiar domain, but analogies to financial markets have proven powerful in selling novel or potentially controversial business concepts—even when the new business is quite unlike a financial market. To address this puzzle we ask, how do organizations make a financial market analogy work? To develop a theoretical model of analogy work, we use a qualitative study of advertising exchanges, a market-inspired model for buying and selling online advertising space. We identify three types of analogy work: stretching, bending and positioning. As organizations stretch the exchange analogy from financial markets to online advertising, they also bend their activities to reflect key attributes of financial markets and position themselves for advantage in the new space being created. This dynamic view of analogy work extends theory by showing an analogy’s fit is not just a given property of the analogy: instead, innovators construct analogical fit by seeking to differentiate themselves as, not after, they establish the analogy.
ENCHANTED ALGORITHMS: How Organizations Use Algorithms to Automate Decision-Making Routines
With technological advances that have contributed to the emergence of “Big Data,” organizations increasingly try to replace routines guided by human decision-makers with decision-making routines automated by complex algorithms that draw on sophisticated mathematical expertise. This trend creates challenges for organizations since the use of these algorithms requires organizations to appropriate this sophisticated mathematical expertise while maintaining the ability of human decision-makers to perform routines flexibly. I seek to provide insight into this phenomenon by examining the research question, how do organizations use algorithms to automate decision-making routines? To answer this question, I study how a law enforcement organization and an expert in game theory use an algorithm to automate a decision-making routine for scheduling and deploying security resources. I find that the law enforcement organization reconciles their grounded, embedded, and pragmatic approach to the routine with the algorithmic expert’s inherently abstract, disembedded, and mathematical approach to the routine. Although prior research highlights the role of algorithms in automating and rationalizing decision-making processes, my findings suggest that these inherently different approaches to routines compel organizational experts to inscribe their dynamic, multi-faceted domain expertise into an “enchanted” algorithm. By offering an empirically grounded analysis of how organizations use an algorithm to automate a routine, I contribute to research on the emergence of routines and capabilities, as well as research on organizational decision-making more broadly.
SHIFTING LEVELS OF ABSTRACTION: The Role of Vertical Category Dynamics in Market Valuation
Vern Glaser, Mariam Krikorian, and Peer Fiss
Product categories facilitate transactions between buyers and sellers by defining and valuing the goods exchanged. While prior research has shown how the horizontal dimension of category membership influences value, scholars have yet to examine the role vertical category dynamics between buyers and sellers play in the market valuation process. In this study, we examine how market actors strategically adjust the vertical scope of their product categories to understand and create value. Using the context of the online advertising industry, we show that when expert pricing characterizes a market, buyers and sellers base their understandings of value on deductive models of value creation that rely on broad, aggregated, and averaged categories. In contrast, when auction pricing characterizes a market, buyers and sellers base their understandings of value on inductive experimentation and rapid feedback loops that rely on granular, de-aggregated, and de-averaged categories. We further find that ongoing market exchanges involve vertical category adjustment where buyers shift the level of abstraction of their categorical perspective to clarify uncertain value and sellers manipulate the level of abstraction of their categorical perspective to optimize their value.
INSTITUTIONAL FRAME SWITCHING: How Institutional Logics Influence Individual Action
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 psychological mechanisms by which institutional logics shape individual action. In this paper, we address this limitation by developing theory to explain how schemas connect institutional logics and individual action. Specifically, we propose that individuals internalize institutional logics as an associative network of entity schemas (i.e., persons, objects, and places) and event schemas (i.e., stories, histories, and implicit theories). Within this framework, an implicit theory of action serves as a cognitive frame that shapes how individuals act in social situations. We hypothesize that exposure to cues associated with a particular logic increases the likelihood that individuals will adopt and use the implicit theory associated with that logic. We label this process “institutional frame switching,” and test our theory through two laboratory experiments. By clarifying how schemas connect institutional logics and individual action, we further develop the psychological underpinnings of the institutional logics perspective.
ENTREPRENEURIAL ITERATION: How Nascent Firms Reduce the Uncertainties of Commercialization
Vern Glaser and Matthew Grimes
Entrepreneurs face two significant tensions while they attempt to commercialize their products and services: First, they can focus either on meeting market demand or developing internal expertise. Second, they can focus either on raising capital or bootstrapping by obtaining paying customer contracts. Existing research tends to approach these problems from a static perspective. In our research proposal, we take a dynamic, process-based approach to studying how entrepreneurs manage these tensions by asking the research question, how do entrepreneurs deal with uncertainty tensions? To study this question, we conduct a 16-month case study relying on intensive participant observation data of an entrepreneur, Algo-Security. Algo-Security sought to commercialize their core technology, proprietary algorithms that utilized game-theoretic models to develop decision recommendations for the scheduling and deployment of security resources. We will analyze our data to develop a theoretical process model of how entrepreneurs deal with uncertainty tensions.
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.
ADVISING FAMILY BUSINESS
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.