The Temporal Dimension of Routines and their Outcomes:
Exploring the Role of Time in the Capabilities and Practice Perspectives
Scott F. Turner
Darla Moore School of Business
University of South Carolina
1705 College Street
Columbia SC 29208
In Time and Work: How Time Impacts Groups, Organizations and Methodological Choices.
2014. Edited by A. J. Shipp and Y. Fried. Volume 2. 115-145. Psychology Press. East Sussex.
Acknowledgements: The author would like to thank co-editors Abbie Shipp and Yitzhak Fried as
well as Jennifer Howard-Grenville, Kent Miller, Anne Parmigiani, Erik Strauss, and Leona
Wiegmann for their constructive comments.
As repetitive patterns of interdependent actions, organizational routines play a key role in
explaining the stability and dynamics of organizations' behavior, and have considerable
implications for their efficiency and effectiveness. This review explores the temporal dimension
of routines and their outcomes, given that time is important for defining and identifying routines,
for explaining why and how they emerge, stabilize, vary, and change, and for understanding their
performance outcomes. The review focuses on the capabilities and practice perspectives of
routines, which are prominent in strategy and organizational theory research, and considers the
temporal antecedents of routines, the role of time in the outcomes of routines, and how routines
evolve over time. Consideration is also given to the research methodologies by which scholars
have studied temporal issues in organizational routines. Based on the review, suggestions are
offered for how future research on the temporal dimension can advance our understanding of
Routines are a central concept in strategic management and organizational theory research (Cyert
& March, 1963; Hannan & Freeman, 1989; Helfat, Finkelstein, Mitchell, Peteraf, Singh, Teece,
& Winter, 2007; March & Simon, 1958; Nelson & Winter, 1982). As repetitive patterns of
interdependent actions, routines play a vital role in explaining the stable and dynamic nature of
organizations' behavior, and have important implications for their efficiency and effectiveness.
Examples of organizational routines are wide-ranging, including routines for hiring and training
personnel (Feldman, 2000), purchasing materials and equipment (Knott, 2001), making products
or performing services (Darr, Argote, & Epple, 1995; Turner & Rindova, 2012), providing
technical support (Pentland & Rueter, 1994), adjusting prices (Zbaracki & Bergen, 2010), and
developing new products or production processes (Howard-Grenville, 2005; Salvato, 2009). In
recent years, scholars have been taking stock of what we know about organizational routines
(Becker, 2004; Cohen, Burkhart, Dosi, Egidi, Marengo, Warglien, & Winter, 1996; Parmigiani &
Howard-Grenville, 2011; Salvato & Rerup, 2010). What is missing, though, is a review that
considers the temporal dimension of routines and their outcomes.
This is an important omission because temporality is paramount for our understanding of
organizational routines. Beyond playing a key role in defining and identifying routines (i.e.,
repetitive patterns), time is pivotal for explanations of why and how routines emerge, stabilize,
vary, and change. Time is also evident in performance outcomes for routines research, such as
speed of execution, and in understanding the effects of routines on performance outcomes.
Despite its centrality for our understanding of routines and their outcomes, the temporal
dimension has received only limited attention in existing reviews of routines scholarship. At one
level, this is a function of the limited body of empirical work that has explored the temporal
aspects of routines which may reflect a variety of issues, including that time is frequently taken
for granted in organizations research, that collecting temporal data can be a resource-intensive
process, and that researchers often have some uncertainty regarding appropriate techniques for
analyzing longitudinal data (Avital, 2000; Greve & Goldeng, 2004; Ployhart & Vandenberg,
2010). At another level, the limited attention in existing reviews may reflect that we are only
beginning to develop the common understandings and frameworks about time with which to
compare and integrate across studies. Fortunately, though, there have been considerable
developments in recent years due to heightened interest in temporality (e.g., Ancona, Okhuysen,
& Perlow, 2001; Bluedorn, 2002; Jansen & Shipp, 2012; Mitchell & James, 2001). These
developments enable scholars to more clearly examine organizational routines through the
temporal lens, which helps to sharpen and refine our conceptual understanding.
This chapter provides a detailed review of routines research from a temporal perspective. The
next section presents the concept of organizational routines, provides an introduction to the role
of time in routines research, and offers an overview of the capabilities and practice perspectives
(Parmigiani & Howard-Grenville, 2011) that guide this review of the literature. In reviewing the
research, particular attention is given to three criteria: (1) temporal antecedents of routines (i.e.,
time as signal, resource, and state of mind), (2) the role of time in the performance outcomes of
routines, which includes time as an outcome (e.g., the time required to perform a routine) as well
as how time affects the impact of routines (e.g., how realizing value from routines can change
over time), and (3) how routines evolve over time, which considers their internal and external
dynamics. Consideration is also given to the methodologies by which scholars have studied
temporal issues in routines. The chapter concludes with suggestions for how future research can
further incorporate the temporal lens to advance our understanding of organizational routines,
focusing on the need for greater breadth and conditionality in examining how time influences the
performance and outcomes of routines.
A TEMPORAL REVIEW OF ROUTINES RESEARCH
Over the years, scholars have offered many definitions of routines that share a number of key
elements, such as repetition and interdependence. Taking these points of commonality into
account, Feldman and Pentland (2003, p. 96) proposed that an organizational routine is a
"repetitive, recognizable pattern of interdependent actions, involving multiple actors". Scholars
have emphasized that routines are organizational in the sense that the repetitive patterns involve
multiple actors, as in group- or firm-level activities, while such patterns at the individual level
are typically referred to as habits or skills (Becker, 2004; Cohen & Bacdayan, 1994; Hodgson,
2003). This definition makes clear that time is important for understanding organizational
routines. As routines are repeated over time, they develop into recognizable patterns of actions.
For any given performance of a routine, a sequence of actions takes place across time, and
temporal artifacts (e.g., clocks, time-based rules) often play a prominent role in enabling and
constraining routine performances. In turn, key performance outcomes of routines are based in
time (e.g., task completion speed), and the effectiveness of routines can depend on time (e.g.,
historical specificity). Thus, time represents a central issue in the routines literature.
The scope of this review was guided by two issues. The first was to concentrate on the
capabilities and practice perspectives of routines, which Parmigiani and Howard-Grenville
(2011) identify as two central perspectives in the literature.1 The capabilities perspective
typically examines routines as whole entities, has roots in economics, and is prominent in
strategy research. By contrast, the practice perspective focuses on the internal structure of
routines, draws from sociology, and is evident in organizational theory research. The second
issue focuses on how time has been incorporated in the research on routines. In this review,
particular attention is given to temporal antecedents (i.e., time-based influences on routines),
outcomes (i.e., the role of time in the impact of routines), and evolution (i.e., how routines
stabilize and change over time). Figure 1 illustrates how these two perspectives (i.e., capabilities,
practice) and three criteria (i.e., antecedents, outcomes, evolution) guide the review.
** Insert Figure 1 about here **
In thinking about the role of time in routines research, I revisited foundational works on routines
(e.g., Stene, 1940; Nelson & Winter, 1982) and examined carefully recent reviews of the
literature (Becker, 2004; Parmigiani & Howard-Grenville, 2011; Salvato & Rerup, 2010). This
process helped to identify articles considering the temporal dimension of routines and their
1 Scholars have also put forward a view of routines as dispositions, which focuses on the idea of routines as
interlocked habits or interacting action dispositions (Birnholtz et al. 2007; Cohen, 2007; Hodgson, 2003; Knudsen,
2008). This review does not examine routines as dispositions as a separate perspective, and instead incorporates
related research (e.g., Cohen & Bacdayan, 1994; Pentland, Feldman, Becker, & Liu, 2012) as it pertains to the
capabilities and practice perspectives.
outcomes, and was augmented by searching online databases for additional articles that
concentrate on the core issues. Similar to Parmigiani and Howard-Grenville (2011), I have
emphasized recent empirical studies. When reviewing the works identified by this process,
particular attention was given to identifying how the studies implicitly or explicitly incorporate
time in their consideration of antecedents, outcomes, or evolution of routines.
The review is structured as follows. First, research by scholars working primarily from a
capabilities perspective is reviewed according to the criteria of temporal antecedents, outcomes,
and evolution. Second, the review examines the research from scholars working primarily from a
practice perspective, focusing on the same criteria. Third, consideration is given to the set of
methodologies by which capabilities- and practice-based researchers have studied temporal
issues in routines. The chapter concludes by discussing similarities and complementarities
between the capabilities and practice perspectives with respect to time, and by offering
suggestions for ways that future research can further leverage the temporal lens to extend our
understanding of organizational routines.
THE CAPABILITIES PERSPECTIVE
The capabilities perspective focuses on the idea that routines are the building blocks of
organizational capabilities. Scholars working from this perspective typically examine routines as
whole entities, and are particularly interested in understanding how routines impact
organizational performance (Parmigiani & Howard-Grenville, 2011; Salvato & Rerup, 2010).
The capabilities perspective emphasizes the stability of routines, and tends to take a higher level
of abstraction when examining them (Helfat & Winter, 2011).2 For this perspective, scholars
tend to be interested in variance in routines in terms of utilizing routines versus ad-hoc problem-
solving, and variance across different types of routines. This review focuses on three ways in
which time plays a prominent role in routines research from the capabilities perspective: how
time affects the performance of routines, the role of time in the outcomes of routines, and how
routines evolve over time.
This section examines how time shapes the performance of routines, considering time as a signal
for action, and as a resource for action.
Time as signal for action
This refers to the idea that time often plays a key role in initiating the performance of routines.
Time can be conceptualized in multiple ways, including "clock time" which refers to the
progression of time along a standard linear continuum, and "event time" which captures the
progression of time as reflected in the occurrence of particular events (Ancona et al. 2001). With
respect to initiating routine performances, an example of "event time" is when the completion of
one routine signals the need for performing another routine, while "clock time" refers to when
clocks or calendars indicate that a particular routine needs to be performed.
2 As discussed later, capabilities-based research also considers how routines evolve and change, but this work
focuses on the idea that routines often change in stable ways (e.g., higher-order routines).
Clock time. For many organizations, time-keeping devices like clocks and calendars perform
cueing functions for routines. In this sense, clocks provide a stimulus for initiating routines, such
as performing a particular routine at the start of the work day or just prior to its conclusion
(Nelson & Winter, 1982; Postrel & Rumelt, 1992). For other activities, the calendar plays a vital
role. In their multi-case study of innovation in the computing industry, Brown and Eisenhardt
(1997) highlight that businesses have incentives to pace their introduction of innovations
according to consistent time intervals, such as introducing new generations of core products
every 18 or 24 months. Using the calendar in this way results in predictable patterns that
facilitate planning and enable efficiencies in coordination and resource allocation, as opposed to
more reactive approaches like introducing innovations in response to the arrival of new
competitors in the market. In related work examining innovation in the packaged software
industry, Turner, Mitchell, and Bettis (2010, 2013) found support for the idea that organizations
employ routines for developing and introducing generational product innovations at consistent
intervals across time. This research also considered how market and organizational conditions
affect the consistency with which organizations release these innovations across time. From the
market perspective, Turner et al. (2010) found evidence supporting the idea that as market
concentration increases, organizations need to be more responsive to competitive events, and are
less consistent in their release of innovations across time. From the organizational perspective,
Turner et al. (2013) argued that accomplishing temporal consistency in innovation introduction
can be challenging, and that organizations' corresponding capability is enhanced by innovation
experience and diminished by organizational aging, with the empirical results providing support
for these ideas. Researchers also suggest that organizational strategy and market conditions
affect the span of calendar time (e.g., 12 vs. 24 months) for such time-pacing of innovation
(Eisenhardt & Brown, 1998).
Event time. Scholars also consider how events trigger the performance of routines. For example,
routine performances are often cued by the conclusion of other routines within an organization.
This may occur when one routine is sequentially dependent upon another (Thompson, 1967), in
which case completing one routine makes possible the completion of the subsequent one, and
can send a signal that it is now time for performing the subsequent routine (March & Simon,
1958; Nelson & Winter, 1982). As an example, in their case study of model changeover routines
at the NUMMI facility, Adler et al. (1999) described how completing a major model changeover
in 1989 initiated the earliest steps of the next model changeover, and how its completion in 1993
triggered a "reflection-review" routine to document the lessons learned from the just-completed
model changeover. In other instances, triggering events may lie outside organizations, such as
actions taken by suppliers or competitive moves made by rival firms.
In sum, organizations structure the performance of their routines according to both clock and
event time. Performing routines according to clocks and calendars reduces the need for
environmental monitoring (i.e., detecting cues) and reacting to other parties, which may promote
efficiencies in planning and coordination, while event-driven routines imply greater
interdependence and responsiveness. In turn, whether organizations use clocks or events to guide
routine performances depends upon organizational and market conditions, such as activity
interdependence and market competitiveness.
Time as resource for action
Time as resource for action refers to the idea that time is a valuable asset for organizations. This
is important as organizations typically employ routines in efforts to attain efficiencies in their
coordination and governance of activities (Karim & Mitchell, 2000). In this area of research,
work has focused on time pressure, which can be viewed as a resource shortage (Arrow, Poole,
Henry, Wheelan, & Moreland, 2004) and reflects the urgency associated with performing a task.
When organizational employees face significant time pressure, they have less opportunity to
consider alternative ways of performing a task, and may be less able to sacrifice the efficiencies
afforded by a particular routine. By contrast, when there is less time pressure, employees have
greater slack available with which to reflect on and engage in performing the task (Becker, 2004;
March & Simon, 1958).
Empirical studies offer evidence that is consistent with this view of time as a resource. In their
experiments involving pairs of individuals repeatedly playing a card game, Garapin and Hollard
(1999) examined players' use of a learned routine based in condition-action rules (Egidi &
Narduzzo, 1997). While the researchers observed greater use of the learned routine under high
time pressure, the effect was not statistically significant; they did find, however, that greater time
pressure resulted in significantly less time required to play hands of the game. Similar results
have been shown in studies examining the effects of time pressure on routinized decision-making
by individuals. In an experiment examining recurrent problem-solving, Betsch, Brinkmann,
Fiedler, and Breining (1999) induced learning of a "routine solution" by initially structuring
payoff conditions to favor a particular solution. The researchers found that as time pressure
increased, decision-makers were more likely to choose the routine solution, even when
alternative solutions were preferred under subsequent payoff conditions. In a similar experiment,
Betsch, Haberstroh, Molter, and Glockner (2004) examined the effect of time pressure on
whether individuals favor previously-learned decision rules in making a decision to solve a
recurring problem. The results indicated that under high time pressure, individuals were more
likely to use the learned decision rule (e.g., if facing problem A, choose solution 1), even after
they had formed intentions to make an alternative decision; by contrast, under low time pressure,
individuals were more likely to select their intended alternative over the choice that
corresponded to the learned decision rule.
In sum, this research indicates that time pressure results in greater utilization of routines, even
when alternative courses of action were intended or preferred, and in faster execution of routines.
Time and Outcomes
Scholars working from the capabilities perspective are particularly interested in understanding
how routines influence outcomes of interest for organizations (Parmigiani & Howard-Grenville,
2011). In this work, scholars emphasize the efficiency criterion, highlighting how routines enable
efficiencies in a variety of areas, including cognition, coordination, and governance (Becker,
2004; Coriat & Dosi, 1998; Karim & Mitchell, 2000; Knott & McKelvey, 1999; Lazaric, 2008;
March & Simon, 1958; Nelson & Winter, 1982). Scholars also draw from the resource-based
view in considering the competitive implications of routines, involving issues like the presence
of isolating mechanisms (Barney, 1991; Rumelt, 1984).
Time and developing valuable routines
This work tends to highlight how learning by doing over time contributes to the development of
routines that provide value for organizations (Argote, 1999; Arrow, 1962). For example, Dutta,
Zbaracki, and Bergen (2003) studied price-setting routines that enable value appropriation at a
large manufacturing company. The researchers found that time compression diseconomies
(Dierickx & Cool, 1989) were a key factor that decreased the risk of imitation by rivals,
highlighting how it took the firm over five years to develop and refine the underlying pricing
routines and systems, such that they effectively met the requirements of the firm and its
customers. Similarly, in their study of strategic alliances in the biotechnology industry, Zollo,
Reuer, and Singh (2002) argued that experience working with a particular alliance partner (i.e.,
learning by doing) enables the development of valuable interorganizational routines that
facilitate coordination and cooperation. Consistent with this idea, the researchers found that the
number of previous alliances with a particular partner had a positive effect on alliance
While these studies have emphasized the importance of learning by doing in developing valuable
routines, other work has suggested that "learning before doing" (e.g., lab experiments,
simulations) can reduce the time required to develop such routines. In a study examining process
development in the pharmaceuticals industry, Pisano (1994) examined how the different learning
approaches (i.e., learning by doing, learning before doing) affected the time required to develop
new routines in two different fields. Pisano argued that chemicals-based pharmaceuticals is a
mature scientific field with developed theories available in scientific journals and textbooks,
whereas biotechnology-based pharmaceuticals is a more nascent field with less established
theory available to guide developers of large-scale processes. Accordingly, the results indicated
that in chemicals-based pharmaceuticals, learning before doing was associated with more rapid
development of routines, while it had little effect on development time in biotechnology-based
pharmaceuticals. This suggests that learning before doing can be an effective way to reduce time
to development when a sufficient knowledge base exists to simulate and predict effects in
In sum, scholars working from the capabilities perspective are interested in the role of time in the
development of valuable routines, and consider time to development as an important outcome.
This work has shown that learning by doing over time is often a requirement for developing
valuable routines, but under certain conditions, firms can "learn before doing" and effectively
lower development time.
Time and realizing value from routines
Researchers have also considered several ways in which time contributes to realizing value from
routines. One line of this work considers the counterintuitive idea that organizations benefit from
enforcement mechanisms that require them to use valuable routines. In research examining
routines in the franchising industry, Knott (2001, 2003) found that franchisors play an important
disciplining role by requiring establishments to use valuable operating routines, and that
temporal distance from such an enforcing mechanism is a key factor. In a natural experiment that
compared establishments that leave a franchise with those that remain, Knott (2001) found that
for those leaving the franchise, as the establishments became more temporally distant from the
enforcement mechanism (i.e., the years since becoming independent of the franchisor), they were
less likely to use valuable operating routines even when they had perfect incentives to do so, and
the establishments experienced a corresponding decline in returns. Thus, in the absence of an
enforcing mechanism, organizations can drift from valuable routines over time.
Other research examines how time can affect the value generated by a routine. For example,
scholars argue that routines exhibit historical specificity, which refers to the idea that routines are
shaped and supported by particular contextual features at particular points in time (Becker, 2004;
Narduzzo, Rocco, & Warglien, 2000), such that as conditions change over time, organizations
may no longer be able to effectively perform routines that once produced considerable value.
This builds on the idea that routines are context dependent, highlighting that routines may be
effective in some contexts yet not in others (Winter in Cohen et al. 1996, p. 662). While the
notion of historical specificity implicitly focuses on clock time as a proxy for changing
conditions, scholars also consider how the value produced by a routine can change over time as
reflected in event occurrences. In a study examining the San Francisco 49ers' West Coast
Offense as an advantageous routine in professional football, Aime, Johnson, Ridge, and Hill
(2010) found that the value produced by the routine dissipated over time, as knowledge of the
routine diffused to rival organizations through the hiring of 49ers personnel. The researchers
found that as rival organizations hired away personnel directly familiar with the routine, they
became better able to implement the West Coast Offense and to defend against it.
In sum, this research suggests that realizing value from routines is a function of time in varied
ways, and includes factors like temporal distance from an enforcing mechanism, how routines fit
with the historical context, and how returns from an advantageous routine dissipate over time.
Time and replicating valuable routines
After developing valuable routines, firms often have incentives to replicate them in pursuit of
greater profit through growth (Winter, 1995). From the perspective of the resource-based view,
Winter and Szulanski (2001, pp. 740-741) highlight that resources are present in the form of the
routines being replicated, and in the "capabilities for speedy and precise replication" (italics
added). The speed of replication is important in competitive settings because of the potential to
cede valuable opportunities to imitating rivals, leading to the advice of "when successful, copy
yourself before others copy you" (Winter, 1995, p. 158). Winter (1995) also suggests that
decisions regarding the rate of replication take into account that idiosyncratic resources are
required for replication, and that those resources have opportunity costs (e.g., knowledgeable
personnel from an established concern needed to facilitate the establishment of routines in a new
concern). To date, though, little research has focused on the rate of replication.
Much of the research on replication has focused on the precision aspect. Scholars argue that
replicating routines can be difficult for a variety of reasons, including challenges associated with
transferring routines with tacit components. This work argues that having an established routine
in operation serving as a template is important because it provides a referent for addressing
problems that surface during the transfer and implementation of the routine in new locations
(Nelson & Winter, 1982). Scholars further argue that precise replication (i.e., copy exactly) is
important because the established routine contains considerable lessons learned from past
mistakes, and that a precisely-replicated routine will be better able to leverage resources from the
spawning unit. In a study of the transfer of best-practice sales routines at a company in Western
Europe, Jensen and Szulanski (2007) found that using a template resulted in more effective
transfer of routines, particularly when recipients had little understanding of the routine and its
This line of research also examines alternative approaches to replicating routines in the context
of franchising. One approach focuses on precise replication of the routine, i.e., copy exactly,
while the other emphasizes adaptation of the routine to fit local conditions. In one study, Winter,
Szulanski, Ringov, and Jensen (2012) found that franchise outlets faced heightened risks of
failure with greater departure from the franchisor template. In related work, Szulanski and Jensen
(2006, 2008) found that franchisees performed better in terms of growth when they more closely
replicated the franchisor's codified routine for growth, as opposed to when they sought to adapt it
in light of differences in local conditions. Interestingly, the results indicated that time matters in
this relationship, as there appeared to be fewer concerns from adaptation when it took place after
franchisees developed greater understanding of the routine through operating experience.
In sum, scholars examining the replication of routines argue that organizations benefit from
precise replication because the template represents accumulated learning and serves as a referent.
Empirical work supports this idea, finding that organizations perform better following precise
replication, particularly in the near term when recipients have limited understanding of the
Evolution of Routines over Time
Scholars working from the capabilities perspective have also given considerable attention to
understanding how routines evolve over time. One of the central themes in this research is that
the evolution of routines is history dependent (Helfat, 2003), and that the path(s) ahead for a
routine are shaped by the path along which it has traveled (Becker, 2004; Teece, Pisano, &
Shuen, 1997). While capability scholars often describe the evolution of routines as path
dependent, Sydow, Schreyögg, and Koch (2009) argue that path dependence is a specific claim
regarding the development of a routine: starting with a relatively open scope of action (i.e., few
constraints), a path takes shape as events (e.g., decisions, accidents) begin to restrict the scope of
action in which a routine can emerge as a pattern of action; this scope of action then becomes
further restricted by self-reinforcing processes (e.g., learning effects), such that the path
culminates in a highly-restricted state that "locks in" a rigid and potentially inefficient pattern of
action. In reviewing this research, I draw upon the more general ideas of history dependence and
the more specific ideas of path dependence, concentrating on recent studies that capture the
evolution process in stage and lifecycle models (Helfat & Peteraf, 2003; Sydow et al. 2009).
In these models, the initial stage focuses on the conditions for founding a routine. Scholars
highlight that in the initial stage, organizations often have many options for performing a task,
within the bounds of the context and involved individuals. The context encompasses various
aspects, such as the physical environment in which the task is to be performed (Nelson & Winter,
1982), and the legal environment that influences what actions are permissible (Nelson, 1994). In
addition, the individuals developing the routine may bring experiences from prior organizations
and careers that affect the initial set of possibilities for performing the task, representing
imprinting effects that influence the initial conditions (Levinthal, 2003; Sydow et al. 2009).
As an organization begins to perform a task, the processes by which it is accomplished are
subject to self-reinforcement, as reflected in learning, coordination, and systemic effects.
Learning effects are self-reinforcing in that with repetition, an organization becomes more
efficient in performing the task in particular ways, i.e., learning by doing (Argote, 1999; Cohen,
1991). Coordination is also subject to self-reinforcement, in that as an organization performs a
task in familiar ways, it can increasing rely on historical precedence for coordination, which
results in greater efficiencies. Systemic effects capture the idea that as an organization begins to
perform a task in particular ways, it tends to invest in supporting assets and infrastructure, and
may develop complementary routines; as this system develops around the focal routine, there are
increasingly disruptive costs associated with changing the focal routine (Narduzzo et al. 2000;
Sydow et al. 2009).
Experimental studies provide support for these ideas. In a classic experiment examining pairs of
individuals playing a card game, Cohen and Bacdayan (1994) found that repetition resulted in
the formation of routines that increased the efficiency with which pairs played the game. And
once routines are established, studies have shown a tendency for them to persist, even when the
initial conditions that led to their development are no longer in place. In an experiment involving
a group writing task, Kelly and McGrath (1985) found that groups established patterns of task
performance in an initial trial under particular time constraints, which persisted in a second trial
even though the time constraints had changed. As another example, in an experiment building on
the work by Cohen and Bacdayan (1994), Egidi and Narduzzo (1997) focused on the strategies
by which actor pairs played the card game, viewing the strategies as routines based in particular
sets of condition-action rules. The results showed that after being led to favor a particular
strategy in an initial round, pairs were more likely to use the learned strategy in a subsequent
round, even when it was less effective -- and in many instances, pairs played their learned
strategy exclusively, suggesting the potential for locking in to a particular routine.
Routines may persist for reasons beyond self-reinforcement, such as when satisficing
organizations do not engage in problem-solving efforts to change a routine as long as its
performance outcomes are above threshold levels (March & Simon, 1958; Nelson, 1994; Winter,
2000). Such persistence may ultimately lead to a state of lock in, which Sydow et al. (2009)
characterize by severe restriction in the scope for performing a task, which is deterministic in the
extreme. However, Helfat and Peteraf (2003) highlight that routines can evolve and change when
factors external to the routine intervene to change its trajectory. These forces may arise from
within the organization (e.g., interventions by senior managers) or outside it (e.g., changes in
demand, technological changes), and can result in a variety of changes to the routine. Helfat and
Peteraf (2003) suggest several ways in which a routine might change, including enhancement
(i.e., renewal), extension (i.e., replication, redeployment), innovation (i.e., recombination), and
termination (i.e., retirement, retrenchment).
While research from the capabilities perspective has emphasized path-dependent evolution,
scholars also argue that organizations' temporal orientation for search (i.e., backward-looking,
forward-looking) can moderate the extent to which routines evolve in path-dependent ways. In
routines research, much of the emphasis has been placed on a backward-looking approach, which
focuses on experiential wisdom and feedback based on prior choices; in contrast, a forward-
looking orientation emphasizes the idea that organizations use cognitive maps to think about how
a given set of actions will influence outcomes. Studies using computational simulation have
found that organizations incorporating a forward-looking orientation were less constrained by the
past, and had higher fitness levels as the forward-looking orientation enabled them to find more
promising regions on the landscape (Gavetti, 2005; Gavetti & Levinthal, 2000).
In sum, scholars working from the capabilities perspective argue that routines tend to evolve in
path-dependent ways due to the presence of self-reinforcing processes that promote persistence
and refinement in patterns of action. While routines may end in a state of "lock in", this is not
necessarily the case, as factors external to the routine may intervene and change its trajectory.
Further, the extent to which routines evolve in path-dependent ways is affected by temporal
orientations for search (i.e., backward-looking, forward-looking).
THE PRACTICE PERSPECTIVE
The practice perspective concentrates on the routine itself, and its constituent parts, as the focal
level of analysis. In this work, routines are viewed as being comprised of two aspects: the
ostensive and performative. The ostensive aspects refer to the abstract pattern of actions, or the
"routine in principle", while the performative aspects refer to the enactment of the pattern of
actions by routine participants, or the "routine in practice" (Feldman & Pentland, 2003). These
two aspects, the ostensive and the performative, are related through a process of mutual
constitution (Giddens, 1984); the ostensive patterns are used to guide, account for, and refer to
specific performances of the routine, and the performances of the routine serve to create,
maintain, and modify the ostensive patterns (Feldman & Pentland, 2003, 2005; Pentland &
Feldman, 2005). Scholars working from the practice perspective are particularly interested in the
role of agency (Feldman, 2000; Pentland & Reuter, 1994). Participants in the routine take actions
within the context of various enabling and constraining structures, including artifacts like
standard operating procedures, and these actions can produce a variety of performances of the
routine. Practice-based scholars are particularly interested in understanding the stability,
variability, and change in routines.
Considered next are three areas in which time is prominent for the practice perspective: temporal
influences on the performance of routines, the role of time in the performance outcomes of
routines, and how routines evolve over time.
This section focuses on three ways in which time affects how actors perform their roles in
routines: time as signal for action, time as resource for action, and time as state of mind.
Time as signal for action
In this section, attention is directed to the role of time as a signal within routines (i.e., inside the
black box). Both clock and event time serve as cues for actors performing their roles within
Clock time. While scholars from the practice perspective have focused more on the role of
preceding actions, i.e., event-based cues, some recent work has been directed to the role of
clocks. In a multi-case study examining waste collection routines, Turner and Rindova (2012)
describe how waste collection organizations have formal rules in place for customers to have
their waste containers ready for service by a certain time (e.g., 7AM); these clock-based rules are
intended to create buffers between sequentially-dependent actions (i.e., container preparation by
customers, container emptying by waste collection crews). But given that crews tend to enact the
waste collection routine similarly across performances, they frequently arrive at customer
locations at about the same time on the days that service is being performed; this results in many
customers developing expectations for when the crew typically arrives at their house (e.g.,
11AM), and customers evolve their role performances accordingly, i.e., "just in time" container
preparation. In turn, waste collection crews feel greater pressure to perform the routine as they
have in the past to ensure that their arrivals are in sync with the times at which their customers
typically perform their roles.3
Event time. In practice-based research, the majority of attention has focused on events as cues for
action. In part, this reflects scholars' examining the performance of routines in terms of
sequences of actions, which emphasizes the order in which actions take place for a given routine
performance (Pentland & Reuter, 1994). For actors performing their roles in a routine,
completion of a particular action can serve as a signal that there is now an opportunity for the
next action to be taken, particularly when the actions are sequentially dependent. For example,
based on her participant observation study at McDonalds, Leidner (1993, p. 68) describes how
the arrival of customers stimulates a sequence of actions for the window service routine,
including greeting the customer, taking the order, assembling the order, presenting the order,
receiving payment, and thanking the customer. Scholars have also argued that the completion of
a preceding action can serve as a more direct stimulus for the performance of a subsequent
action. This is evident in Cohen and Bacdayan's (1994, p. 554) description of routines as
"interlocking, reciprocally-triggered sequences of skilled actions", such that the performance of
one skilled action tends to trigger a subsequent action in the routine.
3 This process has interesting ties with the concept of temporal specificity, which refers to situations in which
performing activities on time (e.g., according to a precise schedule) is critical because delays in key activities can be
points of blockage that have system-wide disruptive effects (Masten, Meehan, & Snyder, 1991). In this case, waste
collection organizations have formal rules in place for customer participation to prevent or limit temporal
specificity, but by performing waste collections consistently over time, crews actually create conditions of high
temporal specificity as customers establish time-based expectations and evolve their behavior accordingly, which
makes subsequent collections more challenging (Turner & Rindova, 2012).
In sum, scholars working from the practice perspective have considered clock and event time as
signals for action. This work considers how organizations use artifacts like clock-based rules to
create buffers between actions, and how the act of performing routines in similar ways can
establish expectations for when things happen, which influence subsequent performances. With
respect to event time, scholars examining the internal structure of routines as sequences of
actions emphasize how the occurrence of preceding actions within routines serve to stimulate
Time as resource for action
Practice-based research also views time as a resource, and time pressure as a resource shortage
(Arrow et al. 2004) that restricts variability in the performances of routines. As time pressure
increases, actors have less time available to consider alternative avenues for performing a
routine, and there may be fewer viable avenues for performing it, i.e., fewer ways that can be
completed within the time constraints (Becker, 2005; Turner & Fern, 2012). As indicated earlier,
experimental evidence at the individual level has found that greater time pressure results in
individuals being more likely to use previously-learned solutions when making decisions to solve
a recurring problem, even when alternative solutions are intended or desired (Betsch et al. 1999;
Betsch et al. 2004). These results are consistent with the idea that greater time pressure restricts
opportunities for deliberation and variability in routine performances.
In related research, Turner and Fern (2012) found consistent results, along with some nuance.
The study showed that both increases and decreases in time pressure relative to typical
conditions resulted in greater divergence in routine performances from the ways in which actors
had previously performed the routine; the results also indicated that actors' experience in
performing the routine amplified the effect of decreases in time pressure, but offered limited
support for a moderating effect of experience for increases in time pressure. The idea that
decreases in time pressure result in more divergent performances is consistent with time as a
resource, from the view that actors have more time available for thinking about how to perform
the routine, and they have more avenues available for pursuing it. That experience amplified this
effect supports the notion that the time and effort that actors have previously invested in
performing the routine increase their understandings of the routine, its surrounding context, and
the set of possibilities for performing the routine, which heightens their capacity for recombining
elements from past experience and improvising their performances. The idea that increases in
time pressure result in greater divergence is less intuitive, but also appears consistent with the
idea of time as a resource. Specifically, if atypically high levels of time pressure restrict the ways
in which a routine can be performed, actors will be more likely to diverge from past ways of
performing it, as the current performance context is more constrained relative to past conditions.
The limited support for a moderating effect of experience suggests that increases in time pressure
are likely to restrict actors' ability to exercise experience-based agency.
In sum, this research suggests that greater time pressure restricts the variability with which actors
perform routines, and that such effects can depend upon the performance experience of actors.
Time as state of mind
Scholars have argued that actors' temporal orientation is an important element of agency
(Emirbayer & Mische, 1998), which shapes the ways in which they perform routines (Howard-
Grenville, 2005). This notion recognizes that actors have multiple orientations to time, ranging
from being directed to the past, present, and/or future (Howard-Grenville, 2005; Shipp, Edwards,
& Lambert, 2009).4 These orientations have corresponding influences on actors' performances,
from iterating upon past actions, to acting based upon practical evaluation of current conditions,
to projecting forward and imagining novel and reconfigured ways of acting (Emirbayer &
Mische, 1998). In her participant observation study of a process development routine at a
semiconductor manufacturer, Howard-Grenville (2005) found that actors' primary temporal
orientation affects the flexibility with which actors perform the routine, where flexibility refers to
the idea that actors can perform the same routine in different ways at different times. This work
indicated that the flexibility of routine performances was limited by past orientations, e.g.,
drawing on previous experience in performing the routine, and was promoted by present and
future orientations, which focus on attending to the situation at hand and imagining new
possibilities for the routine.
In sum, research from the practice perspective argues that actors' orientations to the past, present,
and future shape the flexibility with which they perform routines.
Time and Outcomes
Practice-based research has been less focused on explaining performance outcomes, though
studies have considered the role of outcomes in processes of endogenous change in routines
(Feldman, 2000; Rerup & Feldman, 2011). But recent work from the practice perspective is
beginning to focus more on performance outcomes in their own right. This section considers the
role of time in how performances of routines impact outcomes like task efficiency and
Duration of routine performances
Time is often used as an indicator of the efficiency with which a routine is performed. For
example, in their computational simulation study, Miller, Pentland, and Choi (2012) examined
the time required to solve a problem. This is similar to Cohen and Bacdayan (1994), which
focused on the amount of time required for making a move in repeated plays of a card game.
Research in this area tends to examine outcomes from a learning perspective. The work on
learning by doing suggests that developing greater experience with a task results in greater
efficiency in its execution, particularly under stable conditions (Argote, 1999; Arrow, 1962;
Becker, 2005). Miller et al. (2012), for instance, shows gains in problem-solving efficiency
across performances of the routine; specifically, the time required to solve a given problem
decreased as actors developed declarative and transactive memory. Similarly, Cohen and
4 The idea that actors may simultaneously allocate attention to the past, present, and future is common across
agency-based research on temporal orientation (Emirbayer & Mische, 1998; Howard-Grenville, 2005) and research
on temporal focus (Shipp et al. 2009). In a survey, Shipp et al. (2009) found evidence consistent with this
simultaneous view, with a majority of the surveyed individuals directing attention to two or three time periods;
interestingly, they also found that 10% of their sample had a low focus for all three time periods (i.e., "atemporal").
Bacdayan (1994) argued that actors develop procedural memory as they repeatedly perform a
routine, and their experiments provide evidence that as subjects gained greater experience with
the routine over time, they were able to perform it more quickly. Studies also suggest necessary
conditions for these effects, as Pentland et al. (2012) found that selective retention of lower-cost
performances was required to observe learning by doing effects in their study.
In sum, as actors gain greater experience in performing a routine for a particular task, they
develop corresponding memory and discover opportunities for improvement, which enable them
to perform the task more efficiently.
Duration of recovery
The work on learning effects also considers more dynamic conditions, focusing on how long it
takes organizations to recover from changes that disrupt the routine. For example, Miller et al.
(2012) found that organizational downsizing and introducing task novelty resulted in longer
durations for performing the routine. For both types of changes, they observed that smaller
organizations were able to recover more quickly due to faster experiential learning. For
downsizing, the researchers observed that a higher percentage of downsized employees resulted
in greater declines in problem-solving efficiency, but also led to faster recovery to efficient
levels. For task novelty, they found that organizations adapt to changes faster when agents'
memories are shorter and when they have greater breadth of task awareness.
In their study of waste collection routines, Turner and Rindova (2012) found that changes in the
conditions for performing routines resulted in slower performances because employees had to
figure out how to complete the task under different/disrupted conditions (e.g., adverse weather
conditions, equipment breakdowns), but the results also indicated two approaches that
organizations used to minimize the associated recovery times. One was the use of reorganizing
rules as general guidelines which allowed actors to take into account the changing circumstances
and provided them with some degree of automaticity in their responses. The other involved
drawing upon established connections to reconstitute the routine, such as using team-based
approaches for making sense of the modifications needed in their performances.
In sum, scholars suggest that recovery time is reduced by organizational and task conditions that
enable faster learning and relearning, as well as by using artifacts like re-organizing rules and
drawing upon established connections among actors.
Being "on time"
Recent work has also begun to examine time-based performance outcomes that capture the
effectiveness of routine performances as reflected in customer satisfaction. Turner and Rindova
(2012) found that customers of waste collection routines are more satisfied when routines are
performed at typical times. When routines are performed consistently, customers tend to develop
expectations for when crews typically arrive, and evolve their role performances accordingly
(i.e., preparing waste containers for service in line with typical crew arrivals). As a result, when
crews do not arrive at typical times, customer dissatisfaction rises markedly due to divergence
with their expectations, which results in greater incidence of missed service as customers are less
likely to have their containers ready in time.
In sum, research identifies that being "on time" can have important implications for the
effectiveness of routine performances.
Evolution of Routines over Time
While the capabilities perspective emphasizes the path-dependent nature of routine evolution, the
practice perspective focuses on the idea that routines exhibit elements of both path dependence
and path creation (Garud, Kumaraswamy, & Karnoe, 2010; Pentland et al. 2012). According to
the practice perspective, present and future routine performances build upon past performances,
but practice-based researchers view routines as more variable and emergent than suggested by a
strongly path-dependent model that concludes in a state of lock-in (Mahoney, 2000; Sydow et al.
2009). In this sense, the practice perspective emphasizes actors' ability to shape unfolding
organizational routines, consistent with the notion of path creation (Garud et al. 2010). This work
understands the evolution of routines through the recursive relationship between the ostensive
and performative aspects.
When performing routines, actors may seek to reproduce past performances, or they may choose
to alter how they perform the routine. In terms of incentives for reproducing past performances,
scholars have offered a number of reasons, including attaining learning and coordination
efficiencies (Cohen, 1991; Lazaric, 2008), steering clear of political confrontations and striving
for legitimacy (Feldman, 2003; Howard-Grenville, 2005), maintaining an established truce
(Turner & Rindova, 2012; Zbaracki & Bergen, 2010), and avoiding variations that could upset
other interrelated routines (Howard-Grenville, 2005). Scholars also offer reasons for why actors
choose to alter how they perform a routine, including adapting to organizational and
environmental changes (Cohen, 2007; Turner & Fern, 2012; Turner & Rindova, 2012), and
responding to problems or opportunities that were made evident from past performances
(Feldman, 2000; Feldman & Pentland, 2003; Rerup & Feldman, 2011).
When actors enact routines in ways that are similar to past performances, they develop and
reinforce the ostensive aspects, consistent with the idea of path dependence. But when actors
perform the routine in novel ways, they alter the potential repertoire of performances, which can
reshape the ostensive aspects, aligning with the idea of path creation. The ostensive aspects are
modified when novel performances are taken up into the ostensive aspects (Feldman & Pentland,
2003). These modifications can take the form of changes that seek to displace existing patterns in
favor of preferred ones, or extensions that result in more nuance and conditionality, e.g.,
elaborating the ostensive aspects to reflect different variants of a routine for different conditions.
In performing routines, whether in familiar or novel ways, agency and artifacts play important
roles. As such, these elements contribute to understanding the evolution of routines. From the
perspective of agency, scholars have pointed to a number of factors. For example, actors' primary
temporal orientation influences their likelihood of performing routines in flexible ways, with past
orientations promoting stability while present and future orientations encourage variability
(Howard-Grenville, 2005). Actors' experience in performing routines also affects the extent to
which they diverge from past routine performances; for example, Turner and Fern (2012) found
actors' performance experience had an overall stabilizing effect on routine performances, but that
experience also enabled variability in response to certain contextual changes (i.e., those that
provided actors with greater opportunity to exercise experience-based agency). Scholars have
also highlighted how actors' understandings of the organization influence routine evolution.
Feldman (2003) found that desired changes in routines were inhibited when they were perceived
to run counter to actors' understandings of how the organization operated more broadly, and
Rerup and Feldman (2011) explained how routines change in response to perceived
inconsistencies between the routine and organizational schemata. The power of actors has also
been highlighted as important for understanding when novel performances are or are not taken
up in the ostensive aspects (Feldman & Pentland, 2003; Howard-Grenville, 2005).
In terms of artifacts, practice-based research has described a variety that affect the performance
and evolution of routines, from formal rules and standard operating procedures to the work
equipment and larger physical context (Pentland & Feldman, 2005). From the perspective of
context, for example, Howard-Grenville (2005) found that the contextual embeddedness of a
routine has notable implications for overlapping and interconnected structures, such that
strongly-embedded routines are less likely to change over time. In parallel, Turner and Fern
(2012) found that changes in the context promote variability in routine performances. Scholars
also highlight how artifacts serve as channels by which agency shapes interactions among actors
and the evolution of routines (Bapuji, Hora, & Saeed, 2012; Cacciatori, 2008, 2012; D'Adderio,
2008, 2011; Lazaric, Mangolte, & Massue, 2003).
In sum, while actors have incentives for reproducing historical ways of performing routines, they
also have incentives for novelty. When actors introduce variations while enacting routines, they
increase the possible ways of performing the routine, which can result in modifications to the
ostensive aspects. Accordingly, agency and artifacts play central enabling and constraining roles
in the evolution of routines.
See Figure 2 for a summary of key findings across the two perspectives regarding temporal
antecedents, outcomes, and evolution.
** Insert Figure 2 about here **
This section briefly reviews the methodologies that scholars working from the capabilities and
practice perspectives have commonly used to examine temporal issues in routines, and offers
some suggestions for methodology choices in future research. In considering these issues,
particular attention is given to the principle of triangulation, which emphasizes how the use of
multiple methodologies enables the limitations of any one method to be offset by the advantages
of another. Scholars have highlighted how triangulation can enhance understanding of a
phenomenon through convergence and divergence; when studies using a diversity of
methodologies produce convergent findings, we have greater confidence in an explanation; by
contrast, the generation of divergent findings often enables alternative and more nuanced
explanations to emerge (Jick, 1979; McGrath, 1982).
Methods, Time, and the Capabilities Perspective
There is considerable variety in the methods that capabilities-based scholars have used to
examine temporal issues in routines, including case studies (e.g., Dutta et al. 2003; Jensen &
Szulanski, 2007) and statistical analyses of survey or archival data (e.g., Knott, 2001; Turner,
Mitchell, & Bettis, 2010), as well as related work using lab experiments (e.g., Betsch et al. 1999;
Garapin & Hollard, 1999). In this research, scholars have tended to focus on one routine or a
small number of routines in a single organization, in multiple establishments within one
organization, or in multiple businesses operating within one industry. The methods contribute to
both theory development and theory testing, which is consistent with the moderate stage of
development for capabilities-based research on routines. From a triangulation perspective, the
diverse set of methodologies tend to complement one another well; for example, the strengths
and weaknesses of lab experiments (i.e., high precision of control, low realism of the context for
participants) are counterbalanced by the strengths and weaknesses of case studies (McGrath,
1982). And as one area of study in particular, scholars examining routine replication have
effectively utilized a diverse set of methodologies to increase confidence in their arguments for
the benefits of precise replication (e.g., Szulanski & Jensen, 2006; Winter et al. 2012).
Going forward, research examining temporal issues in routines from the capabilities perspective
can benefit from continued diversity in methodologies, and by being more systematic in the use
of multiple methods to examine particular research questions. For example, researchers can use
computational simulation to elaborate theory regarding the role of time in organizational
routines, particularly given the prominence of the simulation method in early work on routines
(e.g., Cyert & March, 1963; Nelson & Winter, 1982). Further, scholars highlight that time
structure is a core element in the design of computational simulation experiments in
organizations research (Harrison, Lin, Carroll, & Carley, 2007), although time is rarely the
central focus of these studies. As another example, understanding can be advanced through
archival and survey-based research that spans industries, as the salience of time may differ
considerably across industries. While there are increased challenges in identifying comparable
routines across industries, there are a number of activities (e.g., undertaking acquisitions,
introducing generational innovations) that would seem to be sufficiently comparable to facilitate
investigation. Also, with a clearer and more explicit focus on particular questions that examine
the role of time in routines, capabilities-based researchers can more effectively implement the
principle of triangulation in their design of research programs.
Methods, Time, and the Practice Perspective
There has been less variety in the methods that practice-based researchers have used to examine
temporality in routines until recently. This research has emphasized longitudinal case studies,
which typically involve participant or non-participant observation of one or more routines within
a single organization. By enabling deep examination of routines over time, this method initially
helped to advance understanding of routines by revealing findings that diverged from
expectations based on traditional routines research, providing the foundation for the practice-
based perspective (Pentland & Feldman, 2008). The longitudinal case study method has been
particularly well suited for delving into the black box of routines to explore their internal
structure and dynamics, and its emphasis among practice-based scholars is consistent with the
value of using case studies to provide fresh insights in established research areas and to develop
theory in early stages of new research areas (Eisenhardt, 1989; Glaser & Strauss, 1967).
In more recent work focused on the microfoundations of routines (Felin, Foss, Heimeriks, &
Madsen, 2012), scholars examining temporal issues in routines from the practice perspective
have begun to utilize a broader array of research methodologies. In some work, scholars have
expanded the breadth of field-based methodologies to include case studies examining the same
routine in multiple organizations (Turner & Rindova, 2012), which helps in terms of robustness
and generalizability (Eisenhardt & Graebner, 2007), and field experiments that provide greater
precision in control and measurement (Bapuji et al. 2012). In other work, scholars have utilized
methodologies that provide greater diversity with respect to triangulation. For example, relative
to longitudinal case studies, recent simulation-based research (Miller et al. 2012; Pentland et al.
2012) provides greater precision and capacity for experimental manipulation, as well as greater
generalizability with respect to populations (McGrath, 1982). This is consistent with earlier calls
for using computational simulation as a way to explore the complexity and coordination of
individual roles within routines (Cohen et al. 1996, p. 677), and with suggestions that simulation
can be an effective method for elaborating theories that have emerged from case studies (Davis,
Eisenhardt, & Bingham, 2007). As another example, recent empirical studies that use workflow
data to examine the role of time in the performance of routines (Turner & Fern, 2012) provide a
good avenue for theory testing. Given the early stage of development for the practice
perspective, there remains considerable opportunity for developing theory regarding temporality
through case studies, but to continue to advance the perspective, scholars need to increasingly
focus on more diverse methods for elaborating and testing theory.
The objective of this paper was to examine the role of time in routines research. The review was
structured according to two central perspectives that scholars in strategy and organizational
theory have tended to adopt in their examination of routines: the capabilities perspective and the
practice perspective (Parmigiani & Howard-Grenville, 2011). Capabilities-based research has a
macro orientation that focuses on the role of routines in organizational competitiveness, views
them largely as whole entities, and emphasizes their stability, while also highlighting their
potential for change in relation to market and environmental conditions. Practice-based work has
a micro orientation that examines the role of routines in everyday organizing, explores their
constituent parts, and emphasizes their internal dynamics, particularly with regards to their
potential for endogenous change. In examining the literature, attention was directed to temporal
antecedents, outcomes, and evolution. In these areas, the review reveals considerable similarities
and complementarities across the capabilities and practice perspectives, and points to
opportunities for extending our understanding of routines through future research that provides
more systematic and integrative attention to the temporal dimension.5
5 Routines research could also benefit from greater specificity when referencing the temporal dimension. The phrase
"over time" is one of the most common in the literature, yet what is meant by time is often not made clear. In many
Temporal influences on the performance of routines
The review points to three categories of time-based determinants -- time as signal, resource, and
state of mind -- that influence whether, when, why, and how routines are performed. Across the
capabilities and practice perspectives are similarities, such as the attention to time as a signal and
resource. The perspectives are also complementary in that capabilities-based research tends to
emphasize external temporal influences (e.g., completion of other routines), while practice-based
work focuses more on internal influences (e.g., temporal orientation of actors). And the
perspectives tend to differ in their questions -- capabilities-based scholars typically consider
questions like whether and when routines are performed, while practice-based researchers
concentrate more on how routines are performed. While scholars are only beginning to explore
temporal influences on the performance of routines, with many questions remaining to be asked
and answered, this review points to three areas in particular where future research can help to
extend our understanding.
First, there are opportunities to expand the notions of time as signal, resource, and state of mind.
Consider time as signal. To complement extant research that considers clock and event time in an
objective way, it may help to explore the social construction of time as a signal (Ancona et al.
2001; Arrow et al. 2004). While this can be considered at macro levels, such as the social
construction of calendars (Bluedorn, 2002), for routines scholarship, concentrating at micro
levels will likely provide greater value. For example, routine participants may create "times" that
are seemingly unrelated to task accomplishment, but nevertheless work themselves into the
routine and function as signals, e.g., "banana time" as a created activity/event that breaks up
repetitive work (Roy, 1960). As another example, participants in routines may develop marker
events, like midpoint transitions, that serve as signals to ramp up the intensity of task
performance (Gersick, 1989). Consider, also, time as state of mind. While routines scholars have
developed key insights around the temporal orientation of actors, future research could explore
other related aspects. For example, Ancona et al. (2001) emphasizes that actors also relate to
time in ways that reflect their temporal style (e.g., how predictable actors view the future) and
temporal perception (e.g., whether actors perceive activities as original or unique). In addition,
future research should explore how performing routines is affected by variability among routine
participants with respect to time as signal, resource, and state of mind.6
Second, future research can extend our understanding by exploring the conditional nature of
temporal influences on routines. Capabilities-based research has begun to consider how macro-
level conditions, such as market concentration and organizational age, shape the degree to which
routine performances are driven by calendars versus competitive events (Turner et al. 2010,
2013). And practice-based work has started to look within the routine, such as how the
characteristics of individual actors (e.g., their experience, power) may condition the effects of
instances, for example, it is important to know whether time is being conceptualized in terms of
performances/events or clocks/calendars (e.g., learning curve effects, time compression diseconomies).
6 With respect to time as state of mind, scholars might explore variability both across actors and among past,
present, and future. Such work could draw upon recent research on strategy making that explores how participants
work through differences and link interpretations of the past, present, and future, which shapes the degree to which
strategic decisions depart from the status quo (Kaplan & Orlikowski, 2012)
time pressure or temporal orientation (Howard-Grenville, 2005; Turner & Fern, 2012). Scholars
might also focus on characteristics at the level of the routine. For example, whether the typical
performance of a routine takes place over minutes, days, weeks, or months might influence the
effects of temporal orientation or time pressure.
Third, beyond the performance of established routines, the notions of time as signal, resource,
and state of mind may enrich our understanding of other important activities involving routines,
such as their emergence and replication. In terms of emergence, future research might focus on
how time as signal, resource, or state of mind shapes the formation of new routines. From the
view of time as signal, for example, research on entrainment would suggest that recurring event
cycles in the surrounding environment have considerable influence on the manner and rate at
which new routines emerge (Ancona & Chong, 1996; Bluedorn, 2002). In terms of replication,
scholars working from the capabilities perspective may find the idea of time as resource helpful
in explaining whether, when and how routines are replicated (Winter & Szulanski, 2001).
Moreover, research on replication might benefit from drawing upon ideas from the practice
perspective, such as how the internal structure of routines influences the precision and rate of
replication, and perhaps even conceptualizing the process of replication itself as a routine, which
could be analyzed in terms of ostensive and performative parts.
How performing routines influences key outcomes
Reviewing research that examines the impact of routines also highlights similarities and
complementarities across the capabilities and practice perspectives. The perspectives are similar
in that both consider how routines affect outcomes of interest for organizations, and they are
complementary from the view that capabilities-based research tends to focus on firm-level
performance outcomes (e.g., profit, survival), while practice-based work concentrates more on
routine-level outcomes like task efficiency and effectiveness. Further, while both perspectives
examine how learning by doing influences outcomes (Argote, 1999), scholars working from the
capabilities perspective also consider how the impact of routines is a function of their qualities as
resources (Barney, 1991).
This review suggests two areas for future work on temporality that may be particularly promising
for advancing our understanding of the impact of routines. First, a broader consideration of the
role of time in performing routines offers potential to provide insight in areas like learning and
replication. In learning-based studies, routines scholars have focused primarily on the effects of
learning by doing over time, but we know relatively little about the impact of alternative
investments of time, such as off-line modeling (Pisano, 1994) or vicarious learning (Levitt &
March, 1988); we also have limited understanding of the implications associated with different
ways in which learning has taken place -- exploring the effects of different patterns/sequences of
learning, for example, might shed light in this area. In replication-based studies, routines scholars
have focused on the benefits arising from precise replication, yet less attention has been directed
to examining the impact of the rate of replication. As Winter (1995) suggests, the rate of
replication should be particularly salient in competitive markets where the potential for imitation
Second, our understanding of the impact of routines may be advanced by greater attention to the
conditional nature of the effects by which routines influence outcomes.7 Consider capabilities-
based research that draws on the resource-based view to examine how advantageous routines
impact firm performance. While this work emphasizes the importance of tacitness and firm
specificity (Parmigiani & Howard-Grenville, 2011), studies also highlight how considerable
differences in organizational performance can arise from advantageous routines that are explicit
(Knott, 2003), and how considerable performance differences can dissipate due to the loss of a
key individual (Aime et al. 2010). To advance this research, then, future work should focus on
the conditions under which different types of routines are able to provide firms with competitive
advantages, and for how long those advantages may be sustained.8 Such research might draw
insights from the practice perspective; for instance, scholars interested in how causal ambiguity
affects the rate of routine imitation might examine the degree to which actors vary in their
understandings of the routine (i.e., multiplicity in the ostensive aspects). There are also
significant opportunities for practice-based research to extend our understanding of how
outcomes are dependent upon the ways in which routines are performed. For instance, future
research could examine when flexibility/improvisation in the performance of routines results in
beneficial versus detrimental outcomes; in exploring this question, researchers might look to
work on environmental uncertainty and fit (Miller, 1992; Milliken, 1987). As another example,
scholars might explore the conditions under which greater experience in performing a routine
may or may not lead to heightened efficiency.
How routines evolve over time
The capabilities and practice perspectives are similar in terms of devoting attention to explaining
the processes by which organizational routines evolve over time, and they are complementary
with respect to emphasizing different dynamics. While capabilities scholars concentrate more on
the "external dynamics" of routines, the practice perspective emphasizes their "internal
dynamics". Capabilities-based research, particularly work on dynamic capabilities, focuses more
on top-down processes in which higher-order routines (Winter, 2003) or managerial
interventions (Teece, 2012) facilitate change in routines, whether in seeking to respond to or
stimulate market and environmental changes (Baretto, 2010; Helfat et al. 2007). By contrast,
researchers working from the practice perspective emphasize bottom-up processes that enable
endogenous change to arise from within the routine (Feldman, 2000; Pentland & Feldman,
Research on the evolution of routines emphasizes that routines are subject to self-reinforcing
processes and exhibit path dependence, such that there is potential for lock in (Sydow et al.
2009). Given this potential, future research might fruitfully explore how organizations can
effectively change routines that are perceived to be detrimental. For example, we have little
understanding of the conditions under which the alternative processes -- "external dynamics"
versus "internal dynamics" -- are more likely to generate beneficial change in routines. Scholars
7 Scholars should also devote more attention to the temporal structure of effects; for example, theoretical arguments
and empirical investigations could benefit from greater specification of the timing of effects (Mitchell & James,
8 Future research would also benefit from greater attention to potential endogeneity when examining the impact of
using particular routines or replication strategies.
investigating this issue might fruitfully draw from ecological research that considers the content
and process effects of change (Barnett & Carroll, 1995). It could also be valuable to better
understand the malleability of such processes, such as to what extent and in what ways managers
can facilitate/accelerate and inhibit/decelerate these processes of change.
Along similar lines, research suggests that timing may be important, as routines are likely to be
more amenable to change at particular points in time. Change may be more likely, for example,
when the broader organization is undergoing pauses or transitions (Gersick & Hackman, 1990;
Zellmer-Bruhn et al. 2004). Consistent with previous guidance (Cohen 1991, 2012), this may be
a ripe area for drawing upon ideas from psychology, which suggest that interventions are more
likely to be effective in breaking habits when they coincide with broader contextual changes. For
example, Verplanken and Wood (2006) argue that informational campaigns designed to change
strongly-formed habits in particular areas (e.g., poor eating habits) are more likely to be
successful when they occur during natural points of transition in individuals' lives, such as
changing jobs or moving houses. In examining organizational routines, parallel transitions might
include undergoing mergers or changing corporate headquarters.
The temporal dimension is central for our understanding of routines and their corresponding
outcomes, but this research is still in its infancy. The aim of this review was to recognize the
growing, but largely fragmented, work that considers the temporality of routines. By reviewing
what has been done and offering some suggestions for future investigation, I hope that the
research on the temporal dimension of routines will continue to grow and contribute to our
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Figure 1. Reviewing the role of time in the capabilities and practice perspectives of routines
Viewing the role
of time in the
• Duration of routine
• Duration of recovery
•Being "on time"
Considering time as:
• Signal for action
• Resource for action
• State of mind
stages in the
Viewing the role of
• Developing valuable
• Realizing value from
• Replicating valuable
Considering time as:
• Signal for action
• Resource for action
Viewing the role
of time in the
• Duration of routine
• Duration of recovery
•Being "on time"
Considering time as:
• Signal for action
• Resource for action
• State of mind
stages in the
Viewing the role of
• Developing valuable
• Realizing value from
• Replicating valuable
Considering time as:
• Signal for action
• Resource for action
Figure 2. Key findings regarding the role of time in the capabilities and practice perspectives
Antecedents Time and
Outcomes Evolution of
Signal: Organizations use
clocks and events to cue
routine performances, and
organizational and market
conditions affect their use as
alternative signals for action
Resource: Time pressure
results in greater utilization
and faster execution of
Developing valuable routines: Time to
development is an important outcome.
While learning by doing is often required,
learning before doing can be effective
under certain environmental conditions
Realizing value from routines: Value
realization is a function of time in varied
ways, such as historical specificity in the
impact of routines
Replicating valuable routines:
Organizations benefit from precise
replication, particularly in the initial
stages of transfer when recipients have
limited understanding of the routine
Routines evolve in path-
dependent ways due to self-
reinforcing processes, but the
extent of path dependence is also
affected by temporal orientations
for search (i.e., backward- versus
Routines may end in a state of
lock-in, but there is also the
potential for factors external to
the routine to intervene and
change the trajectory of
Signal: Events and clocks
serve as signals that facilitate
the taking of actions within
Resource: Time pressure
reduces the variability with
which actors perform
State of mind: Routines are
performed more flexibly
when actors are oriented to
the present and future, versus
when they are oriented to the
Duration of performance: As actors
attain experience in performing a routine,
they develop corresponding memory and
identify improvement opportunities,
which enable them to perform the routine
Duration of recovery: Recovery time is
reduced by conditions that enable faster
learning, and by use of artifacts like re-
organizing rules and drawing upon the
connections among routine participants
Being "on time": The effectiveness of
routines can be a function of when
activities are performed relative to the
expectations of customers
Routine participants have
incentives for both reproducing
past performances and for
When actors introduce novelty
while performing routines, they
expand the repertoire of
performances, which can modify
the ostensive aspects of the
Agency and artifacts play key
enabling and constraining roles
in the evolution of routines