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The notion that transparency forces organizations to eschew decoupling and embrace substantive adoption represents an important assumption in the corporate social responsibility (CSR) literature. Conversely, research on learning and social control has considered opacity—understood as a lack of transparency—to be conducive to substantive CSR adoption. These opposing viewpoints highlight a fundamental tension: Is transparency good or bad for substantive adoption? This paper resolves this tension by asking an alternative question: When is transparency good or bad, and why? We advance a dynamic perspective, which conceives transparency and opacity as transitory phenomena, and we specify the boundary conditions for which either enduring or transitory forms of transparency and opacity further the substantive adoption of CSR. Our analyses reveal that, for circumstances under which the motivation of ceremonial adoption is hypocritical (rather than opportunistic) and where both substantive adoption and practice abandonment are difficult, the former can be maximized by first allowing organizations to adopt a CSR practice ceremonially under opacity (“bait”), and then prompting ceremonial adopters to become substantive adopters through a shift to transparency (“switch”). Specifying this bait-and-switch mechanism and its underlying contingencies reveals a hitherto unexplored, and potentially more effective, pathway towards the institutionalization of CSR.
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Patrick Haack
(Corresponding author)
University of Lausanne
Dirk Martignoni
Università della Svizzera italiana
Dennis Schoeneborn
Copenhagen Business School
Leuphana University of Lüneburg
Pre-print version
Article accepted for publication in the Academy of Management Review
We thank handling editor Heli Wang and three anonymous reviewers for their guidance and
developmental feedback during the review process. We furthermore received, based on previ-
ous drafts, valuable comments and suggestions by Blagoy Blagoev, Lars T. Christensen, Andy
Crane, Peer Fiss, Mikkel Flyverbom, Mike Lounsbury, Jim March, Mette Morsing, Andreas
Rasche, Anna Stöber, and Klaus Weber. We are also grateful for the helpful feedback by par-
ticipants at the Academy of Management Annual Meeting 2015 as well as in research semi-
nars at the Universities of Lausanne, Stanford, and Zurich. This research has been supported
through the Governing Responsible Business (GRB) cluster at Copenhagen Business School.
The notion that transparency forces organizations to eschew decoupling and embrace substan-
tive adoption represents an important assumption in the corporate social responsibility (CSR)
literature. Conversely, research on learning and social control has considered opacity—
understood as a lack of transparency—to be conducive to substantive CSR adoption. These
opposing viewpoints highlight a fundamental tension: Is transparency good or bad for sub-
stantive adoption? This paper resolves this tension by asking an alternative question: When is
transparency good or bad, and why? We advance a dynamic perspective, which conceives
transparency and opacity as transitory phenomena, and we specify the boundary conditions
for which either enduring or transitory forms of transparency and opacity further the substan-
tive adoption of CSR. Our analyses reveal that, for circumstances under which the motivation
of ceremonial adoption is hypocritical (rather than opportunistic) and where both substantive
adoption and practice abandonment are difficult, the former can be maximized by first allow-
ing organizations to adopt a CSR practice ceremonially under opacity (“bait”), and then
prompting ceremonial adopters to become substantive adopters through a shift to transparency
(“switch”). Specifying this bait-and-switch mechanism and its underlying contingencies re-
veals a hitherto unexplored, and potentially more effective, pathway towards the institutional-
ization of CSR.
Keywords: corporate social responsibility, decoupling, formal modeling, institutional theory,
practice abandonment, practice adoption, opacity, transparency
The last two decades have witnessed the emergence of a plethora of principle-based initi-
atives, certifications, reporting and accountability frameworks, and other modes of industry
self- or co-regulation in the realms of human rights, social rights, and environmental protec-
tion (Rasche & Waddock, 2017). Organizations are under pressure to integrate such corporate
social responsibility (CSR) practices into their strategies and operations, and there is a grow-
ing research interest in the antecedents, outcomes, and processes of CSR (Aguinis & Glavas,
2012; Wang, Tong, Takeuchi, & George, 2016). Given the prevalence and growing signifi-
cance of CSR, management scholars have sought to identify the conditions that facilitate the
substantive adoption of CSR, that is, the actual implementation of a CSR practice in an organ-
ization’s core activities and processes such that it is likely to become an integral and enduring
part of the organization (e.g., Durand, Hawn, & Ioannou, 2019; Zeitz, Mittal, & McAulay,
In this context, research suggests that transparency, understood as conditions that make it
relatively easy for external observers to accurately evaluate the degree to which CSR is im-
plemented, can help reveal a lack of substantive adoption (e.g., Marquis & Qian, 2014). As a
consequence, transparency may threaten the organization’s legitimacy and subject it to strong
criticism and pressure to justify its failure to adopt a CSR practice substantively (Christmann
& Taylor, 2006; Lange & Washburn, 2012). Scholars thus conclude that transparency fosters
the substantive adoption of CSR and helps eschew ceremonial adoption and decoupling, the
merely symbolic pretense of following a practice without embedding it in the organization’s
core activities (Boiral, 2007). However, other scholars suggests that the call for transparency
is insufficient as a means to promote the substantive adoption of CSR and may even turn out
to be counterproductive for enhancing CSR in business operations (Gold & Heikkurinen,
2018). Indeed, research on learning and social control (Bernstein, 2012; 2017) demonstrates
that opacity, understood as conditions under which it is relatively difficult for external ob-
servers to accurately determine the degree to which a practice is implemented, is a necessary
condition for substantive adoption, because it enables organizations to explore, embrace, and
eventually enact the behavioral prescriptions enshrined in CSR policies and principles, a con-
clusion that is diametrically opposed to those who emphasize the beneficial effects of trans-
We seek to reconcile the fundamental tension between “transparentist” and opacitist
positions to advance theory on substantive CSR adoption. By developing a Markov chain
model, a formal modeling technique frequently applied in organization science (e.g., Pent-
land, Hærem, & Hillison, 2010), we demonstrate that the alleged contradiction between trans-
parency and opacity can be resolved in a dynamic perspective. The Markov model allows us
to consider the possibility that evaluation regimes (reflecting the degree to which the imple-
mentation of CSR practices is visible to external observers) may change, even drastically,
over time. We are particularly concerned with the question of under which circumstances en-
during or transitory forms of transparency and opacity further the substantive adoption of
CSR in a given field or industry. Specifically, we compare adoption outcomes for four ideal-
typical regime sequences: enduring opacity, enduring transparency, transitory opacity (i.e.
opacity followed by transparency), and transitory transparency (i.e. transparency followed by
Our analyses reveal that different regime sequences can be optimal, depending on the
practice adoption rate (i.e., the likelihood that an organization adopts a CSR practice substan-
tively) and the practice abandonment rate (i.e., the likelihood that an organization abandons
substantive adoption). Importantly, if both of these rates are low, the share of substantive
adoption can be maximized under a regime sequence of transitory opacity. In such circum-
stances, opacity allows organizations to adopt the practice ceremonially in a first step (“bait”),
and then a switch to a regime of transparency prompts ceremonial adopters to become sub-
stantive adopters in a second step (“switch”). Specifying this “bait-and-switch” mechanism
and its underlying boundary conditions reveals an unexplored conundrum: Even though trans-
parency constitutes a central tenet of CSR research and has been shown to be essential to ad-
vance the organizational embedding of CSR, a regime sequence of enduring transparency may
result in a lower share of substantive CSR adoptions compared to transitory opacity.
Our paper makes three primary contributions. First, we employ an explicit processual
perspective that reveals that both transparentist and opacitist perspectives are valid (Poole &
Van de Ven, 1989). Reconciling conflicting viewpoints, we demonstrate that, for certain con-
ditions, a regime sequence of transitory opacity maximizes the extent of substantive adoption,
while enduring transparency is less effective. Our model thus challenges the “transparency
imperative” (Ringel, 2019)—that is, the largely taken-for-granted assumption that transparen-
cy is beneficial for the institutionalization of CSR. Second, our model has profound implica-
tions for institutional theory. Because decoupling policy from practice can be helpful to the
diffusion of ceremonial adoption, which then may trigger a switch from opacity to transparen-
cy that enforces substantive adoption, it can also be conducive to the institutionalization of
CSR. Hence, while decoupling is commonly conceived as a strategy to ensure legitimacy in a
context of institutional complexity (Meyer & Rowan, 1977), it can also be conceptualized as
an endogenous source of institutional change (Boxenbaum & Jonsson, 2017). Third, by rec-
ognizing the “value of method in advancing theory” (Greenwald, 2012: 106), our paper ex-
emplifies how researchers can use formal models to advance theory on CSR.
The role social evaluations play in CSR has recently attracted considerable scholarly at-
tention (e.g., Cuypers, Koh, & Wang, 2016); however, the relationship between social evalua-
tion and CSR adoption has not been theorized or studied systematically, thus far. In this pa-
per, we argue that a thorough understanding of the evaluation–adoption link can offer im-
portant insights on how to ensure that CSR becomes a fully integrated and widely embraced
practice. The interest in social evaluations is grounded in evidence that organizations and their
activities are increasingly assessed by a variety of evaluators, such as customers, investors,
and society at large. Such assessments are institutionalized over time into structural properties
of the external environment, which in turn shape organizations’ sensitivity to legitimacy pres-
sures (Bitektine & Haack, 2015). With the term “evaluation regime” we refer to the degree to
which the implementation of CSR practices is visible to external observers; thus, it is indica-
tive of the extent to which such observers are able to discern unambiguously whether an or-
ganization has adopted a practice ceremonially or substantively (Crilly, Zollo, & Hansen,
2012). Under an evaluation regime of transparency, disclosure data are widely available, and
it is relatively easy for external observers to accurately determine whether a CSR practice is
adopted substantively or ceremonially. Conversely, under opacity, observability is obstructed,
making it difficult for external observers to unequivocally determine the degree of practice
The prevalent assumption in the CSR literature is that transparency enhances substantive
CSR adoption, as it forces organizations to forgo ceremonial adoption and the habit of policy-
practice decoupling in favor of aligning rhetoric with action. Conversely, there is evidence
that opacity is a necessary condition for substantive CSR adoption, as it fosters organizational
learning and allows adopters to experiment with, and make sense of, the novel practices they
adopt. Table 1 summarizes the key differences of the ideal-type positions of transparentist and
opacitist views, which the next sections discuss in further depth.
1 For instance, transparency can be said to characterize the domain of gender diversity, as the application of gen-
der quotas in corporate boards is publicly available for stock-listed companies and thus can be unambiguously
determined. In contrast, the Swiss agricultural trading industry is characterized by a regime of opacity, since
industry members have been unable and/or unwilling to disclose specific information regarding the degree to
which UN policies and guidelines on human rights and environmental protection are implemented (Berne Decla-
ration, 2019). This example illustrates that opacity can be induced by business firms who are reluctant to disclose
data on CSR performance or who deliberately make disclosures complex and hard to understand (Fabrizio &
Kim, 2019).
The Transparentist Perspective
The call for transparency is the hallmark of what we refer to as the transparentist view in
CSR research (e.g., Gilbert, Rasche, & Waddock, 2011; Sethi & Schepers, 2014) as well as in
institutional theory (e.g., Boiral, 2007). Proponents of this view argue that monitoring and
public scrutiny foster the substantive adoption of CSR, since transparency is believed to help
expose greenwashing,that is, the hypocritical promotion of a “green” or socially responsi-
ble image (Delmas & Burbano, 2011). From the viewpoint of institutional theory, the notion
of greenwashing reflects that an organization engages in policy-practice decoupling, meaning
that the organization’s formal structure is only loosely linked to its actual activities (Bromley
& Powell, 2012; Meyer & Rowan, 1977). Such decoupling is equivalent to ceremonial adop-
tion and represents a strategy that allows organizations to maintain legitimacy in the face of
contradictory institutional demands, while also helping a policy to be widely diffused (Box-
enbaum & Jonsson, 2017; Bromley & Powell, 2012). However, the widespread diffusion of a
policy and increasing rates of adoption may reveal more about the growing uniformity in for-
mal policies than about the organizational embedding and integration into concrete work ac-
tivities (Schneiberg & Clemens, 2006; Zeitz et al., 1999). Accordingly, researchers in both
business ethics and institutional theory have concentrated on the question of whether organi-
zations actually implement CSR practices (Aravind & Christmann, 2011; Boiral, 2007) and
examined various antecedents and consequences of decoupling (Behnam & MacLean, 2011;
Christmann & Taylor, 2006). In the same context, low entry barriers for CSR adoption and
lax enforcement mechanisms and reporting requirements have been found to encourage shirk-
ing and free riding (Zeyen, Beckmann, & Wolters, 2016) and to institutionalize unethical and
opportunistic behavior within organizations (Weaver, Treviño, & Cochran, 1999).
On the basis of these findings, research has shown that firms are more likely to act in so-
cially responsible ways and to adopt CSR practices substantively when third parties monitor
and inspect their behavior (e.g., Marquis, Toffel, & Zhou, 2016). Indeed, institutional theory
assumes, albeit often implicitly, that transparency furthers the substantive adoption of CSR
(e.g., Behnam & MacLean, 2011). For instance, most research on policy–practice decoupling
rests on the assumption that observers are guided by the “logic of confidence and good faith”
(Meyer & Rowan, 1977: 357), according to which external observers trust organizations to act
in line with the legitimate goals of an adopted policy. Hence, observers typically abstain from
evaluation and do not scrutinize the degree of actual implementation (Zajac & Westphal,
2004). However, given that demands for accountability and transparency have intensified in
recent decades (Bromley & Powell, 2012; Wijen, 2014), scholars emphasize that decoupling
may be difficult to maintain (Marquis & Qian, 2014). External observers of corporations, such
as non-governmental organizations (NGOs), are skeptical as to whether rhetorical commit-
ments are indeed genuine, and often penalize decoupling through naming and shaming’ cam-
paigns (den Hond & de Bakker, 2007). Likewise, internal constituents, such as employees,
tend to refuse to support ceremonial behavior or to engage in “Goffmanesque back-
stage/frontstage activities” (Tolbert & Zucker, 1996: 179). This particularly applies to CSR, a
context in which employees search for purpose and meaningfulness through their work and
thereby defy the formation of organizational façades (Carnahan, Kryscynski, & Olson, 2017;
Girschik, 2020). There is substantial support for the claim that the widespread demands for
transparency make it difficult for decoupling, and thus ceremonial adoption, to be perpetuated
in the context of CSR (Marquis et al., 2016). Hence, like their colleagues in business ethics,
institutional theorists suggest that promoting transparency, tightening requirements, and,
where necessary, penalizing ceremonial adoption and decoupling further the substantive adop-
tion and institutionalization of CSR.
The Opacitist Perspective
It has been pointed out that “rarely does one hear about any negative effects of transpar-
ency or problems stemming from too much transparency” (Bernstein, 2012: 182). Neverthe-
less, there is evidence that systems of surveillance reduce the intrinsic motivation of organiza-
tional members (Frey, Homberg, & Osterloh, 2013) and negatively affect learning and trust,
thus diminishing organizational performance (Gilbert & Behnam, 2013; Tenbrunsel &
Messick, 1999). Other works suggest that detailed behavioral prescriptions focusing on com-
pliance reduce the decision-making ability of employees regarding moral issues and impede
the discovery of solutions to moral dilemmas (Zhang, Gino, & Margolis, 2018).
Citing the negative effects of transparency, proponents of the opacitist view argue that a
lack of transparency can, in fact, facilitate substantive adoption. Under opaque conditions, it is
difficult for external observers to accurately assess organizational activities, outcomes, and
performance and to make sense of how these interrelate (Bernstein, 2012). Notwithstanding
this difficulty, opacitists argue that opacity can improve organizational learning and thus, by
implication, can increase the likelihood that organizations will adopt practices substantively
(Weick, 1995). From this viewpoint, opacity ensures that ceremonial adopters have sufficient
time and leeway to adapt CSR practices to ensure that they fit with the organization’s culture
and meaning structures (Ansari, Fiss, & Zajac, 2010). Hence, opacitists caution against im-
posing surveillance, as they believe that a focus on compliance can have a detrimental impact
on exploration and creativity and thus can hinder learning. Scholars also point out that trans-
parency may induce organizational members to establish “new backstages” (Ringel, 2019: 5)
by hiding their activities through encryption and other costly means (Bernstein, 2012). Weick
(1995: 183) summarized the opacitist rationale as follows:
If [managers] are forced to walk the talk, this may heighten accountability, but it
is also likely to heighten caution and inertia and reduce risk taking and innovation.
This outcome occurs not just because people are scared. It occurs because people
who are forced to walk the talk prematurely often forgo exploration and walk on
behalf of words that they barely understand. Because things that are poorly under-
stood are things that tend to be seen as uncontrollable, they seem like threats ra-
ther than opportunities. Innovation shuts down.
Thus, from an opacitist viewpoint, ceremonial adoption helps adopters understand the
need to honor their promises and to thoroughly implement CSR practices. Accordingly, opaci-
ty enables “bad” managers and firms to explore novel ways of “becoming good” (March,
1989: 263). This understanding is based on the premise that adoption goals are not fixed or
predetermined; rather, goals are newly discovered when certain means become available, spe-
cifically in the context of CSR, where problems are often “wicked” and defy easy solutions
(Haack & Schoeneborn, 2015). It follows that the most effective way to institutionalize CSR
is to encourage experimentation (Ferraro, Etzion, & Gehman, 2015) and allow organizations
to freely decide whether, when, and how to adopt a practice substantively (Ansari et al.,
From the same standpoint, organizations should not be automatically penalized for hy-
pocrisy and greenwashing. Instead, opacitists propose that decoupling should be tolerated to
some extent, on the grounds that it enables organizations to “talk the walk” (Schoeneborn,
Morsing, & Crane, 2020) and, in so doing, to explore, embrace, and eventually enact ethical
prescriptions (March, 1995; Weick, 1995). Christensen, Morsing, and Thyssen (2013) recon-
sidered the consequences of ceremonial adoption in the CSR context and suggested that aspi-
rational talk(i.e., the rhetorical pledges of ceremonial adopters to reduce the gap between
actual and projected behavior) may lead organizational members to reassess their self-
perception and goals. In this view, the ceremonial adoption of a practice can be conducive to
institutionalization, as public commitments to certain CSR goals create pressure for accounta-
bility, which makes organizational members more likely to “live up” to their promises and
shift their behavior toward substantive CSR adoption. These dynamics illustrate that aspira-
tional statements may entail requests for transparency, highlighting that evaluation regimes
can change endogenously.
If considered in isolation, the transparentist and opacitist perspectives each represent a
somewhat static description of social reality that assumes a unidirectional relationship be-
tween the given evaluation regime and an organization’s CSR adoption decision—that is, ei-
ther the ceremonial or substantive adoption of CSR. However, neither perspective has consid-
ered in sufficient depth the possibility that an industry can switch from a regime of opacity to
transparency, or vice versa, nor that such a switch may be triggered by practice adoption out-
comes at the field or industry level. This section explores the notion of changing evaluation
regimes in further depth and elaborates that regime switches can be triggered either exoge-
nously or endogenously. By doing so, we build an internally consistent and explicit processual
perspective on the relationship between social evaluation and practice adoption that aims to
solve the contradiction between transparentist and opacitist viewpoints (Poole & Van de Ven,
Exogenous triggers may occur through regulatory and legislative interventions that man-
date socially responsible behavior and policies intended to advance substantive CSR practice
adoption (Berger-Walliser & Scott, 2018). These measures can enforce a regime switch, either
from transparency to opacity or, more representative of the context of CSR, from opacity to
transparency. As an example of the latter type of switch, the European Union has recently
acknowledged the importance of transparency on environmental and social matters and thus
enforced the mandatory disclosure of non-financial information by large companies, request-
ing information on policies, risks, and results regarding matters of environmental protection,
human rights, social and labor rights, anti-corruption, and diversity on boards of directors
(European Commission, 2014). Other prominent examples include China’s 2008 mandate that
business firms must disclose their CSR activities (Chen, Hung, & Wang, 2018) and the United
States’ 2010 DoddFrank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act, which requires
disclosure of the use of “conflict minerals” in products manufactured by covered entities
(Woody, 2012). Besides such direct interventions, a change of evaluation regimes can be also
enforced indirectly, such as through regulators’ attempts to “nudge” organizations into desired
behavior through the design of regulatory choice architectures (e.g., Pilaj, 2017).
However, switches between evaluation regimes may also occur endogenously. This can
happen, for instance, when the growing prevalence of ceremonial adoptions provokes a self-
reinforcing social dynamic, which induces a switch in evaluation regimes at the industry level.
This notion matches evidence that the early participation of ceremonial adopters in CSR initi-
atives is better than the participation of only those firms that undertake substantive action
(Delmas & Montes-Sancho, 2010). This appears to be the case because growing adoption
numbers and support help CSR initiatives to reach a status of exteriority and facticity (Berger
& Luckmann, 1967), signaling that the prescriptions and principles of the respective practices
are valid and ought to be followed (Cashore, 2002). However, when ceremonial adoption is
ubiquitous in an industry because of low entry barriers and low demands for transparency,
both substantive and ceremonial adopters are categorized as similar members of the same in-
dustry and thus become “tarred with the same brush,as opacity makes it hard for external
observers to discern differences in each organization’s mode of adoption (Barnett & King,
2008; Yu, Sengul, & Lester, 2008). In such cases, observers may erroneously extrapolate sin-
gle instances of ceremonial adoption to the whole population of organizations (Jonsson,
Greve, & Fujiwara-Greve, 2009). It follows that both ceremonial and substantive adopters
suffer from a negative spillover and are discredited in the eyes of external observers (Diestre
& Rajagopalan, 2014; Yu et al., 2008). Consequently, it is in the interest of substantive
adopters to differentiate themselves from ceremonial adopters and to seek to enforce transpar-
ency, such as by setting up stronger governance and self-regulatory institutions that monitor
compliance and sanction free riding (Desai, 2011). As a result, and fully in line with the trans-
parentists arguments, increasing numbers of organizations can be expected to switch from
ceremonial to substantive adoption, fueling a self-reinforcing process that facilitates substan-
tive adoption.2 To set such processes of differentiation and “ratcheting up” in motion, it may
be necessary to start from a state of opacity. This can allow the number of ceremonial
adopters to reach a “critical mass”that is, a tipping point at which substantive adopters de-
mand that the operations of their competitors who adopt merely ceremonially be made ob-
servable and subject to social control at the field level.
The opposing positions of transparentists and opacitists are both valid and can be recon-
ciled, if reconsidered from a dynamic perspective that treats the evaluation regimes of opacity
and transparency as existing in a sequential succession. To contribute to the development of
such a perspective, and to gain a better understanding of the role of different evaluation re-
gimes in promoting substantive CSR adoption, we employ a formal modeling approach. For-
mal modeling can serve as a helpful tool for generating theory, especially when the focal phe-
nomenon is complex and involves multiple interacting processes, as well as when it is diffi-
cult to obtain large-scale empirical data (Adner, Pólos, Ryall, & Sorenson, 2009). In such con-
texts, formal modeling allows researchers to systematically experiment with assumptions and
constructs to refine and build theory (Harrison, Lin, Carrol, & Carley, 2007). Formal model-
ing also requires scholars to make their assumptions and constructs explicit, thereby reducing
the ambiguity of meaning associated with verbal theorizing (Suddaby, 2010).
2 A self-reinforcing and largely endogenous switch in evaluation regimes is corroborated by the finding that
public benchmarking and rankings enhance the environmental performance of low-performing adopters (Chat-
terji & Toffel, 2010) and the proposition that the differentiation of firms according to certain performance criteria
can lead to a “ratcheting up effect” in CSR performance (Overdevest, 2010). Examples of differentiation include
the tiered system of the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) certification program (Potoski
& Prakash, 2013) and the differentiation framework of the UN Global Compact (Baccaro & Mele, 2011). Differ-
entiation can also occur at the level of CSR initiatives through membership associations, such as the Internation-
al Social and Environmental Accreditation and Labeling (ISEAL) Alliance, which benchmark initiatives and
assess their compliance with best practices (Potoski & Prakash, 2013).
By offering precision with respect to the underlying assumptions and logical consistency
of verbal theorizing, as well as an ability to identify unanticipated implications, Markov mod-
els share the general benefits of formal modeling approaches. Markov models are probabilis-
tic models that allow researchers to represent the states of a process over time and to predict
the final state on the basis of the initial states and transition probabilities at each point in time
(Abbott, 1990). They are particularly suitable for tackling a major challenge when studying
the relationship between social evaluation and practice adoption. This is because the task of
assessing the share of substantive adopters within an industry requires a careful and longitudi-
nal investigation of both the diffusion of practice adoption and the quality of practice imple-
mentation. However, ceremonial behavior and decoupled practices are not easy to observe,
especially across many organizations, because organizations are often unwilling or unable to
disclose information about internal CSR activities (Aravind & Christmann, 2011; de Bakker,
Rasche, & Ponte, 2019). Given these impediments, previous research has primarily focused
either on practice diffusion at the field level (e.g., Delmas & Montes-Sancho, 2011) or on the
quality of practice implementation within individual organizations at one point in time (e.g.,
Humphreys & Brown, 2008). However, since adoption decisions involve dynamics at both the
organizational and the field levels (Hoffman, 2001), theory advancement is needed in order to
comprehend how a given evaluation regime affects the transition between different stages of
adoption at the organizational level and how single instances of adoption, in turn, scale up to
promote the diffusion and implementation of practices at the industry or institutional field
Formal models based on Markov chains enable researchers to address this challenge in
two main ways. First, given that Markov models create their own virtual data and allow re-
searchers to compute an infinite number of counterfactual scenarios, they do not entail the
issues of distrust and inadequate disclosure. Second, Markov models help reveal how adop-
tion patterns scale up to produce higher-level outcomes, providing a viable method of creating
a “simple theory” of how CSR is institutionalized at the industry level (see Davis, Eisenhardt,
& Bingham, 2007: 481). The Markov approach is thus particularly effective in advancing the-
ory on the interplay between social evaluation and practice adoption.
To take first steps toward formalizing a theory of CSR practice adoption, we intentionally
build a parsimonious model. We model the CSR practice adoption process as a Markov pro-
cess and distinguish between three different states: non-adoption (NA), ceremonial adoption
(CA), and substantive adoption (SA). In each period, organizations may remain in their cur-
rent state or move to a different one.3 These moves are reflected in transition probabilities P:
=  
  
  
For example, the probability that an organization moves from non-adoption to substan-
tive adoption is given by , while the probability that an organization moves from non-
adoption to ceremonial adoption is given by . Figure 1 provides an overview of the
Markov model that we use in this paper.
If the initial share of organizations in the different states is known, we can compute the
corresponding shares for all subsequent periods and thus the extent of substantive adoption at
each point in time. Specifically, the distribution of states after H periods (i.e., after a certain
number of periods under the regime of transparency) is given by ()=(0), and the ini-
tial distribution of states is given by x(0) and the transition matrix P. Implicit in this formula-
3 Like any theoretical model, ours is a deliberate simplification that serves as point of departure for understand-
ing a much more complex reality. While we could have included more variables, doing so would have come at
the cost of comprehensibility. Thus, we chose to “start somewhere” (Repenning, 2002: 110) and to analyze the
processes we consider to be central to the relationship between social evaluation and practice adoption. While
there is always “one more variable, one more relation to include, one more variable to make endogenous, or one
more feature that someone may want to add to make [the model] more realistic,” the tendency to maximize real-
ism often fails to align with the model’s purpose, constituting a “reality trap” in formal modeling (Burton &
Obel, 2011: 1122).
tion is the assumption that the transition probabilities (and accordingly the evaluation regime)
do not change. In our analyses, however, we also consider changes to the evaluation regime
that is, a switch from opacity to transparency or vice versa. For example, if the evaluation
regime switches from opacity to transparency after R periods, then the state distribution is
given by ()=(0). Similarly, if transparency is followed by opacity, then the
state distribution is given by: ()=(0). We compare the four different process
sequences presented in Table 2.
We set the regime switch to period R = 5 and assume that a switch occurs between two
time periods and is reflected in a change in the respective transition matrix.4 Throughout the
paper, we report analyses for a parsimonious model which does not take into account the pos-
sibility that adoption and abandonment decisions are affected by the decisions of other organ-
izations. In additional analyses we demonstrate that results are also robust to social influence
(see Appendix A).
In our analyses, we seek to make as few assumptions as possible about the transition
probabilities and instead report the results on as many combinations of transition probabilities
as possible. However, given that each transition matrix has six degrees of freedom, the possi-
ble parameter space is 6*6 = 36-dimensional.5 Reporting its results and analyzing such a high-
dimensional parameter space are extremely difficult, if not impossible. Therefore, in a next
step, we made some plausible assumptions to reduce the dimensionality of the parameter
space and enhance our understanding of the model’s basic dynamics.6 Specifically, in a first
4 We tested the robustness of our key findings to changes in the parameter choices (including, for example, R)
and to alternative formulations of our model (including, for example, more gradual transitions between evalua-
tion regimes). Our key findings are unaffected by these changes (analyses available on request).
5 The row sum must be 100 percent, reducing the degrees of freedom from nine to six for each of the two matri-
ces, one for opacity and the other for transparency.
6 In additional analyses we relax these assumptions and show that our findings hold for a wide range of parame-
step, to reduce the parameter space, we hold constant the transition matrix for opacity and
vary only the parameters for the transparency matrix, thus reducing the number of parameters
to six. We chose the following transition probabilities for the opacity matrix:
=0.7 0.2 0.1
0.1 0.7 0.2
0.1 0.2 0.7
These choices for the transition probabilities under a regime of opacity reflect several im-
plicit assumptions. By definition, the evaluation regime of opacity is characterized by restrict-
ed observability and inaccurate observations. Accordingly, in the opacity regime, it is relative-
ly difficult to differentiate between ceremonial and substantive adoption, and the prevailing
conditions make ceremonial adoption (reflected in the entries in the central column) a viable
option. Furthermore, we assume that there is some inertia in organizations, such that main-
taining the status quo is often the most likely outcome (Hannan & Freeman, 1984). This as-
sumption is reflected in the fact the diagonal elements of the matrix are set to values of 0.7 for
all statesand in that sense larger than the probability of any change (1-0.7) = 0.3. Another
assumption is that if non-adopters adopt a practice under a regime of opacity, they are more
likely to adopt it ceremonially than substantively ( >), because an in-depth
implementation tends to be costly and time-consuming (Baumann-Pauly, Wickert, Spence, &
Scherer, 2013; Wickert, Scherer, & Spence, 2016). We also assume that firms that have adopt-
ed a practice only ceremonially are more likely to subsequently adopt it substantively than to
abandon it ( >). This assumption is consistent with the notion of coupling,
which refers to the gradual alignment of structure and actual activity in organizations. Cou-
pling can be driven by cohort replacement (Tilcsik, 2010) and committed employees who tend
to resist and actively work against decoupling (Hallett, 2010). The chosen transition probabili-
ties thus reflect the insight that decoupling is not stable (Tolbert & Zucker, 1996). This view is
in line with Bromley and Powell (2012) and Wijen (2014), who stress that ceremonial adop-
ter combinations (see Appendix B).
tion tends to evolve into substantive adoption, supporting the notion that regular exposure to
the goals of CSR practices may progressively lead to goal internalization and organizational
change (Christensen et al., 2013, 2020; Haack, Schoeneborn, & Wickert, 2012). Finally, we
assume that the regime of opacity does not preclude the existence of some “true believers”
that is, organizations that are genuinely committed to CSR and that thus invest a significant
amount of resources to adopt CSR practices substantively (e.g., Boiral, 2007; Girschik, 2020).
This assumption is reflected in a non-zero value of the probability of becoming a substantive
adopter (i.e.,  = 0.1 and  = 0.2). In additional sensitivity analyses, we excluded
the possibility of true believers under a regime of opacity ( = 0). Our results are not
affected by this more conservative assumption (analyses available on request).
For the regime of transparency, we vary all parameters and make only one assumption: In
a context of transparency, ceremonial adoption is not a viable option for organizations, since
they seek to avoid social disapproval and perceptions of corporate irresponsibility (Lange &
Washburn, 2012). This assumption is substantiated by evidence that, in a context of surveil-
lance and social control, the ceremonial adoption of a practice poses a significant risk for or-
ganizations, especially in the context of CSR (Marquis & Qian, 2014; Wijen, 2014). Indeed,
CSR and other “morally charged” practices mirror a special kind of institutional expecta-
tionnamely, that being legitimate requires being “good” and acting rightfully, not hypocriti-
cally. Consequently, in our model, under a regime of transparency, the probability of an or-
ganization moving to the state of ceremonial adoption or remaining in that state is zero
( = = = 0). In additional analyses, we relax this assumption and in-
stead assume that ceremonial adoption is viable even under a regime of transparency
( = = > 0). These analyses show that the results are not sensitive to
this alternative assumption, provided that the likelihood of ceremonial adoption is lower under
a regime of transparency than under a regime of opacity (analyses available upon request).
With this simplifying assumption, the transparency matrix can be fully defined by three pa-
rameters (,, and ):
(,,)=1 0.0 
1 0.0 
 0.0 1 
These three parameters can be interpreted in conceptual terms: First, recall that under a
regime of transparency, ceremonial adoption is not feasible; thus, if a practice is adopted, it
can only be adopted substantively. The CSR adoption rate () then reflects the probabil-
ity that an organization that has not yet adopted a CSR practice adopts it substantively in a
given period. Second, in a context of transparency, organizations cannot decouple, and thus
transitions from substantive to ceremonial adoption are impossible ( = 0). However,
since we also consider cases in which a regime of transparency is preceded by a regime of
opacity, some firms may have adopted a practice ceremonially under opacity. Such a ceremo-
nial adoption is unmaintainable and lacks stability under a regime of transparency. The pa-
rameter  can thus be understood as the coupling ratethat is, the probability that a
ceremonial adopter turns into a substantive adopter in a given period. Finally, the parameter
 refers to the CSR abandonment ratethat is, the probability that a firm drops out of
substantive adoption and moves to non-adoption in a given period.
In Figure 2, we report for all possible combinations of adoption and abandonment rates,
which of the four process sequences (T/T, O/O, O/T, and T/O; see Table 2) maximize the
share of substantive adopters under transparency (averaged over periods t = 1 to t = 25). Each
point in a panel reflects a different combination of adoption rate (, x-axis) and aban-
donment rate (, y-axis). The different colors reflect the regime sequence that is optimal
for a specific combination of adoption and abandonment rate (black = T/T, dark gray = O/O,
white = T/O, light gray = O/T). The three panels reflect different coupling ratesthat is, re-
spective values for  of 0.1 (left panel), 0.5 (middle panel), and 0.9 (right panel). Figure
2 thus displays three different “slices” cut through the parameter space of the transparency
Two findings are noteworthy: First, varying the coupling rate  does not change the
general pattern of results. It follows that dynamics related to coupling processes such as wide-
spread “aspirational talk,” which assumes that action eventually follows rhetorical pledges in
the context of ceremonial adoption (Christensen et al., 2013), can be a conducive condition
for a regime sequence to maximize the share of substantive adoption (i.e., it may increase the
parameter space for which a regime sequence is optimal), but it is not a sufficient condition.
The question of whether a particular regime sequence is optimal is determined primarily by
additional factors: the adoption and abandonment rate as well as the relationship between
these rates. Second, our results suggest that both the transparentist and opacitist perspectives
can be valid. For both enduring and transitory forms of transparency and opacity there are
areas for which a given regime sequence maximizes the share of substantive adoption and, in
that sense, “outperforms” the other sequences. In the following sections, we detail the bound-
ary conditions for which the different regime sequences are optimal and address the question
of whether all combinations of adoption and abandonment rates are equally relevant for the
context of CSR. We then explore the mechanisms that drive the optimality of a given regime
Boundary Conditions and their Relevance
Enduring transparency (T/T). Enduring transparency (T/T) is the optimal regime se-
quence for the majority of combinations of adoption and abandonment rates. A sufficient
condition for enduring transparency to be optimal is that the adoption rate  is relatively
high. Specifically, as long as the adoption rate  is larger than 0.52, enduring transpar-
ency maximizes the share of substantive adoption, independent of the abandonment rate
. This boundary condition is reflected by line A in Figure 3: For all parameter combi-
nations to the right of line A, enduring transparency is optimal. The optimality of enduring
transparency for a wide range of parameter combinations is consistent with the transpar-
entists’ argument that organizations should seek to “walk the talk”—that is, to promote the
substantive integration of CSR principles into organizational structures and processes by es-
tablishing strict transparency rules to monitor goal achievement (e.g., Behnam & MacLean,
To put the value of  = 0.52 into perspective, however, recall that the combined
(both ceremonial and substantive) adoption rate under opacity is only  + =
0.1 + 0.2 = 0.3. Such high values for  imply that substantive adoption is easier under
transparency than under opacity. This implicit assumption seems problematic given that under
transparency, organizations cannot opt for the “easier” and less costly option of ceremonial
adoption, as decoupling is not possible under transparency. Thus, while we report results for
combinations where the substantive adoption rate is higher under transparency than even the
combined adoption rate under opacity ( > +), these combinations are
of limited practical and theoretical relevance. Indeed, high rates of substantive adoption can
be assumed to represent a rare exception in empirical reality due to managers’ hesitation to
make significant investments in the implementation of CSR, given the inconsistent evidence
regarding its impact on organizational performance (e.g., McWilliams & Siegel, 2000). Also,
due to significant implementation costs (Wickert et al., 2016), it is difficult for organizations
to translate CSR policies into practice instantaneously. Instead, CSR adoption is an extended
learning process that takes time (Zadek, 2004). For these reasons, rather than directly adopt-
ing a CSR practice substantively, organizations will often first implement it incompletely or
ceremonially. Substantive adoption rates of  above a value of 0.5, implying that the
majority of the organizations immediately adopt the practice substantively, are thus rather
For lower adoption rates (to the left of line A in Figure 3), enduring transparency is opti-
mal as long as the adoption rate is larger than  > 0.16 (to the right of line E). This par-
ticularly applies to contexts where the abandonment rate is not excessively high relative to the
adoption rate (i.e., below line D). This finding raises the question of whether it can be ex-
pected that the abandonment rate is higher under transparency than opacity ( >
) or even higher than the combined (both ceremonial and substantive) abandonment
rate under opacity ( > +). Under a regime of opacity, organizations that
prefer to abandon a once-adopted CSR practice but that also want to avoid associated risks to
legitimacy can decouple and move from substantive to ceremonial adoption. Accordingly,
abandonment should be easier under opacity than transparency, and, as a consequence, the
abandonment rate under transparency should not exceed the combined abandonment rate un-
der opacity. This condition is reflected by line C in Figure 3 ( = + =
0.1 + 0.2 = 0.3), and abandonment rates above line C are of limited practical and theoretical
Optimality of enduring opacity (O/O). The regime sequence of enduring opacity (O/O)
maximizes the share of substantive adoption if the adoption rate is relatively low (i.e., signifi-
cantly lower than  < 0.4) and the abandonment rate is relatively high ( > 0.3,
above line C). The optimality of enduring opacity for this combination of parameter condi-
tions corresponds to the contention that a lack of transparency may allow decision-makers to
experiment with a novel practice which increases the likelihood that practices are implement-
ed. In that sense, enduring opacity furthers substantive adoption (Bernstein, 2012). Experi-
mentation suggests that organizations may not only adopt a CSR practice incompletely or
ceremonially but may also easily abandon the practice later. Since there are low penalties for
abandonment, the abandonment rate will be rather high. However, a relatively high abandon-
ment rate under a regime of transparency ( > 0.3) seems problematic if compared to
the abandonment rate under a regime of opacity ( = 0.1 and + =
0.1 + 0.2 = 0.3), as it implies that abandoning a practice is easier under a regime of transpar-
ency than under opacity. In the context of CSR, it is hard to imagine that an organization
would be more likely to abandon substantive adoption under a regime of transparency than
under a regime of opacity, since opacity facilitates ceremonial adoption and thus allows or-
ganizations to reap the benefits of being cost-efficient and legitimate at the same time (see
Meyer & Rowan, 1977). Hence, most conditions for which enduring opacity is optimal are of
little theoretical or practical relevance.
For lower abandonment rates (below line C), the abandonment rate must be still relatively
high compared to the adoption rate (i.e., almost twice as high as the adoption rate; above line
D). In the event that organizations’ own experience with the practice is negative, practice
abandonment might outpace practice adoption and thus trigger practice decline (Gaba & Dok-
ko, 2015; Younkin, 2016). Hence, even though enduring opacity can be optimal for certain
combinations of adoption and abandonment rate, CSR can never fully institutionalize (and
thus will fail to become a widely endorsed and taken-for-granted practice in a given domain)
in situations in which the abandonment rate is higher than the adoption rate.
Optimality of transitory transparency (T/O). A necessary condition for transitory
transparency (T/O) to maximize the share of substantive adoption is a low-to-medium adop-
tion rate ( < 0.5) and a relatively high abandonment rate ( > 0.3). Such pa-
rameter combinations are reflected in the white area above line C and to the left of line D.
However, as elaborated above, such high abandonment rates, particularly compared to the
abandonment rates under opacity, imply that abandonment becomes easier under transparency
than under opacity. In general, it seems doubtful that the regime sequence of transitory trans-
parency has much bearing in the context of CSR, given that industries typically start under a
regime of opacity and only eventually face greater pressure for transparency (Berger-Walliser
& Scott, 2018). Thus, while there are combinations for which transitory transparency is opti-
mal, they are of little empirical and theoretical relevance.
Optimality of transitory opacity (O/T). Finally, a necessary condition for transitory
opacity (O/T) to maximize the share of substantive adoption is that the adoption rate is low
( < 0.16, to the left of line E) and that the abandonment rate is low ( < 0.3, be-
low line C) and is not more than two times higher than the adoption rate (below line D). As
elaborated above, these conditions represent typical features of the CSR context: High adop-
tion rates are unlikely, since CSR practices are at first implemented incompletely and their
integration is only advanced gradually over time (Zadek, 2004). At the same time, CSR con-
stitutes a morally charged practice that, once adopted, is difficult to abandon without public
criticism and penalties to the adopter’s legitimacy (Haack et al., 2012). Ceremonial adoption
can thus operate coercively by pushing organizations into moral or rhetorical “entrapment”
(Haack & Schoeneborn, 2015; Risse, 2000), making it difficult for them to withdraw from
substantive adoption.7 We conclude that the conditions for which transitory opacity is optimal
are of significant theoretical or practical relevance.
Optimality as a Function of Adopter Motivation
Figure 3 demonstrates that if both the adoption and abandonment rates are low, even
small variations in these rates can change which regime sequence is optimal. In order to refine
our understanding of what variations in the combination of low adoption and abandonment
rates imply, Figure 4 zooms into the lower left corner of Figure 3, with the small rectangular
7 The difficulty of practice abandonment is illustrated by Apple’s attempt to withdraw from the Electronic Prod-
uct Environmental Assessment Tool (EP E AT ), a certification program that purchasers use to assess the environ-
mental impact of electronic products. After massive public outrage, Apple swiftly reinstated its initial promise to
maintain and closely follow the program’s requirements (Kohl, 2016).
white box demarcating the parameter combinations that can be considered as being particular-
ly relevant for the context of CSR. Combinations outside the white box lack empirical and
theoretical validity, while combinations within the white box are valid and thus merit analyti-
cal attention. The size of the box is derived from two logical considerations. First, the adop-
tion (abandonment) rate under transparency does not exceed the combined adoption (aban-
donment) rate under opacity. In other words, given the additional option of ceremonial adop-
tion, substantive adoption (abandonment) does not become easier under transparency com-
pared to opacity. Thus, the upper bound for the adoption rate is given by: 
 +
(upper bound abandonment rate:  +). Second, if
organizations adopt a practice substantively under opacity, they will do the same under a re-
gime of transparency. This consideration reflects the notion of “true believers” introduced
above (i.e., organizations that have confidence in in the meaningfulness and value of CSR and
therefore adopt CSR practices substantively independently of the evaluation regime). Thus,
the lower bound for the adoption rate is given by   (lower bound abandon-
ment rate:  ).
Within the subset of valid combinations of adoption and abandonment rates (i.e., rates
within the lower and upper bounds), we can logically derive important differences regarding
the organizations’ motivation to adopt a practice only ceremonially. Some organizations can
be labeled as hypocrites; that is, they adopt the practice only when ceremonial adoption is
possible (i.e., under a regime of opacity) and would refrain from adopting it when ceremonial
adoption is impossible (i.e., under a regime of transparency). Other organizations can be la-
beled as “opportunists”; that is, they adopt the practice only ceremonially (rather than sub-
stantively) when possible, but they would adopt it substantively when ceremonial adoption is
not feasible (i.e., in a regime of transparency). In other words, hypocritical ceremonial
adopters may neither be willing nor able (because of resource constraints) to adopt a CSR
practice substantively and will thus fall back on non-adoption under transparency. In contrast,
opportunistic ceremonial adopters are not willing but are able to adopt a CSR practice sub-
stantively, and therefore they can be forced into substantive adoption under transparency.
That is, they seek to reduce costs related to implementation if possible, but can mobilize the
necessary resources when implementation is necessary (Durand et al., 2019).
We can elicit adopters’ motivations underlying ceremonial adoption by comparing their
adoption rates under opacity and under transparency. To illustrate this logic, consider a com-
bination in which the adoption and abandonment rates under a regime of transparency match
the corresponding values under an evaluation regime of opacity, i.e.,  =  = 0.1
and  =  = 0.1. For such a combination, transitory opacity is optimal, despite the
fact that all organizations that would adopt the practice ceremonially under a regime of opaci-
ty would refrain from substantive adoption under a regime of transparency. These ceremonial
adopters can be said to act hypocritically rather than opportunistically. Compare this situation
to a combination of  =  + = 0.3 and  = = 0.1: For such a
combination of adoption and abandonment rates, enduring transparency is optimal, since or-
ganizations that would adopt a CSR practice ceremonially under opacity would adopt it sub-
stantively under transparency. These organizations, in turn, can be said to act opportunistically
rather than hypocritically. In conceptual terms, an organization’s motivation (i.e., opportunism
versus hypocrisy) drives the ceremonial adoption of a CSR practice under opacity and that, in
turn, determines which evaluation regime sequence maximizes the share of substantive adop-
tion in a context of low adoption and abandonment rates. If the probability of opportunistic
behavior (or the share of opportunistic organizations) exceeds a particular threshold (reflected
by line E in Figure 4), enduring transparency is the optimal evaluation regime. Only if this
probability (or share) is lower than the threshold (i.e., most organizations are hypocrites rather
than opportunists) can the regime sequences of enduring or transitory opacity be optimal.
Process Dynamics and Mechanisms
In a next step, we identify the mechanisms and process dynamics that drive the optimality
of the different regime sequences. The identification of mechanisms, defined as “theoretical
explanations of why focal phenomena or effects occur” (Davis & Marquis, 2005: 336), is es-
sential for improving scholarly understanding of the interplay between social evaluation and
practice adoption. As elaborated above, in order for enduring (O/O) or transitory (O/T) forms
of opacity to be optimal, the primary motivation of ceremonial adopters must be hypocrisy
(i.e.,  is close to ), whereas enduring transparency (T/T) is optimal if the prima-
ry motivation is opportunism (i.e.,  is close to  +). When opportunism is
the prevalent motivation, organizations take advantage of the chance to adopt the practice
ceremonially under opacity—at the expense of substantive adoption. A transparent evaluation
regime precludes this possibility, and thus some opportunists will adopt the practice substan-
tively. In contrast, if the primary motivation is hypocrisy, a different dynamic emerges. Spe-
cifically, in a first step, organizations may be lured into adopting a practice ceremonially in a
context of opacity. This “bait” is particularly strong when the rate of ceremonial adoption
() is high. In a second step, once the evaluation regime changes to transparency, these
ceremonial adopters then “switch” from ceremonial to substantive adoption.
The bait-and-switch mechanism explains why ceremonial adoption, especially when mo-
tivated by hypocrisy, can be an important stepping stone to the institutionalization of CSR. In
contrast, if the primary motivation for ceremonial adoption is opportunism, then ceremonial
adoption offers a welcome opportunity to reap the benefits of CSR adoption without incurring
its costs. These results clarify that the coupling rate  has an amplifying effect on the
optimality of transitory opacity, but is not the only driver behind this optimality. Only if or-
ganizations are attracted or “pulled” into ceremonial adoption under a regime of opacity can
transitory opacity result in higher levels of substantive adoption than enduring transparency.
As mentioned above, we examined the robustness of our findings for different switching
points, gradual regime changes, and the absence of true believers. We also explored model
dynamics for scenarios in which ceremonial adoption is possible both under a regime of
transparency and under a regime of opacity. These analyses, which are available upon request,
demonstrate that the key findings remain essentially unaffected. Additionally, we tested the
robustness of our core results in a variety of alternative model formulations and parameter
choices. First, we examined how social influence may affect the share of substantive adopters
for the different regime sequences (T/T, O/O, T/O, and O/T). While organizations have some
agency and leeway in their adoption decisions, and may differ in their adoption motivations,
they are also embedded in a social context where the behavior of competitors and other field
actors has some bearing on adoption decisions. Modeling social influence acknowledges that
industries and markets are social structures in which organizations watch each other and use
signals from other organizations to guide their choices and actions (Kennedy, 2008). As noted
previously, under conditions of opacity, organizations face difficulties in observing whether,
and how substantively, other organizations adopt certain CSR practices (implying that indi-
vidual organizations are less affected by what their competitors do). Conversely, under condi-
tions of transparency, inter-organizational dynamics may have greater bearing on an organiza-
tion’s decision to adopt a given CSR practice. Our analysis demonstrates that social influence
expands the range of parameter combinations for which transitory opacity is optimal (see Ap-
pendix A). Second, we reran our analysis by generating both transparency and opacity matri-
ces randomly (i.e., we do not make any particular assumptions about the underlying transition
probabilities). The only assumption we make is that ceremonial adoption is less likely under a
regime of transparency than under one of opacity. Our analysis, based on one million pairs of
random matrices for opacity and transparency, suggests that the general pattern of findings is
robust to relaxing a vast majority of model assumptions (see Appendix B).
This paper reconciles the opposing viewpoints of transparentists and opacitists on how to
advance the substantive adoption and institutionalization of CSR in two main ways. First, we
resolve the tension by adopting a dynamic perspective that grasps both opacity and transpar-
ency not only as enduring but also as transitory phenomena. We theorize that changes in the
evaluation regime may occur, either exogenously due to regulatory measures or endogenously
because substantive adopters enforce transparency to avoid being misclassified as ceremonial
adopters and thereby to safeguard their legitimacy. We demonstrate that such regime switches
and the resulting transitory regime sequences can be conducive to the substantive adoption of
CSR. Second, we identify the boundary conditions under which enduring and transitory forms
of transparency and opacity maximize the share of substantive CSR adoption. We demon-
strate that the optimality of a regime sequence is determined by the relationship between
adoption and abandonment rates within and across transparency and opacity regimes. Overall,
our paper makes first steps in developing a systematic treatment of the interplay between so-
cial evaluation and practice adoption. In so doing, it opens up a novel and potentially im-
portant research area.
Implications for Research on CSR
A hallmark of the CSR literature has been the “transparency imperative” (Ringel,
2019)—that is, a widely endorsed and taken-for-granted assumption that the observability of
organizational actions is beneficial for substantive adoption (Christensen & Cheney, 2015;
Gold & Heikkurinen, 2018). Transparentists posit that, in the wake of public scrutiny and re-
quests for accountability, decoupling is not a viable option for adopters of CSR practices and
that, therefore, ceremonial adopters are inevitably pushed toward substantive adoption. It fol-
lows that the best way to institutionalize CSR is through promoting transparency, tightening
requirements, and, where necessary, disciplining ceremonial adopters.
However, while intuitively appealing, this logic ignores the fact that the very characteris-
tics of CSR can undermine the effectiveness of transparency. When implementation costs are
high and immediate substantive adoption of a CSR practice is unlikely (i.e., low adoption
rate) and adopters run the risk of limited chances to quit a once-established practice at a later
point in time (i.e., low abandonment rate), a regime of transparency can significantly limit the
number of organizations that engage with the practice, thus reducing the overall impact of
For combinations of rather low substantive adoption and abandonment rates (i.e., condi-
tions that are highly relevant for the CSR context), our analyses reveal another, potentially
more effective, pathway to the institutionalization of CSR: transitory opacity (i.e., a phase of
initial opacity succeeded by a phase of transparency). Our analyses show that transitory opaci-
ty may outperform both enduring opacity and enduring transparency, depending on the moti-
vation underlying ceremonial adoption. More specifically, if ceremonial adoption is primarily
driven by an opportunistic motivation (i.e., an incentive to reap the benefits of CSR adoption
while minimizing its costs), then enduring transparency may be effective in leading to wide-
spread substantive adoption, as it shuts down the possibility of adopting a practice ceremoni-
ally. In contrast, if ceremonial adoption is primarily driven by a hypocritical motivation (i.e.,
an incentive to reap the benefits of CSR adoption without incurring any of its costs), then
transitory opacity can be effective in leading to widespread substantive adoption. The opti-
mality of transitory opacity is driven by the fact that organizations that adopt the practice cer-
emonially when possible (but would refrain from adoption when impossible under a regime of
transparency) will be forced into substantive adoption once the regime switches to transparen-
cy. It is therefore important to understand how organizations respond if their preferred option
of ceremonial adoption is not viable, and to theorize whether they would commit to substan-
tive adoption (“opportunists”) or would refrain from substantive adoption (“hypocrites”). As
such, transitory opacity constitutes an important but hitherto largely overlooked path for the
institutionalization of CSR.
These results shed new light on an important conversation in the field of CSR (see
Voegtlin & Pless, 2014): namely, whether the lack of implementation of CSR indicates a need
for stricter sanctions or whether decoupling should be tolerated and organizations provided
time and leeway to integrate CSR activities. For good reasons, scholars have questioned the
merit of low entry barriers and weak monitoring as means of achieving self-regulation in var-
ious industries (King & Lenox, 2000), given that the “lowest common denominator” (Sethi,
2002) tends to be conducive to opportunism and adverse selection. However, our model
demonstrates that the hypocritical adoption of CSR practices can have positive consequences
for their institutionalization. This is the case not only because decoupling in a single organiza-
tion can prove unstable (Tilcsik, 2010; Penttilä, 2020) but also because of the effects that a
change in the prevalent evaluation regime can have at the industry or institutional field level.
The bait-and-switch mechanism identified in our paper complements existing opacitist
perspectives, which highlighted that transparency may be detrimental to experimentation and
organizational learning (March, 1995; Weick, 1995), and may crowd out trust and intrinsic
motivation (Frey et al., 2013). Assumptions related to experimentation, learning and motiva-
tion, as well as to organizational-level dynamics of aspirational talk, goal displacement, and
identity change (e.g., Christensen et al., 2013) are reflected in our model in the coupling rate,
that is, the probability that an organization moves from ceremonial to substantive adoption.
While previous works from an opacitist view have focused primarily on coupling dynamics
and hence the “switch” part of the bait-and-switch mechanism (Christensen et al., 2013;
Haack et al., 2012), the analysis of the “bait” part, especially as the starting point of a dynam-
ic process comprising an exogenous or endogenous switch towards a regime of transparency,
has been largely neglected, thus far. Our model offers a crucial extension of extant opacitist
works by pointing out that achieving a large number and “critical mass” of ceremonial adop-
tions is a critical prerequisite to institutionalizing CSR across different domains and indus-
tries. Conversely, when enforcing transparency too early, only a few organizations will be
pulled into ceremonial adoption. Coupling dynamics will thus be limited to a small set of or-
ganizations and CSR will fail to gain prominence and exert enduring influence at a larger
Our proposed bait-and-switch model of CSR adoption also has significant practical im-
plications for NGOs and civil society activists. Specifically, given that initial opacity and non-
penalized decoupling can be a viable way to institutionalize CSR, NGOs and civil society
activists should not categorically criticize or punish organizations for ceremonial adoption.
Instead, they should allow for a stage of transformation during which ceremonial adoption can
spread, marked by an (exogenous or endogenous) switching point that leads to a regime
change and puts an end to widespread ceremonial adoption and decoupling. At the same time,
given that transitory opacity is only optimal for circumstances in which the probability of
practice abandonment is low, practitioners and activists should criticize substantive adopters
who diminish or slow down their implementation efforts. Through such social disapproval,
NGOs and civil society activists can send a strong signal that falling back on ceremonial
adoption or even non-adoption is unacceptable. In addition, since the type of adopter motiva-
tion (hypocrisy vs opportunism) reveals which regime sequence is optimal, NGOs and activ-
ists should try to gauge the share of hypocrites and opportunists in a given domain or industry,
for instance, through continuous dialogue and exchange with relevant actors (Palazzo &
Scherer, 2006) .
Implications for Institutional Theory
This paper offers important insights to institutional theory. Specifically, it contributes to a
better understanding of the relationship between decoupling (i.e., ceremonial adoption), diffu-
sion, and institutionalization, thereby complementing works that have integrated the topic of
practice diffusion with aspects of adaptation and variation in practice implementation (Ansari
et al., 2010; Lounsbury, 2001). Although decoupling, diffusion, and institutionalization con-
stitute foundational concepts in institutional theory (Greenwood, Oliver, Lawrence, & Meyer,
2017), their precise relationship and the character of their interdependence has not been dis-
cussed in much detail. Extant research tends to equate the diffusion of a practice with its insti-
tutionalization or to treat diffusion as a result of successful institutionalization (Schneiberg &
Clemens, 2006; Zeitz et al., 1999). Colyvas and Jonsson (2011), however, proposed disentan-
gling diffusion from institutionalization and argued that diffusion can function as an anteced-
ent of institutionalization. This view is consistent with our model, which indicates that prac-
tice diffusion, even if ceremonial in character, can facilitate the institutionalization (i.e., wide-
spread substantive adoption) of CSR practices due to an exogenous or endogenous switch in
evaluation regimes. Given that, under an evaluation regime of opacity, decoupling can be
beneficial to the diffusion of instances of ceremonial adoption, which then trigger a switch
from opacity to transparency that enforces substantive adoption, decoupling can be said to be
conducive to institutionalization. In this view, decoupling has important institutional conse-
quences and can be conceptualized as an endogenous source of institutional change (Boxen-
baum & Jonsson, 2017).
Another important implication of our paper is that institutional scholars need to theorize
and systematically study the evaluation-decoupling nexus. Previous works on decoupling fol-
lowed the arguments of Meyer and Rowan (1977) and assumed that external observers do not
monitor organizational activities. In that view, ceremonial behavior is not criticized or con-
demned but actually desired and, thus, can be said to be equivalent to institutionalized behav-
ior (Zajac & Westphal, 2004). This assumption, however, is at odds with a phenomenological
understanding of institutions as tightly coupled systems that are consolidated through contin-
uous social interaction (Berger & Luckmann, 1967). Indeed, the assumption that “myth and
ceremony” are equivalent to institutionalized behavior has ignored the growing trend towards
an “audit society” (Power, 2007), which reveals that external observers lack “confidence and
good faith” in the symbolic actions of organizations. External observers instead seek to in-
spect the type of practice adoption and enforce transparency and social control, meaning that
decoupling poses a significant reputational risk for organizations (Crilly et al., 2012; Marquis
& Qian, 2014). It follows that ceremonial behavior cannot be equated with institutionalized
behavior. This proposition seems to particularly apply to the context of CSR, where employ-
ees search for purpose and meaningfulness through their work and are not willing to tolerate
moral inconsistencies (Tolbert & Zucker, 1996). Moreover, our analyses reveal that ceremo-
nial behavior can be based on hypocritical and opportunist motives, a distinction which ac-
counts for profound differences in institutional effects (i.e., with respect to maximizing the
share of substantive adoption). Therefore, in order to better understand institutional outcomes,
institutional theorists need to conceptualize the micro-level diversity in motivations that often
gets ignored in view of the pervasive homogeneity of behavior at more macro levels (Tolbert
& Darabi, 2020).
Implications for Methodology
Crane, Henriques, and Husted (2018) identified considerable methodological challenges
in the CSR literature that hamper its development. They also expounded the problems of a
significant bias toward a relatively small number of methods of data collection and analysis.
Morsing and Spence (2019), in turn, demanded greater sophistication in the analysis of the
links between theoretical and practice-based aspects of CSR research. In reviewing the criti-
cism of CSR research, Wang, Gibson, and Zander (2020) discussed the frequent perception
that it suffers from weak theoretical foundations and lack of theory development, rarely pay-
ing attention to underlying mechanisms and boundary conditions, and consequently fails to
inform practice adequately. Embracing methodological pluralism and method triangulation
can speak to these challenges. While formal modeling and simulation approaches have gained
currency in institutional theory (e.g., Colyvas & Maroulis, 2015) and CSR research (e.g., Kaul
& Luo, 2018), to our knowledge they have not been employed in the more specific context of
CSR practice adoption. This underutilization is unfortunate, since formal modeling and simu-
lation approaches allow researchers to gain a thorough understanding of the role of social
evaluation in decoupling and practice adoption. The quality of practice implementation at the
industry level and the evolution of practice adoption over time are naturally difficult to exam-
ine empirically by means of qualitative research, which tends to be more suitable for in-depth
study of adoption types and degrees of practice implementation in a single firm. In that re-
gard, our model allows for transcending paradigmatic boundaries by showing that some of the
considerations of interpretivist and qualitative research can be translated into formalized lan-
guage, thereby sharpening the conceptual clarity and specificity of extant CSR research.
Appendix A: Social Influence
Under an evaluation regime of opacity, organizations face difficulties in observing whether,
and how substantively, other organizations adopt certain CSR practices, implying that indi-
vidual organizations are less affected by what their competitors do. Conversely, under a re-
gime of transparency, inter-organizational dynamics may have greater bearing on an organiza-
tion’s decision to adopt certain CSR practices. We therefore examined how social influence
may affect the share of substantive adopters for the four different regime sequences (T/T,
O/O, T/O, and O/T). Arguably, actors can be influenced by other actors in a myriad of ways.
For illustrative purposes, we report the outcomes for one particular form of social influence:
the adoption rate (), abandonment rate (), and coupling rate () are mod-
eled as depending on the share of organizations that are adopters (i.e., (3)) or non-adopters
(i.e., (1)) operating in the same domain or industry. Specifically, we assume that, in each
period, the transition probabilities for transparency T' are adjusted, with 
(3)+(1), with social as a weighting factor for the social influence (here
defined as the share of organizations that have already adopted the practice substantively). If,
for example, the social influence is 0.0, then the share of existing adopters does not affect the
adoption rate. If the social influence is 0.5, the share adjusted adoption rate is 
󰆒= 0.5
(3) + 0.5 . Thus, if the share of substantive adopters (3) is lower than the adop-
tion rate (), the adjusted rate of adoption (
󰆒) is lower than the actual rate
(). In contrast, if the share of substantive adopters is larger, then so is the adjusted rate.
Social influence may thus decrease or increase the adoption rate, depending on the share of
substantive adopters (relative to the unadjusted adoption rate). A similar logic applies to the
abandonment rate, which is given by 
󰆒=(1)+(1), and
the coupling rate, which is given by 
()()+(1). In
Figure A1, we report the results for social = 0.1 (left panel) and social = 0.5 (right panel).
Overall, the general pattern of results remains largely unaffected; however, within the subset
of valid parameter combinations, the prominence of transitory opacity (O/T) increases.
Figure A1: The Role of Social Influence
Appendix B: Relaxing Assumptions Underlying the Opacity Matrix
Our main analyses draw on a particular transition matrix for opacity (see above our elabora-
tion in the section ‘model specification’). In this analysis, we relax the assumptions that in-
formed these parameters and generate, in a first step, a random transition matrix for the re-
gime of opacity. Such a random matrix may look as follows:
=0.07 0.24 0.69
0.62 0.08 0.30
0.12 0.29 0.59
In a next step, we generate a random transition matrix for the regime of transparency. In so
doing, we ensure that the transition matrix is valid by assuming  
 +; that is, the (substantive) adoption rate under transparency is located in a
range between the substantive adoption rate under opacity and the combined (both substantive
and ceremonial) adoption rate under opacity. Thus, for the random transition matrix of opacity
described above, the adoption rate under transparency can be 0.69  0.69 +
0.24 = 0.93. We then randomly pick one value in this range (e.g., 0.77). For the abandonment
rate, we follow the same procedure and pick a random value (e.g., 0.34) from 
 +, or 0.12  0.12 + 0.29 = 0.41. Finally, we pick a ran-
dom coupling rate  within the range of 0 to 1 (e.g., 0.19). The resulting transition ma-
trix for transparency looks like this:
=0.23 0.00 0.77
0.81 0.00 0.19
0.34 0.00 0.66
We make only one assumption in our analysisnamely, that ceremonial adoption is less like-
ly under a regime of transparency than under one of opacity. We then calculate the optimal
regime sequencethat is, the sequence that maximizes the share of substantive adopters aver-
aged over t = 1 to 25. We repeat the process of (1) generating random matrices O and T and
(2) determining the optimal regime sequence one million times. To make results comparable,
we normalize the adoption and abandonment rates under transparency to a range between 0
and 1. In our example above, a value of  = 0.77 is at the lower end of the range of
[0.69, 0.93] and translates to a normalized value of ..
. = 0.33. We normalize the aban-
donment rate in the same way: ..
. = 0.76. In Figure A2, we report the probability that
any of the four evaluation regime sequences is optimal for different normalized rates of adop-
tion (x-axis) and abandonment (y-axis). These normalized rates equal the set of valid combi-
nations, highlighted through a white box in the main analyses reported in the manuscript. The
color of each point in these panels reflects the probability that the corresponding evaluation
regime is optimal, with lighter colors indicating lower probabilities and darker colors indicat-
ing higher probabilities.
Figure A2: Optimality for Normalized Rates
Consistent with our manuscript’s findings, enduring transparency (T/T, top left panel) is the
optimal regime for many combinations of adoption and abandonment rates. However, if the
normalized adoption rate is rather low (i.e., the primary motivation for ceremonial adoption is
hypocrisy rather than opportunism), then transitory opacity (O/T) or enduring opacity (O/O)
become more likely to be the optimal regime sequence (a finding that is also consistent with
the manuscript’s findings). Also consistent with our arguments, transitory opacity (T/O) is
very unlikely to be optimal (within the subset of valid combinations of adoption and aban-
donment rates). In sum, given the complete randomness of both transition matrices, the results
are obviously less clear-cut than those of the manuscript’s analyses. Nonetheless, even if we
relax most of the assumptions about both transition matrices, our key findings still hold.
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Tabl e 1: Comparison of the Transparentist and Opacitist Perspectives
Key assump-
Transparency nurtures sub-
stantive adoption.
Opacity nurtures substantive
Assessment of
Unfavorable, because it im-
pedes substantive adoption.
Favorable, because it can further
substantive adoption.
Enforce substantive adoption
by raising requirements and
imposing sanctions.
Promote substantive adoption by
providing time and leeway for
Key metaphor
Walk the talk.
Talk the walk.
Disciplines and
Institutional theory: Boiral
(2007), Meyer & Rowan
(1977), Wijen (2014).
Business ethics research: Ara-
vind & Christmann (2011),
Behnam & MacLean (2011).
Learning and social control:
Bernstein (2012), Tenbrunsel &
Messick (1999).
Organizational communication:
Christensen et al. (2013), Haack
et al. (2012).
Tabl e 2: Possible Regime Sequences
Phase 1 (t=1..R)
Phase 2
Enduring opacity
(O/O) Opacity Opacity
Opacitists: e.g., Bernstein
Enduring trans-
parency (T/T) Transparency Transparency
Transparentists: e.g., Mac-
Lean & Behnam (2010)
opacity (O/T) Opacity Transparency Largely unexplored
Transparency Opacity Largely unexplored
Figure 1: The Markov Chain Model
Figure 2: Optimal Regime Sequences
Figure 3: Boundary Conditions (Coupling Rate  =.)
Figure 4: Motivation Underlying Ceremonial Adoption (Coupling Rate  =.)
Patrick Haack is Professor of Strategy at HEC Lausanne, University of Lausanne. His cur-
rent research focuses on social evaluations, practice adoption, and the application of experi-
ments to the study of institutionalization and legitimation. He currently serves on the editorial
boards of the Academy of Management Review, Business & Society, Journal of Management
Studies, and Organization Studies.
Dirk Martignoni is an assistant professor of strategy at Università della Svizzera italiana
(USI), Lugano. He received his PhD from the University of St. Gallen, Switzerland. His re-
search focuses on organizational learning and adaptation.
Dennis Schoeneborn is Professor of Organization, Communication, and CSR at Copenhagen
Business School as well as Visiting Professor of Organization Studies at Leuphana University
of Lüneburg. In his current research, he focuses on the constitutive role of communication for
phenomena of organization, organizing, and organizationality. He is editorial board member
of Management Communication Quarterly and Organization Studies. Furthermore, he serves
as Associate Editor at Business & Society.
... While the relatively high degree of abstraction of simulation models may initially seem like a disadvantage, such abstraction allows models to be used for testing theories in research areas that are difficult, complex, or costly to investigate through other empirical means (Hannah et al. 2021). For instance, Haack et al. (2021) have employed a Markov model to study the interplay between the field-level and organizational-level dynamics of CSR practice adoption in a combined way, enabling them to explore dynamics that would otherwise require large-scale and multisite ethnographic research. ...
... Similarly, Christensen et al. (2013) argue that "aspirational talk" in the form of a company's fictional account of its prospective future achievements in the areas of CSR and sustainability should not be condemned as mere "greenwashing." Rather it is precisely because of the discrepancy between such talk about future states of affairs and current business practices that fictional and aspirational talk can serve as an important resource for organizational and social change, as indeed has also been shown both through empirical studies (e.g., Haack et al. 2012;Penttilä 2020) and simulation-based studies (Haack et al. 2021). In sum, questions about the ways in which counterfactual and fictional thinking can influence organizational realities as this kind of thinking becomes manifest in communications constitute an exciting avenue of research. ...
... This reflective (versus performative) understanding of theory is premised on an explanatory mode of 9 theorizing, foregrounds causality (Cronin, Stouten, & van Knippenberg, 2021;Sandberg & Alvesson, 2020), and advances an empirical positivism approach that assumes that social reality is structured around a set of probabilistic relationships and contingencies which can be objectively studied (Morgan & Smircich, 1980). To be clear, reflective theory can have a significant positive impact on public policy through its "transfer" of knowledge to the world of practice (Reinecke, Boxenbaum, & Gehman, 2022;Wickert et al., 2021); for instance, by developing recommendations on how to foster entrepreneurship for poverty alleviation (Peredo & Chrisman, 2006), promote organizational and upper echelons diversity (Tasheva & Hillman, 2019), or regulate corporate social responsibility (Haack, Martignoni, & Schoeneborn, 2021;Terlaak, 2007). Still, although theory can point to unanticipated, useful, and novel research directions (Kilduff, 2006), the insight that theory can be performative or even self-fulfilling is rarely articulated. ...
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Calls for management theory to have greater societal relevance abound. From editorial efforts to encourage research that can influence regulation and policy decisions (e.g., Haley et al., 2022), to regulatory practices that have incentivized scholarly impact on audiences outside of academia (e.g., Bryant, 2021), to grant-bestowing agencies that expect their funded research to benefit the public good (e.g., NSF’s broader impacts), the relationship between theory and practice has been and continues to be of great concern for management scholars (cf. Haley & Jack, 2023; Gray, 2023). Collectively, these efforts reflect our belief as management scholars that the influence of management theory on policy makers remains underwhelming. Framed differently, it is our belief as a profession that management theory has unrealized power to have a positive impact on society and the broader environment. While calls for increased positive impact on policy have grown louder since the early 2000’s, a cursory analysis in Web of Science reveals that only 3.23% of AMR articles published since the founding of the journal in 1977 mention policy in their title or abstract. At other journals in general management, there are similarly low values, including the Academy of Management Journal (3.25%), Administrative Science Quarterly (2.52%), Strategic Management Journal (5.23%), and Organization Science (5.75%) since their founding. This trend exists across more specialized domains of management research. For instance, only 1.5% of articles in OB/HR field between 2010-2019 included policy implications (i.e., Aguinis, Jensen, & Kraus, 2022). A more comprehensive analysis of article content across all our journals is needed to draw definitive conclusions; yet, given the Academy of Management’s vision to “inspire and enable a better world,” it seems our field has placed relatively little attention on applying our collective knowledge to improve public policy. Following Aguinis and colleagues, we define policy as “governance principles that guide courses of action and behavior in organizations and societies” (2022: 858). The term public policy reflects the goal of generating such governance principles to promote societally desirable outcomes (i.e., the public good). The way management scholars at AMR have approached public policy differs significantly. Approaches range from works that emphasize the practical implications of a particular theory for policy (e.g., Chen et al., 2022), articles that make policy itself the subject of theorizing (e.g., Bourdeau, Ollier-Malaterre, & Houlfort, 2019; Funk & Hirschmann, 2017), to those that treat policy(-making) or regulation as the context for theory development (e.g., Aguilera, Judge, & Terjesen, 2018; Matten & Moon, 2020). Moreover, in discussing the theory-practice relationship, management scholars tend to direct the implication(s) of theory to wide-ranging practice domains. They might include public policy, but more often, refer generally to managers, or a mix of internal and external stakeholders of the firm (Bartunek & Rynes, 2010). This is challenging because certain domains of practice, such as the public policy context, are significantly different from the business and competitive market contexts. By implication, the management theory-public policy relationship, potentially, is also distinct. As a result, while management scholars continue to increase their attention to the theory-practice relationship, management theory as it refers specifically to public policy remains limited in its relevance and applicability. Without personal and direct experience in public sector contexts, authors have little professional guidance on how to craft, expand, or deepen management theory to apply directly to the practice of policy making. A superficial or incomplete understanding of public policy might also hamper the identification of boundary conditions that can explain in which circumstances management theory and policy practice can be construed as analytically intertwined (versus largely separated). This gap stalls cumulation of knowledge as well as the impact aspiration of theory. In this editorial we seek to help address this fundamental concern. Rather than developing a comprehensive conceptual framework to guide the management theory-public policy relationship, our goal is to begin making explicit the underlying assumptions management scholars often hold implicit regarding the relationship between management theory and public policy. We recognize our arguments are in some ways bold, if not, provocative; this is intentional to encourage spirited debate and thoughtful exchanges across our scholarship siloes. We hope the resulting conversations fuel ongoing theory development that can positively contribute to the public good. To this end, we start by examining the possible disconnects that exist between our business education and experiences, and the domains of policy making and public sector organizing. These gaps in our understanding have direct implications to how we construe (or misconstrue) our underlying assumptions regarding policy practice, which in turn constrain the extent to which management theory can help advance the public good.
... The field of "safety culture" within the context of the healthcare domain has gained rising attention (Halligan and Zecevic 2011) substantiating academic interest in further exploration and experimentation. Additionally, in the broader context, management scholars have a keen interest in searching and uncovering conditions enabling lasting adoption of sustainability-related practices (Haack et al. 2021), including safety culture as both aim to preserve resources and enable sustainable delivery of services. Nevertheless, while some computational models in relation to safety culture in other domains exist (Sharpanskykh and Stroeve 2011), formal modeling and simulation studies in the domain of health care are still quite under-presented in academic research. ...
Transformative Organisational Change becomes more and more significant both practically and academically, especially in the context of organisational culture and learning. However computational modeling and formalization of organisational change and learning processes are still largely unexplored. This chapter aims to provide an adaptive network model of transformative organisational change and translate a selection of organisational learning and change processes into computationally modeled processes. Additionally, it sets out to connect the dynamic systems view of organisations to self-modeling network models. The creation of the model and the implemented mechanisms of organisational processes are based on extrapolations of an extensive literature study and grounded in related work in this field, and then applied to a specified hospital-related case scenario in the context of safety culture. The model was evaluated by running several simulations and variations thereof. The results of these were investigated by qualitative analysis and comparison to expected emergent behaviour based on related available academic literature. The simulations performed confirmed the occurrence of an organisational transformational change towards a constant learning culture by offering repeated and effective learning and changes to organisational processes. Observations about various interplays and effects of the mechanism have been made, and they exposed that acceptance of mistakes as a part of learning culture facilitates transformational change and may foster sustainable change in the long run.. Further, the model confirmed that the self-modeling network model approach applies to a dynamic systems view of organisations and a systems perspective of organisational change. The created model offers the basis for the further creation of self-modeling network models within the field of transformative organisational change and the translated mechanisms of this model can further be extracted and reused in a forthcoming academic exploration of this field.KeywordsTransformational changeOrganisational cultureOrganisational learningSafety culture
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This chapter aims to offer scholars and practitioners critical arguments on the global ethics as a potentially integrative paradigm of sustainable development for the new economy. The research provides a conceptual and philosophical critical analysis of the new sustainable economy and global ethics and concludes that global ethics is the new conceptual integrative framework for shaping strategies, actions, and analysis. This new conceptual framework has some practical implications allowing researchers, entrepreneurs, and managers to improve the sustainable business perspective. The originality of the chapter proposes a new integrative paradigm of sustainable development for the new economy defined by appropriate and more precise concepts for reasoning in its management with success. The first step to build a global ethics is to communicate the fundamentals in an intelligible and conscious manner at large scale, at multilevel from individual to community, and then to share the perspectives, adopt them, and action accordingly.KeywordsGlobal ethicsNew sustainable economyDevelopmentParadigm
Greenwashing is more virulent than ever. A profusion of environmental, social, and governance and net zero commitments are becoming fraught with questionable and misleading claims. At the same time, we are no closer to solving the pressing environmental and social issues of our time. In this review, we seek to examine this shift and summarize changes in greenwash research into three key phases: (a) 1.0 Static Communication; (b) 2.0 Dynamic Management; and (c) 3.0 Narratives about the Future. We analyze current key areas of developing literature and point to numerous open questions for future research. Next, we go beyond much of the published work to examine emerging tactics and lay out a forward-looking agenda for future research. We also propose a model of Corporate Miscommunication, integrating various streams in greenwash research. In doing so, we seek to lay a pathway for greenwashing researchers to finally find that elusive “end” to greenwashing.
When terms such as sustainability, sustainable development, UN Agenda 2030 are mentioned, they refer to certain commitments by different categories of social actors (including companies), which should limit the negative impacts on the economy, people and the environment and create a certain social impact. In this regard, it is pointed out that the very concept of social impact often remains very distant from the commitments made and communicated by companies in their reports and even more so from what companies actually do. This critical conceptual analysis aims to discuss and overcome the thesis that the more one talks about a topic, the more others will know about it and deal with it. Today’s social and environmental reporting practices are often very distant from the real ability to capture the true and concrete potential to create social impact and to create opportunities for improvement towards a more sustainable context.
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Organizations find that a performance gap exists between sustainability vision and benefits realization. Effecting transformational change requires incorporating sustainability into organization’s culture including policies, processes, and people. Although they are often overlooked, project management professionals and HR professionals are valuable organizational resources for driving sustainable transformation. This book lays out a framework to improve sustainability integrations including case studies, lessons learned, best practices, and tools and templates to facilitate transforming into a sustainable organization. Becoming a Sustainable Organization: A Project and Portfolio Management Approach lays out a framework to create organizational value while preserving natural and social capital. The book provides a roadmap for organizations during their sustainability journey by sharing case studies, best practices, and lessons learned, as well as tools and techniques to drive change. This book is an ideal resource for project and portfolio managers, as well as executive managers, in organizations that are embarking on a sustainability journey. It explains how to engage both internal and external stakeholders in order to reframe strategy to drive this transformation. It examines the role human capital management professionals and policies can play in ensuring that employees become fully engaged in sustainability. It also recommends baseline measurements and metrics to help managers ensure sustainability initiatives remain on track. The case studies and interviews in this book include sustainability stories and projects from a variety of organizations in both function and size, including family-owned businesses, higher-education institutions, NGOs, municipal and federal government agencies, and large global organizations. These cases are based on interviews with experienced sustainability and project management professionals who have not just "talked the talk" but also "walked the walk." The voices of these professionals provide invaluable inspiration and guidance to sustainability champions and to program and project managers seeking to move their sustainability portfolio components forward within their organizations.
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Although the literature on multi-stakeholder initiatives (MSIs) for sustainability has grown in recent years, it is scattered across several academic fields, making it hard to ascertain how individual disciplines such as business ethics can further contribute to the debate. Based on an extensive review of the literature on certification and principle-based MSIs for sustainability (n=293 articles), we show that the scholarly debate rests on three broad themes (“the 3Is”): the input into creating and governing MSIs; the institutionalization of MSIs; and the impact that relevant initiatives create. While our discussion reveals the theoretical underpinnings of the 3Is, it also shows that a number of research challenges related to business ethics remain unaddressed. We unpack these challenges and suggest how scholars can utilize theoretical insights in business ethics to push the boundaries of the field. Finally, we also discuss what business ethics research can gain from theory development in the MSI field.
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This paper investigates talk–action dynamics in the context of organizations, focusing in particular on situations where the talk concerns complex organizational aspirations, that is, situations where the implied action takes considerable effort to unfold and therefore extends into an unknown future. Using corporate social responsibility (CSR) as recurrent exemplar, we address talk–action dynamics in four different modalities of aspirational CSR talk: exploration, formulation, implementation and evaluation. By conceptualizing the precarious relationship between talk and action in each of these modalities, the paper disentangles talk and action, all the while acknowledging that the two are mutually intertwined. Hereby, the paper extends theories of communicative performativity, recovering the perlocutionary dimension and focusing on uptake beyond the moment in which the speech act is uttered.
Strategic management research increasingly examines firms’ strategies for corporate environmental and social disclosures. There are benefits to being perceived as having superior environmental performance, but firms face increasing pressure to provide more complete disclosures, potentially exposing information that will be viewed negatively by external stakeholders. We examine linguistic obfuscation as a means to balance this tension. In particular, we argue that firms may intentionally make their disclosures more complex and harder to understand, thereby blurring the negative content and increasing information processing costs of the recipient. In the context in which an information intermediary actively collects information from firms and evaluates them, we find that firms with unfavorable news to disclose use linguistic obfuscation in information disclosure to manage the tension between the pressure for more complete disclosures and the desire to project a positive image. We further demonstrate that obfuscation lessens the negative impact of reporting negative information on environmental performance ratings given by information intermediaries. This suggests that firms can and do use linguistic tactics to influence environmental ratings.
This article examines the embeddedness of corporate social responsibility (CSR) communications in strategic planning. By drawing on the idea that talk and texts about CSR are an essential part of responsibility practices, I study how CSR aspirations—responsibility-related organizational self-descriptions, goals, and ideals that the organization cannot yet live up to or that the organizational constituents deem necessary to maintain—are intertwined with strategy texts and strategic episodes. Conducting a qualitative case study on a series of biennial strategy processes over a 20-year period, I show how CSR aspirations are established in authoritative strategy documents during stakeholder interactions, elaborated in consecutive strategic episodes, extended to new business areas, and evaluated in subsequent communications. These findings contribute to the CSR and strategy literature by showing how (a) aspirational talk can be established and perpetuated through recurrent communicative processes, (b) stakeholder engagement in CSR issues can influence strategy texts and how strategy texts become a part of intertextual organizational communications, and (c) strategic context can be conducive to progressive performativity.