Organization Routines

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    Fredrik Tell

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    Structure of presentation

    1. What are routines?

    2. Questions regarding the nature of routines

    3. The role of routines in organizations

    4. Routines and innovation

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    What are routines (i)?

    Analogy to skills, (Nelson and Winter, 1982):

    Skills as programs

    Function as a unit

    Serial function

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    Considerable speed and accuracy

    Tacit, problem of articulation

    Limited time available

    Limited causal understanding

    Routines inherently holistic and coherent

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    What are routines (i)?

    Difficulty of understanding routines (Cohen and Bacdayan,

    1994) Routines are multi-actor phenomena

    Routines are emergent phenomena

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    Routines as procedural memory (in contrast to declarativememory)

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    Starting point: Repetition

    Nothing can be a routine without repetition


    Routines occupy 'the crucial nexus between structure andaction, between the organization as an object and organizing as


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    Question 1: Collective or individual?

    organizational routines, individual habits

    Stene (1940), Dosi, Nelson & Winter (2000) Nested hierarchy: routines build on habits

    Unit of analysis: interaction, interacting communities (communities ofpractice)

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    Helps recognize that routines are distributed (parallel to distributedknowledge)

    Empirical insights:

    routines can be disrupted when participants in a routine start 'actingin a manner that is more individual than collective' (Weick 1990:


    coordination requires a balance between individual habits andorganizational routines

    (Adapted from Becker, Markus, Routines, change and innovation ,presentation at BETA, Universit Louis Pasteur, France, 21March, 2007)

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    Question 2: Behavior patterns, cognitiveregularities, or dispositions?

    behavior patterns

    This interpretation can increasingly be found in the recent empiricalliterature

    cognitive regularities

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    to engage in previously adopted or acquired behavior, triggered byan appropriate stimulus or context

    (Becker, 2007)

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    Question 3: Mindless behavior or effortfulaccomplishment?


    without devoting attention to execution

    agents do not draw on substantial cognitive resources from therealm of consciousness

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    Effortful accomplishment

    Observation: in a variety of organizations, routines are

    characterized by being changeable and open to variation possible resolution of the apparent contradiction between

    routines as mindless or effortful (Feldman 2002, 2003,Feldmann and Pentland 2003):

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    ostensive (label, referring to) vs. performative (carrying out)

    neglect of performative aspect leads to neglect of role of actor(agency): Organizational routines are not simply followed orreproduced rather, people have a choice between whether to

    do so, or whether to amend the routine

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    Routines defined Conclusions

    the term refers to three different aspects of regularities:

    Cognitive regularities (rules, heuristics, etc.): (IF-THEN) RULES

    Behavioural regularities (expressed behavior that is stable):RECURRENT INTERACTION PATTERNS

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    These are ontologically distinct, cannot be reduced to oneanother

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    The role of routines in organizations

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    (a) Co-ordination and control

    Routines enable/facilitate effortless coordination

    Capability of routines to enable coordination builds on the basisof a balance between the interests of the participants in theroutine (the so-called 'truce')

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    Empirical findings

    Knott and McKelvey (1999) compare the relative value of

    residual claims and routines in generating firm efficiency; USquick printing industry. Conclusion: routines can be moreefficient for co-ordination and control than residual claims

    Standards (and standardized routines) are especially influential

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    for exerting control (Segelod 1997), one way to bring about co-ordination; routine behavior is easier to monitor and measurethan non-routine behavior (cf. Langlois 1992)

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    (b) Providing stability of behavior

    'stability' is a relative term it always includes the potential

    change that is endogenousto the routine due to its participants(Feldman)

    Implication: stability allows to form expectations about thebehavior of others

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    Implication: enables learning

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    Empirical findings

    routines are not inert, but typically change over time

    (endogenously) routines have a great potential for change due to an internal

    dynamic participants responding to the outcomes of previousiterations of a routine (Feldman 2000, 2003; Feldman and

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    Pentland 2003) artifacts have an impact on the processes that they are used in

    (Hutchins 1991, 1995; Clark 1997; D'Adderio 2001, 2003)

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    (c) Economizing on cognitive resources

    tasks can often be executed in the realm of the sub-conscious,

    thereby economizing on limited cognitive resources True organizational level as well as on individual level

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    Empirical findings

    routines economize on cognitive resources by establishingorganizational predispositions to respond to issues in certainways (Ashmos, Duchon and McDaniel 1998)

    Experiments indicate that routines also economize on the timenecessary for reaching a solution; this allows for spontaneous

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    reactions even under constraint situations, such as timeconstraints (Betsch, Fiedler and Brinkmann 1998).

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    (d) Storing knowledge

    routines bind knowledge, including tacit knowledge

    knowledge in its application therefore, routines are seen as building blocks of

    organizational capabilities

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    Empirical findings

    declarative and procedural knowledge (Cohen and Bacdayan(1994)

    'procedural knowledge' characterizes knowledge of how thingsare done, which is relatively inarticulate and encompasses bothcognitive and motoractivities

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    a thorough mapping of a routine would also include thedocuments and artifacts used. (Hutchins 1991; 1995)

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    Empirical findings

    routines are sometimes used as 'quarry', that is, they are usedas 'a system of manipulable elements', as a 'structuringresource' for manipulating the list of activities and restructuringtheir position in time. Routines are used as heuristics: insteadof being executed in a precise way, they are followed as a

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    (Narduzzo, Rocco and Warglien 2000)

    changes in the knowledge held in the organization, for examplethe creation and articulation of knowledge, have an impact onthe routines in use. As case studies in the French food and

    steel industries have illustrated, such changes put the routinesand the 'truce' surrounding them in question (Lazaric)

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    (e) Reducing (pervasive) uncertainty

    the standard strategy of dealing with choice under

    uncertainty is to increase information-processing However, there are situations of uncertainty where this

    strategy does not help (Knightean or pervasive uncertainty)

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    reduce uncertainty

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    (f) Legitimacy

    routines legitimize behavior (less need for justification as it hasalready been carried out this way before)

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    Conclusion:Contributions of routines concept


    Helps identify processes that generate performance Helps identify variation

    Base-line for identifying endogenous change

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    n ers an ng organ za ona e av or

    Provide analytical depth

    Provide an analytical framework for capturing interrelationsbetween rules, behavior patterns, dispositions and artefacts

    Understanding organizational change routines help understand endogenous change

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    Conclusion:Contributions of routines concept

    Routines can capture both structure and agency

    Structure as it applies to a particular person Psychological factors as influenced by the specific situation

    Explanatory power

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    Including dimensions in the explanation

    Exploring interactions between those dimensions (upwards- anddownwards-reconstitution)

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    Organizational routines concept is central for analyzing thebehavior of organizations

    As sources of stability ...

    But sometimes also as drivers of endogenous change

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    n , un er cer a n c rcums ances, organ za ona rou nes can

    also be drivers of/generate innovation

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    Organizational routines and innovation


    Some companies (e.g., Apple, IDEO) have a track record ofconsistently outperforming competitors in terms of innovation(new products)

    Research question: Why are some companies able to innovate

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    con nuous y

    focus on endogenous drivers of innovation

    analytical perspective: Organizational routines

    proposed for analyzing organizational behavior

    capturing what systematic, typical and consistent features of firmbehavior

    sustained source of innovation

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    Innovation routines

    Keith Pavitt, innovating routines

    good reasons why knowledge of innovating routines

    especially in large firms deserves greater attention:

    identify ingredients for the successful management of innovation

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    messy and changing world

    there are opportunities of successfully combining the newtheoretical concepts of innovating routines with rich bodies ofempirical evidence on what happens inside the innovating firm(Pavitt 2002, 118).

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    Innovation routines

    The idea is not new but builds on Nelson & Winter:

    Identify theway in which the routine functioning of an

    organisation can contribute to the emergence of innovation(Nelson and Winter 1982, 129).

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    , ,

    routine behavior and innovation than to observe that theseconcepts are commonly (and appropriately) regarded asopposed ideas (Nelson and Winter 1982, 129)

    Schumpeterian idea

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    How to deal with routines in innovation?

    The efficiency (stability, control, replicability) of the

    innovation process is linked to proper projectmanagement (stage gate processes, concurrentengineering) and organizational structures (heavyweightproject teams, matrix structures, teams, etc.)

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    often, the reliance on procedures and standardization isassociated with privileging incremental innovation(exploitation) over radical innovation (exploration)

    exploration/innovativeness at odds with efficiency andcontrol of the process (trade-off)?