The Coming of Age of Managerial Work in Nonprofit Organizing

The proclaimed move from “amateur do-gooders” to “professional entities” has been accompanied by the appointment of paid managers in many formalized nonprofit organizations. Additionally, there has been an increase in the number of Schools of Business and Public Administration offering graduate degrees in Nonprofit Management, often targeted at the occupants of managerial roles. The management education within such schools, however, has been criticized for its narrow, technocratic focus on “management science.” Critics have pointed to its role in the further entrenchment of the managerialization of the world (Alvesson &c Deetz, 2000; Adler et al., 2008), the marginalization of alternative forms of organizing and the promotion of neo-liberal capitalism with all its social injustices and planetary consequences (Parker, 2018). As Ghoshal (2005, p. 76) puts it:

“Academic research related to the conduct of business and management has had some very significant and negative influences on the practice of management ... by propagating ideologically inspired amoral theories, business schools have actively freed their students from any sense of moral responsibility.”

One might expect specialist nonprofit courses to be somehow different; more cognizant about issues of public good, sustainability and a broader, more questioning approach perhaps. Yet recent work has shown that research on nonprofit organizing - the basis for many of these courses - has become increasingly conservative and mainstream in nature (Coule et al., 2020). Given the now common migration of managerial staff between “sectors,” it is arguably even more important to equip management students to recognize and make reflective choices about the potentially oppressive, exploitative nature of managerial work (Adler et al., 2008) through a more critical pedagogy than is prevalent.

Such transitions from public administration and/or the corporate to the nonprofit world offer further opportunity for the professionalization and managerialization of nonprofits, as leaders “carry” the institutional logic with which they are socialized (Battilana & Dorado, 2010). Spending time within and managing organizations that are influenced by one institutional order or another, shapes individuals’ sense of self and identity - conditioning understandings of who they are, particular modes of thinking, acting and talking and their perceived legitimacy (Weick, 1993; Lok, 2010; Gioia et al., 2013). In such contexts, it is all too easy for managerialist assumptions based on a narrow means-end rationality, in which nonprofit activity is solely judged on the efficient use of public (i.e. taxpayers’) funds, to become an unquestioned social good above other ends (Alexander & Weiner, 1998). As King & Griffin (2019) usefully remind us, workplace democracy literature presents a serious challenge to the assumption that “managerialism and business-like practices are the most efficient and effective way of organizing” and the presentation of “efficiency and productivity as unquestionable virtues which should be the overriding aim of nonprofit activity” (p. 914). Rather, they argue, through ethics-based justification, that workplace democracy can be seen as holding intrinsic value in and of itself through producing exactly the type of society nonprofits often claim to want to produce within their mission (also see Land & King, 2014; Reedy et al., 2016).

The actions of individuals and groups within organizations, alongside the societal conditions narrated in the previous section, can provide fertile ground for the wholesale importation of corporate and/or bureaucratic ideologies and practices into the nonprofit realm. By way of example, King (2017) explored how socialization with other nonprofit managers and the practices associated with being a manager (e.g. evaluation, monitoring and reporting) governed him towards identifying as a “professional” and away from his activist ideological origins. From an activist perspective, evaluation and constructions of “organizational effectiveness” would be considered political acts rather than objective activities. Similarly, Metzendorf Sc Cnaan (1992) demonstrate how volunteer labour in feminist organizations can be a form of exploitation that undermines the very ideology the organization exists to advance. There are indeed numerous articles that challenge the notion that nonprofit organization actually produces the social benefits for which it is celebrated. Instead, they show that it can reflect and perpetuate social stratifications (Rosenzweig, 1977), promote cultural imperialism (Lenkersdorf, 1976), colonialism (Lagerspetz et al., 2002), fascism (Berman, 1997), be oligarchic and serve as a mechanism for elites to justify (class) inequalities and social relations (Bolduc, 1980; Lansley, 1996). This serves to remind us that “the social benefits that nonprofits can produce are accomplishments, not foundational features” (Coule et ah, 2020, p. 13). We show in this book that such social benefits may become more difficult to realize in the face of increasing hybridity and in contexts where “professionalism” is taken as synonymous with “commercialism.”

One of the key challenges of managerial work within a hybrid organization is navigating the legitimacy dilemma - what constitutes “desirable, proper, or appropriate [actions]” for a hybrid entity, when they exist within multiple and contradictory “socially constructed system[s] of norms, values, beliefs, and definitions” (Suchman, 1995, p. 574)? The risks associated with doing this “badly” for nonprofits include: mission drift; poor accountability to stakeholders; having a marginalized majority; having significant structural, political, symbolic and ethical issues, and growing schisms between proponents of different logics (Battilana Sc Dorado, 2010; Ellis Paine et ah, 2010; Turco, 2012; Chell et ah, 2016; Ebrahim et ah, 2014; Mongelli et ah, 2019; Ometto et ah, 2019).

So, what strategic responses have managers devised in attempting to balance or accommodate competing logics within organizations? One strategy is “decoupling” or “compartmentalising,” where organizations ceremonially or symbolically conform to the prescriptions defined by the institutional environment through organizational policies, but do not attempt seriously to implement them in practice (Meyer Sc Rowan, 1977; Scott, 1983; Westphal Sc Zajac, 1999; Boxenbaum Sc Jonsson, 2008; Tilcsik, 2010; Bromley Sc Powell, 2012). Such compartmentalization is challenging and perhaps over simplistic, given that attempts to conform with the demands of one institutional order are inevitably visible to constituencies who identify with another (Stryker Sc Burke, 2000; Glynn, 2000; Pache Sc Santos, 2013). A second approach is “selective coupling” or “logic combination.” This is common when significant complementarities exist between institutionally prescribed identities; in other words, when the organization’s ability to successfully be one thing enhances its ability to be another (Kraatz & Block, 2008; Pache & Santos, 2010; 2013). The third strategic response that has seen much attention from organization theorists is “compromising,” and is said to occur most often when organizations need to placate diverse external constituent groups (Kraatz & Block, 2008; Oliver, 1991; Pache & Santos, 2013). Compromising involves crafting an acceptable balance between competing logics by conforming to minimum standards of what is expected within each logic and/or bargaining with stakeholders so that they alter their demands (Scott, 1983). One of the major risks is that the organization may not fully secure support from important referents or stakeholders, particularly over the long term (Pache & Santos, 2013). Powell & Colyvas (2008) provide an informative example involving a nonprofit that created a separate trading company; referents (politicians, media and competitors) subsequently became highly critical of both entities, challenging their legitimacy, legality and lack of transparency.

This type of organizational analysis usefully highlights the socio- structural challenges of hybridity and the strategies that managers in nonprofit hybrids may adopt in order to cope with it. The danger, however, is that institutional logics become reified as deterministic social structures that drive organizations in an apparently inevitable direction and strategic organizational responses become disembodied from agentic actors. In other words, the thoughts and actions of human agents in making sense of and acting within the pluralistic world they are faced with is largely absent from accounts of strategic responses to institutional complexity. Given our interests, we turn to the concept of “institutional work,” defined as purposive action aimed at creating, maintaining or disrupting institutions (Lawrence & Suddaby, 2006). This area represents the “new buds of research” on the topic of institutional logics (Lounsbury 8c Boxenbaum, 2013, p. 3) but is core to understanding how people engage logics in the seemingly benign everyday talk and activities of managerial work, and how such engagement reproduces or transforms the rules of the game or the game itself (Lok, 2010; McPherson & Sauder, 2013; Smets et al., 2015).

What we are particularly interested in, in the context of this book, is the institutional work of managers that is directed towards the transformation (and defence) of organizing principles, and how those that inhabit the organization react to these change efforts. More specifically, we will elaborate the dynamic interplay of two types of institutional work involved in efforts to bring about and resist organizational change: identification work (performed to influence perceptions of and identification with organizational identity and purpose) and practice work (aimed at (redefining, (re)developing, legitimating and diffusing practices associated with those logics). See Gawer &c Phillips (2013) for a useful overview of these types of internally focused institutional work. Before we begin, some information on our positionality' in relation to the study.

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