Sub-theme 03: (SWG) Professional Service Organizations and Knowledge-Intensive Work

Celeste P.M. Wilderom
Twente University, The Netherlands
Hüseyin Leblebici
University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, USA
Juani Swart
University of Bath, UK

Call for Papers

Professional service organizations (PSOs), such as accounting, law, architecture, advertising and engineering firms, have distinctive governance and organizational arrangements, which are currently adopted by many contemporary organizations. Indeed, PSOs are currently seen as the fastest growing segment of the Western population of organizations (or organizational work units). It is within this growth that PSOs often bridge continents, cultures and worldviews. How can society at large learn from these professionals through better organizing? It is known that the professional organizational prototype carries elements of the bureaucratic, entrepreneurial and voluntary organization. Yet, the operating logic and dynamics of the professional organization/group differ significantly from these other organizational forms. This is a direct consequence of its service character that requires direct interaction with clients and a strong focus on the development of professional knowledge.

These and other characteristics of PSOs bring with them sets of identity challenges (what is a professional), cross-boundary challenges (how do we work effectively across professions), and managerial/leadership and behavioral challenges that are imperfectly understood and insufficiently studied. Key, for instance, in any professional type work setting is a strong need among many professionals 'to learn' and at the same time to improve the quality of their work. This learning occurs typically in close cooperation with co-workers, mentors, clients and external advisors. Plus, increasingly, use is made of new information and knowledge technologies. Such processes of learning and changing seem necessary because most professional work is dealing with an increasing variety of needs of consumers and other relevant stakeholders.

We are thus challenged to develop new and acceptable/improved arrangements for cross-boundary professional work. This type of work calls for particular leadership styles, (change) strategies, organizational and HRM practices as well as governance modes. Exactly what kind and amount of these behaviors, strategies and work or change practices will prove successful for the harnessing of professional effort and learning is not completely known, but long-term societal development will be affected by our ability to learn on this score. These are key questions which we seek to answer in our Standing Working Group.

Scholars of professional service firms, the professions, professionals, professionalization, and the leadership thereof who investigate these issues within e.g. hospitals, universities, public-sector organizations as well as professional service firms/settings should find a stimulating home in this eclectic standing workgroup. We do encourage a variety of disciplinary and methodological approaches, thereby building bridges methodologically and theoretically. We welcome papers that develop innovative theoretical and empirical approaches. In line with the conference theme we would particularly welcome papers which address the topic of 'bridging continents, cultures and worldviews' in PSOs. This could be applied to professional identity, working across boundaries and the globalization of the PSO.


Celeste P.M. Wilderom holds the Chair in Change Management and Organizational Behavior at the Department of Business Administration, Twente University, The Netherlands. Her research focus is on predictors of highly effective service organizations, including leadership and culture/climate. She co-edited Sage's 'Handbook of Organizational Culture & Climate' (2000; its 2nd completely revised edition was published in 2011). She served as a senior editor of the 'British Journal of Management' and has been an associate editor of the 'Academy of Management Executive' and the 'International Journal of Service Industry Management'. She now serves on the editorial boards of various journals, coordinates and teaches in the MSc. track Service Management, and is actively guiding a variety of executive PhD projects.
Hüseyin Leblebici is Merle H. and Virginia Downs Boren Professor of Business Administration at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, Department of Business Administration. His recent research focuses on three interrelated macro organizational domains: the co-evolutionary processes in the professions and organizational fields; the sociology of professional careers; and, the evolution of business models and how they impact on the industry evolution and firms' competitive advantage.
Juani Swart holds a Chair in Human Capital and directs the Work and Employment Research Centre (WERC) at the University of Bath where she specializes in knowledge management and the management of knowledge workers. Her work has been published widely in the area of people management in knowledge intensive firms, intellectual capital structures, systems approaches to knowledge management and network influences on strategic choice in journals such as 'Journal of Management Studies', 'Management Learning', 'Journal of the Operations Research Society' and 'Human Resource Management Journal'.