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How Governments Matter

As we gather in the seat of one of the past century’s most powerful governments, it might be time for members of the Academy to address what role, if any, governments play in management and organization. We have always been told that governments matter. They establish the legal framework and enforcement regimes that provide the frames of action for managers and their organizations. Yet there is surprisingly little scholarship or discussion among us regarding such a fundamental element of managers’ and organizations’ environments.

This may be because governments appear to be an awkward subject for management scholars. This awkwardness may in part arise from the dual nature of government, as both threatening and supportive. On the one hand, governments threaten because they have exclusive legitimate rights to use physical coercion. They have long been associated with exploitation, unwelcome constraint, terror and corruption. On the other, governments construct the transparent rules allowing organizations to compete and citizens to organize for their interests; governments create private property enabling powerful profit-seeking incentives; and governments provide the security and protection from misfortunate that overwhelm the capacity of clans and families in complex developed societies.

In addition, perhaps governments are such an awkward subject for management scholarship because governments try to implement oxymorons such as freedom and protection, order and liberty, coercion and security. Finally, there is the added difficulty that discussions of governments may slide into discussions of politics, a notoriously fractious topic of conversation. Nevertheless, if governments do matter to organization and management, such awkwardness should not prevent us from trying to learn more about them.

Attention to the role of governments is not only a fitting topic for our physical setting in Washington, D. C., it is also a fitting one for this time. The past decades have been ones of massive changes in government and governmental forms, as nations experiment with new formulations with the hope that these will bring them the prosperity they observe across their borders, or wish to preserve in the face of global economic forces. Such pressures certainly have been exacerbated by increasing globalization. This is the era of rapid global integration of professions and institutions, with the Academy of Management as just one example. The Academy grows further outside the United States every day, with members currently studying and teaching under 80 different governments. All institutions – education, health care, and every kind of business -- now learn from, compete against, and collaborate with those operating under differing governmental regimes. Thus, the time seems right to explore the effects of governments at our 2001 Washington meeting.

To cite just a few of the topics that submissions might address:

& Governments affect organizations’ structures and strategies as much as do product-market or task demands, yet governments have not received even a fraction of the scholarly attention tasks have received. To cite just one question, in what ways do differing legal systems compel local divisions to become more autonomous than would otherwise be dictated by task demands?

& Cultures do not correspond neatly to governmental boundaries. Do governments matter to culture? What happens if differing cultures are forced to co-habitate within one governmental jurisdiction?

& It has been argued that trans-national organizations are making governments irrelevant. Is this so, or is it more a matter of governmental functions shifting away from nation-states to other governing institutions?

& Differences in governments’ polices and practices are surely reflected in differences in cognitive schemas. For example, how do those who have learned to expect particularism rather than rule-of-law interpret human resources policies and procedures?

& Governments are themselves organizations. In what ways are governmental differences reflected in differences in the organization and management of those tasks – education, social welfare, infrastructure and the like – that governments and non-profits undertake?

& How is the form and operation of entrepreneurship affected by governments? As an illustration, many governments seek to foster technology-based entrepreneurship with subsidized incubators, loans and other initiatives. Do such programs work? Alternatively, the form of entrepreneurship may be affected by governments in more fundamental ways, as for example, in many developing countries where entrepreneurship is synonymous with the informal economy – small vendors scratching out a living selling trifles because they cannot get jobs – not with economy-leading technologies.

& Management consulting has shifted from a collection of small, local cottage industries to large multinational concerns with jurisdiction-crossing assignments expected as part of the job. Has our understanding and teaching of managerial consulting kept pace with these shifts?

& Advances in information technologies appear to have facilitated cross-governmental contact and integration, yet scholarship has not kept pace with journalistic speculation about the interrelationships among technologies, governments and management.

& Increased immigration means that many more now work with co-workers who have developed assumptions and expectations under differing governments. How does this diversity affect social processes and workers’ psychological attachments to others and organizations?

& How do differing governments’ demands (e.g., for joint ventures with domestic businesses or state-owned enterprises) affect the strategic decisions of multinational firms and the alliances they build?

& With increased immigration and expatriation governmental boundaries cease to become an impediment, but rather become a new factor to consider in careers. What can we learn about this new factor?

& Attention to governments draws us to a concern for organizational governance. Have the ways organizations govern themselves changed? In what ways do they manage the inevitable political processes involved in organization?

& Finally, how do managers affect governments? John D. Rockefeller Jr. was asked if his father ever broke any laws. He answered, no, but he could think of a few laws that were enacted because of his father. Managers expend enormous amounts of their organizations’ resources to influence governments, yet this is a social issue we have done little to systematically study.

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