The Persistence of Flexible Organizational Routines: The Role of Agency and Organizational Context

Howard-Grenville, Jennifer A.
November 2005
Organization Science;Nov/Dec2005, Vol. 16 Issue 6, p618
Academic Journal
Once regarded as stable and inflexible, organizational routines are increasingly seen as capable of being adapted to the situation at hand and a potentially important source of endogenous change in organizations. This paper considers why routines that are performed flexibly may nonetheless persist over time. Drawing on data from participant observation of a high-tech manufacturing company, I identify factors that contribute to both the flexibility and persistence of a routine. First, individuals and groups approach routines with different intentions and orientations, suggesting that agency shapes particular routine performances. Second, routine performances are embedded in an organizational context that, while it may not restrict the flexible use of a routine, may constrain its ongoing adaptation. Finally, accounting for the relative power of individuals sheds light on the interaction between agency and context in routine performance and explains why the actions of some individuals, but not others, can change routines. This paper draws on recent work that conceptualizes routines as ongoing accomplishments, and it extends it by identifying how actors and contexts shape both individual performances of routines and contribute to their persistence or change over time.


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