SOCI 3377 Project Overview
Explaining Organizational Adaptations and Mal-Adaptations
The course project is designed for you to do a case study of a specific organization, and to use course concepts to reflect on your organization’s trajectory. Preferably, your organization should be large, national in scope (which will make finding data easier), and it should not be a case we discuss in class.
Three caveats. One, I will make exceptions if you are committed to a particular organization and to doing research that goes well beyond materials covered in the class. Two, you should also have a bit of caution vis a vis size: some organizations are so complex (think Alphabet, Goldman Sachs, Apple) that they are difficult to encapsulate in a concise case study. Three, you should avoid family businesses or entities you feel a strong loyalty toward – you want to maintain a critically impersonal perspective (choosing a competitive rival often works better, if you are sticking within a personal niche). But with those cautions in mind, you can choose any organization you wish (a private corporation, a non-profit, a government agency; U.S. German, Brazilian, Kenyan, Japanese, etc.).
The project will be easier if you select an organization which has a fairly clear and consistent structure, and/or one which has altered paths at a key juncture – thus allowing you to describe either the “before” or the “after” of those changes. The kinds of firms that fit the latter criteria might be ones who have had a crisis, entered bankruptcy, re-organized, gone through a merger, and so on. But the main recommendation is that you pick an organization that you are actually interested in.
The project will go through three main stages:
I. Initial Meeting and Bibliography
Do some preliminary research this week and next. On Tuesday, September 15th, you should submit a short (2 pages, max) proposal concerning which organization you would like to study. Include a brief description of the firm/agency, why you selected it, and what time period, branch, or aspect (as appropriate) of the firm you intend to focus on. Also include 3-5 initial sources that you believe are promising starting points in your research – and briefly explain why you think they’re useful.
Note 1: I generally prefer that each person study a different entity; we might have to negotiate. Also, if you want to talk to me about better/worse options, please feel free to do so.
Note 2: Your sources at this stage cannot include class readings. No more than one source should be written by the organization you have selected. Preference should be given to academic sources, articles from the business or trade journals, government reports or other documents, or business school case studies.
Please use ASA format for all papers submitted in this class. A quick style-guide is on Canvas.
II. Paper #1: Setting the Empirical Stage
Near the end of Week 10 (Friday, October 30th, by 11:59 pm), you will turn in a 4-5 page paper (double-spaced, one inch margins, reasonable font (roughly equivalent to Times New Roman 11 pt) that describes your firm’s history within a defined time period. This initial paper is a literature review in which you lay out the key factors that may have critically affected your organization’s trajectory in that time period, or which pushed it toward a particular event or outcome (e.g. a bankruptcy, an IPO, a merger, a change in structure, focus or product fields, etc.).
To satisfy the requirements of this paper, you must:
1)Include a minimum of six articles or information sources about your firm. The same parameters of the bibliography apply here: minimize the number of sources produced by the organization (though financial information, legal filings, tax returns, etc. can be useful); draw on peer reviewed articles, academic books, industry or trade reports or features, and other reputable, verifiable sources.
2)Drawing on your sources, write a 4-5 page paper that describes what your firm did and what happened to it in a defined period of its history. Your research and narrative may have to reach further back than your specified period in order to develop an adequate picture of the changes faced by your firm. You will want to include at least some discussion of both “internal” and “external” factors at your organization – as we will discuss in class.
3)The point of the paper is to identify and describe the factors that your sources suggest were most important to your organization’s trajectory. Your sources may not entirely agree; if that’s the case, it’s
arelevant feature to describe in the paper (“there are two (or twelve) main theories of what drove these events…”) In conceptualizing your narrative, imagine you are trying to convince a jury, in a clear and compelling way, as to the “facts” of what happened to your organization. For instance, your organization might have been acquired by another corporation, or gone bankrupt. The sheer fact of take-over or bankruptcy describes something important about your organization. However, your paper should reach deeper and present information about e.g. why your organization was in a position to be taken over, or what were the key factors that generated the bankruptcy, etc. In sum, you should be prepared to describe what made your organization’s trajectory possible or even likely. Some questions that might help to orient your research:
a.What are the company’s basic “internal” structure and dynamics? Did they change during the period in question?
1)What best characterizes the organizational model? Was it constant, or did it change?
2)Have the agency’s purposes or products changed in important ways?
3)Were there relevant managerial changes, or shifts in how production or goals were pursued?
4)Did the organization build, acquire, or sell-off parts of its operations?
b. Were there “external” facts or events that altered your org’s decisions and/or fate?
1)Who were/are its main competitors? What were relations between them?
2)Were there shifts in product markets, technologies, politics, resources needed to function?
You need not answer all of these; they are just to get you started. DO make sure you cite your sources properly and include a bibliography with complete citations (the bibliography does not count toward your page count).
III. The Final Paper: Describing and Analyzing your Case
The final, 8-10 page paper builds on your first paper.* The objective is to put the data and research you have developed together with the theories discussed in the course to provide a thorough description and explanation of your organization’s trajectory.
*Paper #1 and the Final Paper are graded separately but are intended to be cumulative. You may re-use text from your first paper, but you will be penalized if you do not edit that text to make it fit the new paper. In other words: write the final paper as if it is the only one I will read. It should be able to stand alone to a reader.
The Objectives: Deepen the data on your case. Develop explanations for what happened to your firm. These explanations should, ideally, be based on theories covered in class readings and discussions. Draw conclusions about the relationship of various theories to your case based on the fit between your “data” and the theoretical arguments. Note: there is rarely a single factor in the changing fortunes of an organization. I expect that you may need to consider/explain multiple factors or trends, and present multiple arguments that best explain features of the case you developed in the midterm paper.
•Add at least two more good sources about your organization or about the theories you will be applying. Only one of these sources can be published by the organization you are studying.
•Draw on the course materials to suggest explanations for the organization’s trajectory.
Base your preliminary explanations on the theories we have discussed in class. Refer to specific concepts, authors and sources.
Justify your explanations by drawing on data provided by your sources. Be sure to note any puzzles, contradictions, or “data mismatches” raised by your account.
Return to the theories that your explanations are based on. What, if anything, does your discussion of the case data tell you about the theories more generally?
Summarize the theory or theories you believe provide the best explanation, and explain why you think this explanation is the most compelling.
Conclude with a concise account of what we might learn from your case. This might be practical suggestions about organization, or it might concern the implications of your research for other organizations and for organizational theory more generally.
Provide a bibliography that provides complete citation information for all the articles you cite in the text. Highlight the new sources in bold text.
Your final paper is due no later than Friday, December 4th at 11:59 pm. However, you can turn in the paper at any point. You need not wait until the last minute.
Paper Option #2: Comparing Two Organizations
Some of you may be interested in comparing similarities and differences between two organizations that work in the same field (e.g. airlines, automakers, universities, etc.), but in different national contexts. For those of you interested in particular nations – China, India, France, Mexico, Brazil, etc. – this is intended to be a chance for you to do a grounded, specific comparison of how and why national differences matter (or not!). I will note up front that this paper option is potentially more challenging, but it can be extremely interesting, analytically valuable, and quite rewarding.
The “sequence” of your work will follow a nearly identical trajectory as in the outline/schedule listed above:
3)Your initial proposal will tentatively specify which two, instead of one, organizations are of interest to you. If you know you want to study, say, Petrobras – the state-owned Brazilian oil company – but you don’t know who to compare them to, you can say so in your proposal, and we will work out the details during the meeting. In this case, I actually encourage you to consider doing a comparison with an organization we will read about in the class; this may save you from doubling your time spent researching.
4)Your midterm paper will look almost exactly the same as on the above schedule. You will do a careful factual presentation of your “first” organization – focusing on things like its structure, management practices, major policies, markets and market position (e.g. who buys the product – if relevant), etc. In most cases, you will probably want to focus on an account of the organization’s recent history, rather than long past history – which will allow you to make a more direct comparison in the final paper.
5)Your final paper will, however, look a bit different. Instead of focusing on changes in one organizational trajectory over time, you will focus on similarities and differences at one moment in time – taking a “snapshot”, if you will, of how your two firms compare. The way you structure this paper also has two primary options:
a.You can provide a comparison of key similarities and differences, and focus your explanation on why you think your two organizations differ (this is essentially similar to the first paper option – you are focusing on what factors made the two organizations take their distinctive shapes)
b.You can provide an analysis of how the differences in the two organizational structures and sets of practices matter. In other words, what strengths and weaknesses are apparent from your comparison? Are conditions among and between workers, managers, and consumers better in one organization than the other? Is one organization more flexible and adaptable than the other? How might we assess the primary challenges facing the two organizations – are they similar, or different? Are the current practices of one organization more sustainable than the other? And so on.
You are welcome – indeed, encouraged – to be in touch with me over the course of the semester in order to focus and tighten your research and your analysis. This option is not easy to research in one semester, but I think you will find the comparative exercise interesting and rewarding.