76th Annual Meeting of the Academy of Management
THEME: Making Organizations Meaningful
Academy of Management Vice President and Program Chair
Mary Ann Glynn, Boston College
Anaheim, California, United States
August 5 - 9, 2016
Organizations occupy a
central role in the ways we live our lives, for better and for worse. They enable us to
be more efficient, to access goods and services faster than ever before, and to
share information and experiences across the globe. And yet, they are not
unproblematic. Recently, there have been
highly publicized corporate scandals, Wall Street corruption, and failures of
government to meet the needs of its citizens, with a resulting rise in public
distrust and questioning of organizations’ reasons for being. We often take as given that an organization’s
purpose to produce economic value; and, although economic value can often add
to social value, sometimes it does not.
This disjuncture raises the question of meaningfulness.
The meaningfulness of an organization is its
expression of purpose, values or worth. It
involves a sense of significance that goes beyond material success or
profitability; rather, it highlights how organizations can play a larger and
more positive role in the world. It is
an approach embraced by the next generation of workers, the millennials (in
their mid-to-late 30s), who often focus on making a positive difference in the
world and a contribution to society -- with organizations, not in spite of
Interest in meaningfulness has grown, fueled in
part by developments in cognitive perspectives on strategic competition,
cultural approaches to organizational resources, positive outlooks on realizing
human potential at work, institutional insights on leadership dynamics, both
heroic and sensational, new modes of communication that are social, digitalized
and immediate, and the real-world failures of the dominant economic model to
assure progress in material well-being for so many.
Making organizations meaningful matters, and it
matters in a multitude of ways that are both immediate and far-reaching, ranging
from environmental sustainability to social equality, and extending across
multiple levels of analysis.
Meaningfulness at micro levels alerts us to engaging employees in work so
as to maximize human potential and, at macro levels, it turns attention to organizational
identity, culture, reputation, legitimacy and character. By looking across levels, we can discover mechanisms
that potentially amplify or even mute meaningfulness, as well as the contrast
of meaninglessness. We might ask: What are the mechanisms – political,
economic, social, cultural or institutional – which situate and produce
organizational meaningfulness (or the lack thereof)? What mechanisms are particularly salient for
reaching different constituencies? How
might this vary across a range of social, cultural or economic settings? This is fertile ground for researchers, given
that organizational expressions of meaningfulness can be: communicated through different mediums, including
practices, language, strategic behavior, leadership, ethics or culture;
directed towards a varied set of stakeholders; and signaled strategically or
symbolically, implicitly or explicitly.
The theme invites a wide-ranging spectrum of
theoretical perspectives, methods, and applications, both classic and contemporary,
which investigate those processes and outcomes that are associated with making
organizations meaningful or perhaps even meaningless. Some potential questions to explore:
How does organizational
meaningfulness arise from broader systems of meaning embedded in industries,
geographic regions, institutions, and societal cultures? What organizational actions and strategies effectively
make organizations more (or less) meaningful?
What are the intentional
and unintentional ways in which organizations become meaningful? What might be some of the intended or
What are the positive
ways of making organizations meaningful, internally (for employees) and
externally (for other stakeholders)? How
might organizations’ social initiatives, like CSR or sustainability, play a
role? How do hybrid organizations that
combine economics and ideology create meaning for their varied
How do individuals in
organizations construct the meaning of their work and of the organization itself?
How do organizational structures, identities and cultures contribute to individuals’
understanding of the significance (or insignificance) of what they do? And what are the cross-level effects between
micro and macro levels?
What might be the affective,
behavioral and cognitive mechanisms by which organizations make meaning or fail
to do so? Might these mechanisms be more
(or less) effective with different demographic
groups or generations (such as millennials)?
If theories of
organizational identity, culture and institutionalism have at their heart the
creation and management of meaning, how do these different framings illuminate
the processes of making organizations meaningful, for individuals or
collectives? What would it mean, for instance,
to have a culture of purpose?
Can we begin to describe
a typology of organizational meaningfulness?
How can organizations move between or prioritize purpose and profits
How is organizational
meaningfulness associated with evaluation and valuation, by focal audiences,
especially in new, emerging or changing markets? How do new (or revised) meanings translate to
valuation criteria in the market?
What are the
connections between technologies and their labels in creating the meaning of
new entrepreneurial ventures, innovations or new market categories?
What are the
implications of the changing nature of organizations and organizational work
for making meaningfulness? For what
types of organizations does meaningfulness matter, especially those beyond the
What are the failures in
making organizations meaningful? How
might organizations find (or recover) meaningfulness in the wake of its demise?
As we gather in Anaheim, I invite you to think
expansively and creatively about processes of Making Organizations Meaningful. See you there!
Program Chair, Academy of Management