Exploring microfoundations of field-level change - Essays on transformations in the retailing industries

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School of Business | Doctoral thesis (article-based)
Degree programme
57 + app. 99
Aalto University publication series DOCTORAL DISSERTATIONS, 1/2021
This dissertation is a study of the microfoundations of institutional change. More specifically, it seeks to understand how bottom-up institutional change is related to and enabled by changes in organizational routines. Until the last two decades, institutional change was typically attributed to macro-level factors such as exogenous shocks that may come in the form of a shift in social values, new legal regulations, or a novel technology. Similarly, it has been thought that routines need to be adapted, changed, or abandoned according to such higher-order triggers. Although the area has attracted increased interest, there remain a variety of unanswered questions related to the microfoundations of change processes that come as a result of individuals solving problems in their mundane everyday activities. To shed light into these questions, I introduce an ensemble of three essays on transformations in the field of retailing, focusing on distinct aspects of bottom-up emergence. In the first essay, I elucidate how routines and industries are mutually constitutive. I show how routines can not only be conceived as the stable building blocks of organizations, but also as generative systems driving organizational outcomes. Accordingly, my results advance the understanding of the generative nature of routines by suggesting that, while the changes within a single routine may seem small at first sight, such changes can spill over into other routines and practices, thereby creating a chain reaction and compiling into a higher-order transformation. In the second essay, my focus is on algorithms that have increasingly replaced mundane routines in organizations, extending and even exceeding the efficiency of human agency. I show how this may amount to a fundamental shift in the logic of decision-making at the field-level, causing some decisions to lose visibility to senior management. The essay enhances our current understanding of the impact that big data increasingly exerts on many organizational aspects. Finally, in the third essay, I look into the role of serial field-configuring events (FCEs) as a medium for interactions among routines and fields, and seek to uncover their role in higher-order change. Whereas the current literature views the intended factors related to the organizing of the event as key determinants of its impact, I show how the role of FCEs is highly dependent on the FCE's surroundings. This essay highlights the role of serial FCEs on strategy implementation and underlines the importance of studying FCEs in their networks within and across organizations over time.
Supervising professor
Granqvist, Nina, Prof., Aalto University, Department of Management Studies, Finland
Thesis advisor
Cuthbertson, Richard, Dr., University of Oxford, UK
institutional change, microfoundations, routines, algorithms, field-configuring, events, retailing
Other note
  • [Publication 1]: Paavola, Lauri; Cuthbertson, Richard. The role of organizational routines in driving industry-level transformations. Non-published essay. Submitted to a journal
  • [Publication 2]: Paavola, Lauri; Cuthbertson, Richard. Algorithms creating paradoxes of power: Explore, exploit, embed, embalm. Non-published essay. Submitted to a journal
  • [Publication 3]: Paavola, Lauri. Exploring the role of serial FCEs in strategy implementation. Non-published essay. Submitted to a journal