Organizational responses to institutional change : a study of two local law firms in Singapore
Chow, Dawn Yi Lin
Date of Issue2016-02-29
College of Business (Nanyang Business School)
Modern organization theory posits that organizations are largely unified by nature, marked by clear boundaries, and tend to reproduce over time. However, recent research has indicated that many organizations are increasingly located at complex boundary zones which are guided by multiple principles or institutional logics (Battilana & Lee, 2014; Friedland & Alford, 1991; Murray, 2010). As varied institutional logics overlap, conflicts over interpretations of roles and behavior often emerge. This causes a strain on organizations which are trapped within the shared boundaries. To reduce the strain, organizations tend to resort to hybrid strategies of action (Haveman & Rao, 2006). There are several major gaps in the research on hybrid strategies. Firstly, studies offer few insights into the conditions for the adoption of different hybrid strategies (Besharov & Smith, 2014; Murray, 2010). It is beyond doubt that there is no one-size-fits-all strategy for organizations. But under what structural conditions are different strategies developed and adopted merits further research. Secondly, most research works on hybrid strategies have not examined professional organizations, and for those on such organizations, law firms have been understudied. Based on empirical case studies of two law firms in Singapore, this paper builds an ideal type contrast of two logics—social trustee vs. client-service—which are most relevant to the law firms, and uncovers the different structural conditions (field position, founding origin of the firm, and type of clients) underlying the adoption of domination versus distinction hybrid strategies. I demonstrate that being a niche player, situated at the periphery of a field, and possessing a loyal base of clientele at inception would facilitate a strategy of distinction. These discoveries help build a more grounded framework for analyzing hybrid strategy formation. At the same time, prior research has dwelt on the social trustee ideal, as well as a client-service logic, but these have not been adequately characterized. I contribute to the literature on institutional and organizational change by developing instantiations of these industry-level logics from my empirical data.