Sub-theme 24: Challenging Organizations from Within: Novel Management Practices and Unsanctioned Organizational Change

Robert Demir
Lancaster University Management School, United Kingdom
Martin Friesl
Lancaster University Management School, United Kingdom
Inger Stensaker
NHH Norwegian School of Economics, Norway

Call for Papers

This sub-theme deals with the challenges to the organization that arise from within. Rather than attributing change to external causes (Romanelli & Tushman, 1994), research on strategy practice and process (Vaara & Whittington, 2012) increasingly focusses on the endogenous and internal sources for innovation and change that arise in practice (Feldman & Pentland, 2003; Friesl & Larty, 2013; Salvato, 2003, 2009) and through autonomous and unsanctioned initiatives (Burgelman, 2002; Mirabeau & Maguire, 2014). The purpose of this sub-theme is to further instigate research on internally driven change in organizations. In particular, the sub-theme will investigate two main themes: the emergence of novel management practices and unsanctioned organizational level change.
Novel management practices: Management practice innovations are significant changes in the way managerial work is performed (Hamel, 2006). It is concerned with the invention and appropriation of practices, processes, and structures intended to advance the strategic direction of the firm (Birkinshaw et al., 2008). However, organizations are increasingly concerned about the discovery of such novel management practices as the competition over resources (Kannan-Narasimhan, 2014) and organizational politics (McCabe, 2002) and political rhetoric (Zbaracki, 1998), among other things, forces organizational members to ‘go underground’ (Criscuolo et al., 2014) to overcome structural, cultural and resource constraints. This is particularly important with the expected changes in work design implied by digital innovations and the redirection of loyalty in the post-bureaucratic organization (Barley et al., 2017). This form of creative deviance (Mainemelis, 2010) and actions in the organization’s moral gray zones (Anteby, 2008) are increasingly seen as productive loci for innovation, the creative use of work materials and resources, and novelty in practice. Prior studies suggest that creative deviance, or pro-social rule breaking (Morrison, 2006) enables experimentation and corporate entrepreneurial behavior (Ireland et al., 2006) through unsanctioned initiatives. While related phenomena, such as skunkworks (Adner & Levinthal, 2008; Burgelman, 1983) and bootlegging activity in product innovation (Criscuolo et al., 2014) are commonly supported and resourced by management, empirical observations suggest that the further down the organizational hierarchy the more likely innovation and change projects are formally supported. Hence, understanding the internal challenges, drivers and practices of enacting and developing novel management practices is sought for in this sub-theme.
Unsanctioned organizational level change: Internal challenges to the organization are not only present on the level of management practices, but also stretch to the level of the organization; organization level transformation through activities and initiatives not sanctioned by top management. Research on strategy practice and process considers the ‘autonomous engine’ a crucial aspect of emergent strategy (Mirabeau & Maguire, 2014) and even the survival of the firm (Burgelman, 2002). Indeed, for researchers like Burgelman (2002), such unsanctioned behavior is an important safe guard against the ‘ossification’ of the organization. Recent empirical research sheds light on the processes and practices involved in such unsanctioned initiatives (Friesl & Larty, 2018) and also highlights how such actions might be rooted in managerial identity (Pandza, 2011). The implications for large scale transformation of unsanctioned initiatives are most clearly revealed in Chandler’s (1962) classic investigation of the M-form adoption at DuPont. The case shows how middle manager pursued implementing a divisional structure despite substantial resistance at the top. Also, recent research has started to address the role of resistance (in particular among top management) to unsanctioned organization level change. By extending Chandler’s original analysis of DuPont, Friesl and Kwon (2017) show how resistance facilitates organization level change by shaping unsanctioned activities, in particular their framing and distributed resourcing.
In this sub-theme, we seek contributions that build on and expand this exciting, but largely under-explored area of research. We invite papers that shed light on novel management practices and unsanctioned organization level change from a range of theoretical and methodological approaches. We, therefore, welcome contributions that address one or more of the following research questions:

  • What are the processes and drivers of unsanctioned management practices?

  • How do such processes and drivers inhibit or prompt strategic change?

  • What are the methodological challenges for studying unsanctioned work?

  • What are the implications of unsanctioned work on the adoption of disruptive technologies?

  • What is the role of top management resistance to unsanctioned activities and how do actors circumvent such resistance?

  • How do managers balance the positive and potentially detrimental effects of unsanctioned change?

  • How do top management teams balance challenges via simultaneous unsanctioned initiatives?

  • How do unsanctioned activities emerge, build momentum, get adopted or whither?

  • Who are the actors in organizations that initiate and drive novel management practices and initiate unsanctioned organizational change?

These research questions invite a variety of different contributions both empirically as well as conceptually. We hope that this sub-theme will instigate new research on the emergence, adoption and diffusion of novel management practices undertaken as unsanctioned initiatives that challenge organizations from within.


  • Adner, R., & Levinthal, D. (2008): “Doing versus seeing: Acts of exploitation and perceptions of exploration.” Strategic Entrepreneurship Journal, 2 (1), 43–52.
  • Anteby, M. (2008): Moral Gray Zones: Side Productions, Identity, and Regulation in an Aeronautic Plant. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.
  • Barley, S.R., Bechky, B.A., & Milliken, F.J. (2017): “The Changing Nature of Work: Careers, Identities, and Work Lives in the 21st Century.” Academy of Management Discoveries, 3 (2), 111–115.
  • Birkinshaw, J., Hamel, G., & Mol, M.J. (2008): “Management Innovation.” Academy of Management Review, 33 (4), 825–845.
  • Burgelman, R.A. (1983): “Corporate entrepreneurship and strategic management: Insights from a process study.” Management Science, 29 (12), 1349–1364.
  • Burgelman, R.A. (2002): “Strategy as vector and the inertia of coevolutionary lock-in.” Administrative Science Quarterly, 47, 325–358.
  • Chandler Jr, A.D. (1962): Strategy and Structure: Chapters in the History of the American Industrial Enterprise. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.
  • Criscuolo, P., Salter, A., & Ter Wal, A.L.J. (2014): “Going Underground: Bootlegging and Individual Innovative Performance.” Organization Science, 25 (5), 1287–1305.
  • Feldman, M.S., & Pentland, B.T. (2003): “Reconceptualizing organizational routines as a source of flexibility and change.” Administrative Science Quarterly, 48 (1), 94–118.
  • Friesl, M., & Kwon, W. (2017): “The Strategic Importance of Top Management Resistance: Extending Alfred D. Chandler.” Strategic Organization, 15 (1), 100–112.
  • Friesl, M., & Larty, J. (2013): “Replication of Routines in Organizations: Existing Literature and New Perspectives.” International Journal of Management Reviews, 15 (1), 106–122.
  • Friesl, M., & Larty, J. (2018): “The Exploration Phase of Replication Strategies: The Role of Autonomous Action for Reverse Knowledge Flows.” British Journal of Management, 29 (3), 411–427.
  • Hamel, G. (2006): “The why, what, and how of management innovation.” Harvard Business Review, 84 (2), 72–84.
  • Ireland, R.D., Kuratko, D.F., & Morris, M.H. (2006): “A health audit for corporate entrepreneurship: Innovation at all levels: Part I.” Journal of Business Strategy, 27 (1), 10–17.
  • Kannan-Narasimhan, R. (2014): “Organizational Ingenuity in Nascent Innovations: Gaining Resources and Legitimacy through Unconventional Actions.” Organization Studies, 35 (4), 483–509.
  • Mainemelis, C. (2010): “Stealing Fire: Creative Deviance in the Evolution of New Ideas.” Academy of Management Review, 35 (4), 558–578.
  • McCabe, D. (2002): “‘Waiting for dead men’s shoes’: Towards a cultural understanding of management innovation.” Human Relations, 55 (5), 505–536.
  • Mirabeau, L., & Maguire, S. (2014): “From autonomous strategic behavior to emergent strategy.” Strategic Management Journal, 35, 1202–1229.
  • Morrison, E.W. (2006): “Doing the Job Well: An Investigation of Pro-Social Rule Breaking.” Journal of Management, 32 (1), 5–28.
  • Pandza, K. (2011): “Why and How Will a Group Act Autonomously to Make an Impact on the Development of Organizational Capabilities?” Journal of Management Studies, 48 (5), 1015–1043.
  • Romanelli, E., & Tushman, M. (1994): “Organizational transformation as punctuated equilibrium: An empirical test.” Academy of Management Journal, 37 (5), 1141–1166.
  • Salvato, C. (2003): “The Role of Micro-Strategies in the Engineering of Firm Evolution.” Journal of Management Studies, 40 (1), 83–108.
  • Salvato, C. (2009): “Capabilities unveiled: The role of ordinary activities in the evolution of product development processes.” Organization Science, 20 (2), 384–409.
  • Vaara, E., & Whittington, R. (2012): “Strategy-as-Practice: Taking Social Practices Seriously.” The Academy of Management Annals, 6 (1), 285–336.
  • Zbaracki, M.J. (1998): “The Rhetoric and Reality of Total Quality Management.” Administrative Science Quarterly, 43 (3), 602–636.

Robert Demir is Lecturer at Lancaster University Management School and Research Fellow at Ratio, UK. His research concerns the emergence and renewal of management and strategy practices. Robert is currently the principal investigator in a research project on the emergence of unsanctioned management practices financed by Riksbankens Jubileumsfond.
Martin Friesl is Professor in Strategic Management at Lancaster University Management School, UK, and Associate Editor of the ‘International Journal of Management Reviews’. His research mainly focuses on strategic renewal and the development, change and replication of organizational capability development. Martin served as Chair, Programme Chair and Associate Programme Chair for the Strategy Practice IG at the Strategic Management Society.
Inger Stensaker is Professor in Strategic Change at NHH Norwegian School of Economics, Norway. She conducts qualitative process research in close collaboration with practitioners addressing issues such as strategy implementation, strategic change processes, organizational change capacity, sensemaking and identity dynamics. She is past Chair of the ODC division at Academy of Management.