- freely available
Adm. Sci. 2013, 3(3), 110-142; doi:10.3390/admsci3030110
Abstract: The diffusion of fashionable management concepts is an important research topic in management and organization studies. Researchers have pointed out that various actors such as consultants, conference organizers and the business media comprise the so-called “management fashion arena” around a management concept. However, a weakness of extant conceptualizations of management fashion arenas is in the lack of an explicit consideration of the dynamics between local and international actors. Drawing on the notion of “institutional duality”, we argue that the concept’s trajectory at the national level is shaped by both country-specific actors and international actors. Furthermore, we recognize that the presence and involvement of different types of actors may vary across different countries. Empirically, we analyze the level of involvement of actors such as consultants, professional groups, software firms, and conference organizers in the cross-national diffusion of the Balanced Scorecard (BSC) in the three Scandinavian countries. The comparative analysis of the data shows both similarities and differences between the three countries in terms of which actors have been the most influential players. Despite certain similarities and overlaps, the three markets can be considered largely national with key local players. Furthermore, country-specific actors appear to have played a particularly important role in the early phase in terms of establishing the concept in the local markets. These findings are used to elaborate on present conceptualizations of the management fashion arena, and to discuss the role of local and international actors in the cross-national diffusion of management concepts.
Management concepts are “prescriptive, more or less coherent views on management, which are known by a particular label” (, p. 758). Fashionable management concepts, or “management fashions”, are those “management concepts that relatively speedily gain large shares in the public management discourse” (, p. 329). How and why some management concepts become widely diffused and fashionable, while others do not are important research questions in management and organization studies (e.g., [3,4,5]). Researchers have studied the spreading and “fashionization” of concepts such as Activity Based Costing [6,7,8], Business Process Reengineering [9,10], Knowledge Management [11,12,13], Total Quality Management [14,15,16,17], Talent Management [18,19], Lean , and the Balanced Scorecard [21,22]. An important finding in this literature is that “fashion-setting” actors such as consultants, conference organizers, business schools and the business media play important roles in the diffusion of management concepts [3,23,24,25]. Management fashion theorists refer to these types of actors as comprising the “management fashion arena” in relation to a particular management concept [2,11,26,27,28,29,30].
However, our understanding of the role of the management fashion arena in the cross-national diffusion of management concepts is limited. Although extant research has conceptualized the structure and dynamics of management fashion arenas, including the main actors involved (e.g., [2,26,27]), the management fashion literature has only to a limited extent taken into account the international dimension, meaning that the management fashion arena may be configured differently in different countries, and that the country-specific configuration may shape the local impact of management fashions.
The lack of an explicit consideration of the role of management fashion arena in cross-national diffusion processes is surprising since there is much comparative work in organization studies highlighting the role of local actors and institutions in shaping the adoption and implementation of management concepts, models and ideas as they are diffused across countries (e.g., [31,32,33,34,35,36]). For example, studies have looked at the transplantation of Japanese work practices to the American factory floor , the spread of innovative small-group activities in Japanese, Swedish and US organizations [38,39], the spread of environmental management standards in Europe and the US , the transfer of work and human resource management practices [34,35,41], the implementation of quality management and certification programs around the world [32,42], and the transfer of organizational practices within multinational corporations [43,44].
These studies have brought to our attention the fact that country-specific actors and institutions can greatly influence the diffusion and implementation of management concepts in different countries. For example, Guillen  argues that the constellation of country-specific actors (e.g., “management intellectuals”) shape the local reception of management concepts and ideas. Djelic  studied the export of the American model of corporate capitalism in three Western European countries, and found that success of the transfer was shaped by local structural arrangements, geopolitical conditions and political actors. Similarly, Cole [38,39] highlighted the role of the “macro-political environment” or society-specific governance structures in shaping the reception of concepts. Specifically, Cole pointed to the roles played by public agencies, professional groups, and normative frameworks (e.g., awards) in explaining the success of small-group activities in Japan and Sweden. In the US, where this diffusion infrastructure was lacking, these ideas did not have the same impact. Taken as a whole, these studies show the importance of taking into account the wider organizational structure when studying the diffusion of concepts and ideas, and not only the diffusion agent and the adopter (cf. ).
Our study differs from several of these studies in that they focus on the cross-national diffusion of broader management models or philosophies such as scientific management, human relations or corporate capitalism (e.g., [31,45]). In contrast, we position our study within the management fashion literature (e.g., [2,3,47,48,49,50]), which arguably has a narrower focus on management concepts, as defined by Benders and Verlaar , Røvik  or Kieser .
We argue that fashion-setting actors such as consultants play a more important role in relation to management concepts than broader management philosophies for two reasons. First, it is easier to commercialize management concepts than broader management philosophies. A management concept such as the Balanced Scorecard is relatively easy to commercialize and popularize in various ways for consultants and software firms . In contrast, fashion-setting actors have shown less interest in the notion of Beyond Budgeting because it can be considered more of a management philosophy than a management concept, and is harder to commercialize . Further along the spectrum are management philosophies or models that reflect macro-trends in management thinking. For fashion-setting actors, however, these macro-trends are typically difficult to commodify and sell as “solutions” to potential clients.
Thus, we argue that analyzing the management fashion arena (e.g., commercial actors such as consultants and software firms) becomes relatively more important in the context of the reception management concepts, whereas society-level institutions such as political actors, public agencies, and unions are relatively more important when considering the reception of management philosophies and ideologies.
Against this background, the purpose of this paper is to investigate the role of the management fashion arena in the diffusion of the Balanced Scorecard (BSC) concept in the three Scandinavian countries. Studying the influence of the management fashion arena in the cross-national diffusion process is important because as Abrahamson noted, “management fashion markets probably differ across countries both in the frequency and duration of management fashions” (, pp. 262–263). Country-specific actors and institutions may influence the propensity of “fashion consumers” to adopt or reject management fashions. Therefore, a detailed comparative study of local actors involved in different management fashion markets could provide valuable insights into the potential role of the management fashion arena in the cross-national diffusion of management concepts.
The BSC in the Scandinavian countries provides a good setting for researching the role of the management fashion arena for at least two reasons. First, the BSC is one of most influential management concepts of our times (, p. 12), and exhibits many of the characteristics and hallmarks of a typical management fashion [21,22,52,55,56,57,58]. Earlier studies indicate that the BSC has become popular in the Scandinavian countries [21,59,60,61,62,63,64], and several Swedish, Norwegian, and Danish organizations are currently members of the official BSC “Hall of Fame”. Second, the Scandinavian countries provide an ideal setting to study the role of the local management fashion arena. Since these three countries are similar in terms of, e.g., management style [65,66], stakeholder thinking , work organization , and other aspects of social and economic life , differences in the concept’s adoption and impact may be attributed to local factors such as the (non)presence and activities of fashion-setting actors.
This paper contributes to the management fashion literature in two ways. First, we focus on the role of the management fashion arena in the cross-national diffusion of management concepts. Drawing on the concept of “institutional duality” [43,44] we take into account that the concept’s trajectory at the national level, at the same, is shaped by both local actors and international actors. Furthermore, we recognize that the presence and involvement of different types of actors may vary across different countries.
Second, commentators have noted that there has been very little comparative research on how concepts are diffused in different countries and communities [23,47]. Instead, a common characteristic of previous studies of fashionable concepts is that they typically have been carried out in a single country. To this point, researchers have pointed out that we may find “sectoral and/or national patterns in the reception of fashions” (, p. 214), and that it therefore would be fruitful to design comparative studies.
In doing this, this three-country study answers calls by Newell, Robertson and Swan  for more comparative research on management fashions. The study provides a detailed empirical investigation of the various actors involved the three management fashion arenas around the BSC. This answers Sahlin-Andersson and Engwall’s  calls for more research on the different types of actors involved in the management knowledge industry. Moreover, the study follows Malmi’s (, p. 669) recommendation that “a detailed study on the interplay of academics, consultants, professional associations, and the media in creating management fashions could contribute substantially to our understanding of how and why new ideas are introduced in organizations”. Similarly, van Veen, et al. (, p. 162) called for “systematic attention for all actors in all phases of a life cycle and attention for the movements of relevant individuals between different roles in the process”.
The empirical data reported in this paper illustrate how both local country-specific actors and international actors are involved in the national management fashion markets built around the BSC. The data show how these actors via different types of competitive and cooperative behavior influence the emergence and evolution of the concept at the national level. The data show that the three markets can be considered largely national with key local players. At the same, the national markets are not insulated from international influences from actors such as the large multinational consulting firms and management gurus.
The rest of the paper is structured in the following way: In part two, we outline current conceptualizations of the management fashion arena, and point out what we perceive as the shortcomings of these conceptualizations. Based on this discussion, we introduce an alternative perspective on the management fashion arena, which we argue more explicitly accounts for the dynamics between local and international actors in the diffusion process. In part three, we describe the research approach employed in the empirical study. In part four, we describe the empirical findings and perform a comparative analysis of the three local management fashion arenas. The findings are in part five discussed in light of the theoretical literature on management fashions. We elaborate on present conceptualizations of the management fashion arena, and discuss the role of local and international actors in the cross-national diffusion of management concepts. The paper ends with a short summary of the key findings, a discussion of the study’s shortcomings and ideas for future research in the area.
2. The Management Fashion Arena and the Cross-National Diffusion of Management Concepts
2.1. The Management Fashion Arena
2.1.1. The Actors Involved in the Management Fashion Arena
Management fashion theory views the diffusion of management concepts as taking place within a so-called “management fashion arena” [2,11,26,27,28,30]. The main actors involved in the arena include consultants, gurus, business schools, and the business media (see Figure 1). A brief description of the main actors and their main functions can be found in Table 1.
|Actor type||Role(s)||Central reference(s)|
|Consulting firms||Consulting firms assist client organizations in the implementation of management concepts. Generalist firms offer services related to a wide range of concepts, while specialist consultancies tend to focus on one aspect, such as IT, HR or strategy.||[2,71,72]|
|Software firms||Software firms tend to focus on the technical aspects of concepts. They develop complementary products that assist in the implementation of management concepts.||[11,73]|
|Management gurus||Management gurus present management concepts and ideas in books, conferences and seminars. Gurus can operate on a global scale, or be local gurus.||[74,75,76,77]|
|Business schools||Academics employed at business schools publish articles|
about concepts in academic and practitioner-oriented journals. Concepts are also frequently incorporated into courses and materials in
educational programs, particularly MBA programs and executive education.
|Conference organizers||Conference organizers arrange conferences and seminars focusing on particular management concepts. These are often held in close cooperation with consultants and software firms, who speak at these conferences and present their products and services.||[21,27,79]|
|Business media||The business media function as a channel which transmits information about new concepts. Examples of business media include books, professional journals, magazines, newspapers, websites and DVDs.||[80,81]|
|Publishers/book editors||Publishing companies produce books about management concepts. Book editors serve as gatekeepers who decide which ideas get published.||[26,76]|
|Professional organizations||Professional organizations have normative function in legitimizing new concepts and ideas by talking about concepts in newsletters, meetings and seminars.||[79,82]|
|Analysts and shareholders||Security analysts may positively evaluate companies who are using particular management concepts and further increase the popularity of concepts.|||
|Famous managers||Well-known managers, e.g., “hero managers” serve as opinion leaders and models to other organizations, who in turn may imitate their behavior.|||
Consulting firms are typically considered to be the most important and central actor in the management fashion arena , as these firms also contribute to the work of the other actors in the arena. For example, consultants frequently write articles about concepts in the business media, give talks at management conferences and seminars, and team up with software firms in order to offer more “complete solutions” to clients. In addition to the “core group” of actors such as conference organizers, business schools and management gurus, Clark  highlights the importance of peripheral actors such as book editors and ghost writers of management books. These peripheral actors work in the shadows of the more central actors and have more of a supporting role in the arena.
2.1.2. Cooperation and Competition between Actors in the Management Fashion Arena
Kieser  suggests that in the management fashion arena different groups of participants play cooperative games and have vested, and oftentimes commercial, interests in that the management concept becomes successful. As Klincewicz  points out, the competitive dynamics between the different actors in the arena can be characterized as collaboration as well as competition, i.e., what Brandenburg and Nalebuff  refer to as “co-opetition”. This dynamic plays out both within one actor type (e.g., consulting firms), and across different actor types involved in the arena (e.g., consultancies and software firms). For instance, different consulting firms compete by offering similar services related to a concept, but their interests are also aligned in that they all usually benefit from increasing the concept’s overall popularity in the market, and the total market size .
This dynamic also works across actor types since actors such as consultants and software firms have complementary products and services . There might be a certain level of overlap between these types of actors in terms of the products and services provided, but they tend to focus on different aspects of management concepts. For example, management consultants focus more on the content of the management concept (e.g., education of users, creation of templates and handbooks), whereas software firms focus on developing technical solutions which help in the implementation of the concept (e.g., software packages and tools).
Cooperation between different types of actors in creating new products and services related to the concept also the increases the lucrativeness of the market via so-called “multiplier effects” . The development of one type of product or service (e.g., software packages) increases the demand for other types of complementary products and services (e.g., handbooks or training lessons on how to use the software). In many cases, these complementary products and services are offered by other actors in the arena such as consulting firms, professional groups, and conference organizers .
It can also oftentimes be observed that different types of actors “colonize” different niches around a fashionable management concept . For example, a consultancy that specializes in IT is likely to focus on the information technology aspects of a concept, whereas a HR consultancy is likely to focus on the human performance aspects of a concept.
Even though there are many types of cooperative behavior in management fashion arenas, actors also compete for market share. The higher the number of actors in the arena, the higher the need for actors to differentiate their market offerings in order to appeal to potential adopters . For example, if there are many competing consulting firms in the market (i.e., a fragmented consultancy market) offering services related to a particular concept, these consulting firms will try to differentiate their offerings from their competitors. For instance, a consultancy may develop their own version of the concept highlighting a particular aspect, or brand the concept in a certain way so that it stands out from the crowd .
2.1.3. Interactions between Actors in the Management Fashion Arena
The previous section discussed how actors in the arena both compete and cooperate. In doing so, the actors interact in various ways. The literature on management fashions has also widely addressed other types of interactions between different types of actors in the management fashion arena. For example, research has pointed out that there are frequent linkages and overlaps between actors, and actors may assume more than one role and wear different hats in different situations (e.g., consultant/academic) [23,24,26]. This section provides a brief review of studies that have looked at interactions between actors in the management fashion arena.
Much research has focused on the interactions between consultants and other types of actors. For example, one stream of research has focused on the consultant-client relationship and pointed out this relationship is not as “one-sided” as depicted in traditional accounts (e.g., the client as a rather passive recipient of what the consultant offers). Instead, the consultant-client relationship is dynamic and dialectic [85,86].
Studies have also shown that software firms interact with other actors in the arena [11,73]. Software firms tend to form alliances with consulting firms, and present their products at conferences/seminars and in the business media.
The business media also interact closely with other actors. Many types of actors (e.g., business school professors, consultants, and practitioners) are involved in the business media writing articles about management concepts (, p. 16). For example, consultants tend to write their fair share of the articles about management concepts in the business media, particularly in the early phase of the concept’s life-cycle . These articles in many instances stylized cases or disguised advertisements for the consultancy’s services related to the new concept .
Much has also been written about how management gurus interact with other actors . It has been pointed out that gurus may associate themselves with business schools or consulting firms . Other researchers have studied how gurus interact with their managerial audiences in live speaking engagements, e.g., the use of humor and other rhetorical techniques . Moreover, researchers have studied management gurus’ use of rhetorical and stylistic devices in management texts . Finally, one stream of research has looked at how gurus’ interactions with supporting personnel such as book editors and ghost-writers .
Conferences and seminars serve as a meeting-place where different actors from the management fashion arena interact. Kieser pointed out that conferences and seminars constitute an “arena within an arena” (, p. 64). Particularly, consulting firms and software firms are important content providers in conferences and seminars. To this point, researchers have pointed out that there is a symbiotic relationship between consulting firms and seminar organizers .
Professional organizations are closely associated with commercial seminar organizers. Due to the frequent interactions between professional organizations and seminar organizers (e.g., co-hosting of training courses, seminars for members), professional organizations are likely to become associated with management concepts that are talked about in their conferences and seminars. Hence, the professional organizations may acquire a vested interest in preserving and improving the concept and its related practices .
Finally, researchers have noted how business school academics interact with other actors in the arena. For instance, academics may do extensive consulting work in relation to management concepts (e.g., ). In addition, some academics associate themselves closely with management fashions and give speeches in conferences and seminars .
2.2. Shortcomings of Extant Conceptualizations of Management Fashion Arenas
Thus far we have outlined a generic management fashion arena, comprised of different types of actors, who compete, cooperate and interact in various ways. However, in our view, extant conceptualizations of management fashion arena lack an explicit consideration of the international dimension, i.e., how the national management fashion arena is related to arenas in other countries and the role of “global actors” such as the large international consulting firms, software firms, and management gurus, whose activities may span multiple continents and regions. We argue that management fashion theorists have only to a limited extent taken into account the international dimension, e.g., how management fashion arenas may be configured differently in different countries, and how differences in the configuration of national management fashion arenas may shape the local impact of management fashions.
The lack of an explicit consideration of the role of management fashion arena in cross-national diffusion processes is surprising given that there is much comparative work in organization and management studies highlighting the role of local actors and institutions in shaping the adoption and implementation of management concepts, models and ideas as they are diffused across countries (e.g., [31,32,33,34,35,36]).
We argue that the configuration of the management fashion arena, i.e., the actors that determine a country’s “diffusion infrastructure” , may vary across countries. Different national management arenas are likely to be configured differently because of cultural and institutional factors (cf. ). In addition, a given local arena may be more or less connected to and influenced by the international management fashion arena due to other factors such as the country’s size and language.
Hence, we argue that research on management fashion arenas should take into account that there is one larger international arena around a concept, made up of all the actors supporting and promoting the concept at the international level, and numerous smaller national arenas. Similarly, if one looks at each actor type identified in Section 2.1.1. (e.g., consultants, gurus, or software firms), it is possible to distinguish between international and local consulting firms, gurus, business media, etc.
2.3. The International Dimension
2.3.1. The National Management Fashion Arena
The national management fashion arena is made up of the actors who are active within a particular national market (see Table 2). Each national arena is likely to be configured differently, as different types of actors may have more or less importance in a given national context. This is due to the country’s institutional pattern, which is shaped by the country’s unique history, traditions and business practices (cf. [45,94]).
|The national management|
|The international management|
|Consulting firms||Local firms and local offices of the international firms||International consulting firms (e.g., Accenture, Deloitte)|
Specialized consulting firms focused on a particular management concept
|Software firms||Local software firms and local offices of international firms||International software firms (e.g., Oracle, Microsoft, and Hyperion)|
|Management gurus||Local management gurus (“lesser gurus”)||International gurus (e.g., Michael Porter, Gary Hamel, Robert Kaplan and|
|Business schools||Local business school professors||Top-ranked business schools (e.g., Harvard Business School)|
Influential business school professors (e.g., Michael Porter and Robert Kaplan)
|Conference organizers||Local conference organizers||International conference organizers (e.g., Confex)|
|Business media||Local business media (e.g., journals, magazines and newspapers with national circulation)||International book publishers (e.g. Harvard Business School Press)|
Important financial newspapers (e.g., the Financial Times and Wall Street Journal)
|Publishers/book editors||Local publishers and editors serve as gatekeepers (decide which ideas get published and translated to the local language)||International publishers|
(e.g., Harvard Business School Press)
|Professional organizations||Professional organizations play important roles at the national level||Mostly local|
|Analysts and shareholders||Financial analysts cover firms listed on the national stock exchange||Mostly local|
|Famous managers||Local managers of large national organizations||Famous managers|
(e.g., Jack Welch, Bill Gates)
Well-known users of particular management concepts
(e.g., featured in bestselling books)
Several studies in the management fashion tradition hint at the importance of the institutional context and local fashion-setting actors in shaping the impact of management concepts at the national level. Newell, Robertson and Swan  pointed to the role of the institutional context in shaping the local impact of fashions. In a similar vein, Benders, van den Berg and van Bijsterveld  noted that fashionable concepts can be interpreted and received differently across countries, and that actors such as consultants are heavily involved in the local reception process.
In addition, Cole has pointed out the role of a country’s “macro-political environment” in shaping the trajectory of management concepts at the national level (, p. 561). The macro-political environment comprises actors and institutions such as trade associations, unions and public agencies that are influential in a given country, and act as gatekeepers, standard-setters, and support structures for new concepts and ideas. Cole  argues that these actors at the national level can explain why management concepts and ideas popularize and become institutionalized in some countries, while they may be rejected in other countries.
Using slightly different terms, Strang and Kim  pointed out that there are different “diffusion infrastructures” in different countries, meaning the pathways and routes through which management concepts are spread. Taken together, these studies suggest that it is important to study the configuration of the national management fashion arena since it constitutes the local diffusion infrastructure, and influences how easily a management concept “flows”  in a local national setting.
The relative importance of different actors may vary across countries. For example, consulting firms may have a particularly strong position in some countries, due to factors such as a well-developed client and alumni network . Such factors may increase the local market’s demand for consulting services.
In addition, in some national markets locally based actors may have a stronger position than typical international actors. For example, the local market might have a preference for gurus or spokespersons that are able to communicate in the local language and understand the local business culture. In some countries, we may observe that local consulting firms have a stronger market position relative to the big international firms due to first-mover advantages, an existing loyal client base, and local know-how. For example, a previous study of the BSC in Swedish pointed out the importance played by local actors in adapting the concept to local market preferences . In addition, previous research has pointed out that there are local gurus operating in local markets who would be considered “lesser gurus” (cf. ) on a global scale, but still have star power and a following in their local home markets.
2.3.2. The International Management Fashion Arena
The international management fashion arena consists of actors such as international spokesmen and gurus, the large multinational consulting firms, top-ranked business schools and business school professors, international business media, large software firms and well-known multinational companies (see Table 2). Various scholars have pointed out the importance played by international actors in shaping the impact of management concepts in different parts of the world [23,97,98].
In the case of the BSC, these actors include the concept’s creators Kaplan and Norton (KN) who are travelling around the world talking about and promoting their concept , other competing BSC gurus such as David Niven (e.g., ), the large international consulting firms (including KN’s own consulting organization), and influential publishers of books and magazines such as Harvard Business School Press.
To a varying degree, the international arena will influence the respective national arenas around a concept. Powerful international actors usually try to establish a foothold in local markets in order to secure speaking engagements and consulting work. For instance, in the case of the BSC concept, KN are influencing the popularization of the BSC in various ways; e.g., through the activities of their international consulting organization, by speaking at conferences around the world, and via their books which are sold in most parts of the world, and even translated to numerous local languages (cf. ).
In the next section, we outline our theoretical perspective on management fashion arenas which takes into account that the reception of management concepts is shaped by both country-specific actors and internationally-based actors.
2.4. Management Fashion Arenas and Institutional Duality
2.4.1. The Notion of Institutional Duality
The notion of institutional duality has primarily been used to study the adoption of management practices in multinational corporations [43,44]. In the context of multinational corporations, institutional duality refers to the situation where the foreign subsidiary has to respond to the dual pressures of both host country’s institutional patterns and the international parent organization’s pressures towards standardization and harmonization.
2.4.2. Why the Notion of Institutional Duality?
We have chosen to use the notion of institutional duality since it takes into account that the concept’s trajectory at the national level is shaped by both local actors and international actors, and that the presence and involvement of different types of actors may vary across different countries. Also, in many cases, the actors involved in the cross-national diffusion process are multinational organizations such as the large consulting and software firms. For example, while global consulting firms are diffusing global standardized concepts, their local offices are frequently adapting and tailoring their repertoire of concept to fit with local market demand and pressures from the institutional environment. We argue that current conceptualizations of management fashion arenas can be advanced by taking into account the notion of institutional duality. As pointed out earlier in this literature review, management fashion researchers have primarily studied the reception of concepts in single settings, and focused little on how the reception is shaped by cross-national differences in the configuration of fashion arenas. The notion of duality is useful for thinking about how the trajectory of management concepts is shaped by both country-specific actors and multinational actors, whose activities span different continents, regions and countries.
2.4.3. The Duality of Management Fashion Arenas
Although national management fashion markets are shaped by countries’ institutional profile and patterns, they are not completely insulated from international influences from other countries’ arenas (e.g., neighboring countries) or international/world actors. As Kostova and Roth  point out, there will be two sets of isomorphic pressures working at the same time. Locally, there will be pressures towards within-country harmonization, and these pressures stem from locally-based actors involved in the national arena. In addition, global actors will influence the local arena by providing discourse about the concept in leading managerial publications and conferences, and by establishing beachheads in local management fashion markets (e.g., local offices).
Thus, the within-country domain defines the isomorphic pressures that organizations within that national setting face from fashion-setting actors. These pressures may be regulative, normative or cognitive in nature . In a given country, there are institutional patterns specific to that country . A country’s institutional profile influences what types of actors are most influential, and the diffusion infrastructure that is available.
The international domain defines the isomorphic pressures that organizations within the national setting face from actors in other countries and global actors. These pressures stem from actors from the management fashion arenas in other countries, or leading international spokesmen and propagators of management concepts.
The next section outlines the research approach used to study the role of the management fashion arena in the cross-national diffusion of the BSC in Scandinavia.
3.1. Research Approach
The research reported in this paper was carried out as part of a larger research project on the BSC in Scandinavia . The research approach was largely qualitative and explorative in nature. Another way to describe the research approach is by using Alvesson and Skjöldberg  term “abduction”. Abduction is a research approach in which there is a back-and-forth relationship between theory and data.
The overall aim of the research reported in this paper was to obtain an understanding of the configuration of the three management fashion arenas, and the work and activities of the most important players in each of the three BSC arenas. In order to answer this research question, the study needed data about the most influential actors in each country. Qualitative interviews with field experts such as BSC consultants were deemed to be the most suitable research method for collecting data about the local BSC markets. Consultants were chosen as informants since they are generally considered to be the most central actors in the management fashion arena, and are involved in activities together with other types of actors (e.g., software firms and conference organizers).
In our view, it would have been difficult to obtain the same in-depth information in a structured survey. A survey would not have allowed for asking follow-up questions and examining certain issues in depth. Another complicating factor was that the informants in many cases were difficult to identify, and indirect procedures such as snowballing  had to be utilized.
The second research method employed in the study involved analyzing various types of archival data sources and conducting research on the Internet. This served two purposes. First, it allowed for the identification of potential important actors involved in the local markets, and whose background and activities could be traced and tracked. Second, these data complemented and corroborated the interview data, and allowed for a more balanced and nuanced picture of the configuration of three BSC markets.
3.2. Data Collection
3.2.1. Interviews with Actors
Interviews with actors on the supply-side of three management fashion markets constitute the main source of data in this study. A theoretical sample was used, and the goal was to obtain variation in terms of size, local/international affiliation, and consultancy profile. Details about the informants in the theoretical sample can be found in Table 3 below. The informants were identified by reading local BSC books and articles, conference brochures, or by contacting consulting firms directly. In some cases, the informants were recruited via a snowballing procedure where one informant referred the researcher to a colleague.
A total of 22 interviews were carried out with actors from three BSC markets. The informants were supply-side actors such as consultants or experts who had an overview of their respective BSC market. The informants were mostly experienced consultants that had participated actively in the local BSC market. Many of the informants were senior consultants responsible for “BSC services” within their consulting firm.
|Informant||Country||Size||Type of consultancy||Consultancy profile|
As a second source of interview data, the paper draws on 39 interviews with users of the BSC in Scandinavia. Many of these users had direct experiences with the actors in the local BSC arena as a result of attending conferences or consultant-client relationships.
The interviews were semi-structured, and followed an interview schedule, although there was some flexibility to adapt the structure of the interview to the experiences of the individual informant. The interview schedule covered several themes, including the consultants’ views, experiences and their perceptions of the development of the concept in their local markets. The interviews lasted between 30 and 90 min, and were recorded on an iPod and transcribed.
3.2.2. Other Data Sources
The study also utilized a variety of other sources of data, including written materials such as local BSC books, articles, master’s theses, conference invitations and brochures. Internet searches and website analyses were also used to identify important actors and events in the each of the three markets. The Internet data were collected over a seven-year period from 2004–2011. The tracing of actors activities’ happened in a semi-structured way, and keywords were used (e.g., “BSC”, “management concept”). In other cases, relevant websites were accessed directly (e.g., local consulting firms, conference organizers, book publishers).
3.3. Data Analysis
3.3.1. Issue-Focused Approach
The interview transcripts were analyzed using an issue-focused approach , where the unit of analysis was the respective issue. The analysis was directed toward comparisons between different informants. Hence, it was important that the information given by the different informants was comparable. Comparability was ensured by using a semi-structured interview schedule.
3.3.2. Coding, Sorting and Integration
The analysis followed Miles and Huberman’s  stages of analyzing qualitative data: coding, sorting, and integration. In the first step, the interview transcripts were coded manually by hand. In hindsight a software package such as nVivo could have been used, but since the interviews were relatively structured and fully transcribed by one of the researchers we believe this was less of an issue than in the case of unstructured interviews. The next step involved organizing interview excerpts according to concepts and categories. The third and final step involved making sense of the sorted interview data. Throughout the data analysis process, data matrices and displays were used to capture the complexity of the qualitative data. This allowed for comparisons of similarities and differences in the data material.
3.4. Implications of the Research Approach
The chosen research approach has several implications. The goal of the research has been to paint an overall “picture” (, p. 649) rather than provide a complete overview of all the actors involved in the three markets, which is arguably unrealistic given time and resource constraints. The focus of the research has been on tracing the most important actors involved the three national markets, and the respective roles of local and international actors.
Interviews with experts from consulting firms have been the primary source of data, and a possible weakness is that the data are based on these actors’ recollections, which may be subject to biases and distortions. However, as mentioned, the interview data were corroborated by data gathered from other sources. In the research process, several pragmatic choices had to be made as researching management concepts is difficult and costly . This is particularly the case when studying the cross-national diffusion of management concepts, as the researcher has to collect data in several countries.
The notion of a management fashion arena has been the main theoretical framework used in this paper. In the theoretical part, we introduced the notion of institutional duality. In the context of management fashion arenas, duality means that the national arena is influenced by both local country-specific actors and international actors whose activities may span different regions and countries. In the discussion, we will use the results from the empirical analysis to discuss this theoretical perspective in more detail, and to discuss how this perspective can be used in future research on the role of the management fashion arena in the cross-national diffusion of management concepts.
The discussion centers around four theoretical themes that were raised in the theoretical background of the paper: first, cooperative and competitive behavior between actors in the management fashion arena; second, interactions between actors in the arena; third, the international dimension; and fourth, the notion of institutional duality in the context of management fashion arenas.
5.1. Cooperation and Competition between Actors
The notion that the different actors not only compete, but also cooperate in order to increase the management concept’s total market size is well established in extant conceptualizations of the management fashion arena [2,11,27]. As pointed out in Section 2.1.2, the literature on management fashions has addressed many forms of cooperation and competition between actors involved in management fashion arenas.
As pointed out by Perkmann and Spicer , a diverse group of actors who provide different types of “institutional work” related to a concept is important for a concept to become widely diffused and institutionalized. The analysis of the data shows that the three national management fashion arenas are complex, as there is a constellation of different actors involved.
This study has shown many instances of cooperative behavior and interplay between actors in the three arenas. Particularly, the empirical data show consultants cooperate closely with software firms, and present their “complete solutions” at conferences and seminars. Hence, these actors carry out different types of institutional work, as consultants focus on educating potential adopters about the concept, while software firms focus on developing technical tools that can help with the implementation process in the adopting organization. Furthermore, software tools objectify the abstract BSC concept , and concepts that are associated with tangible products are generally harder to reverse .
Finally, the data also show that actors cooperate and form alliances not only with other actors within their local market, but also with actors based in the neighboring countries. In particular, KN’s consulting organization has had the leading role in this respect in Scandinavia, since it has initiated alliances with local consulting firms and conference/seminar organizers. In many ways, this organization functions as a “boundary spanner” in the cross-national diffusion of the BSC in Scandinavia (see also ).
5.2. Interactions between Actors
As pointed out in Section 2.1.3, interactions between different actors have also been debated extensively in the extant literature on management fashions, e.g., consultant-client relationships, guru-audience interactions, and the symbiotic relationships between consultants, professional organizations and conference organizers.
The data presented in this paper show frequent linkages, overlaps and interactions between the different actors involved in the three national arenas [23,24]. For example, in Section 4.7 we showed how business schools academics in both Sweden and Denmark have been involved in activities such as conferences/seminars, consulting work, and the development of BSC literature.
Across all three cases, the importance of conferences and seminars in fostering interactions between actors is notable. The conference/seminar scene functions as a “diffusion hub” where many different actors, e.g., consultants, software firms and managers interact and exchange information and experiences about the BSC. In addition, the data show that professional organizations are closely aligned with conference organizers, and that they in many ways have a symbiotic relationship. The centrality of the conference/seminar scene was also highlighted by Kieser who suggested that conferences and seminars can be seen as an arena within the management fashion arena .
5.3. The International Dimension
In our view, the lack of an explicit consideration of the international dimension is a weakness in current conceptualizations of the management fashion arena. As pointed out in the theoretical part of the paper, this is due to the fact that the most studies of management fashions have been carried out in a single setting .
Therefore, in the theoretical part we outlined the main distinctions between what we labeled the “national” and the “international” management fashion arena. The data show that the three national arenas are not “closed systems” but interrelated. The data also show linkages, and as pointed out in the previous sections, interactions between actors operating in different national markets. In addition, the actors in the three national arenas are connected to the “international BSC arena”, as they are influenced by internationally-based actors (e.g., multinational consulting firms and management gurus) whose activities have spanned across all three national arenas.
The findings underscore the importance of local players in pioneering and establishing the use of the concept in the local markets. Still, although the markets can be viewed as largely national, international actors have influenced the local markets via local consulting offices and business media publications.
5.4. The Duality of Management Fashion Arenas
The paper has drawn on the notion of “institutional duality” [43,44]. Previously, this theoretical view has been used in the context of the adoption and transfer of management practices by multinational corporations. We argue that the notion of institutional duality can be also be used as a theoretical framework in the context of the cross-national diffusion of management concepts and fashions. Viewing management fashion arenas using the framework of institutional duality takes into account that the concept’s trajectory at the national level is shaped by both local actors and international actors, and that the presence and involvement of different types of actors may vary across different countries.
We argue that, in the national management fashion market, organizations are faced by two types of isomorphic pressures. First, there are pressures from local actors in the national management fashion arena. These actors are influenced by the local institutional context and tend to shape the reception of the concept, generally leading to “national effects” and more divergence. Second, there are pressures from international actors such as global management consultancies and management gurus whose activities may span continents, regions and countries and have a “standardizing” effect on the local market, generally leading to “global effects” and more convergence.
As the data show, in many cases, the actors involved in the cross-national diffusion of the BSC are multinational organizations such as the large consulting and software firms. For example, while global consulting firms are diffusing global standardized versions of the BSC concept, their local offices may adapt and tailor the concept to fit with local market demand and pressures from the institutional environment .
This paper has focused on the role of the management fashion arena in the cross-national diffusion of management concepts. The empirical setting has been the BSC in the Scandinavian countries. Using a qualitative research approach, combining interviews with consultants, users and various other data sources, we have studied the main actors involved in the cross-national diffusion process and the concept’s evolution in the three respective markets.
Although much has been written about the cross-national diffusion of management concepts and ideas, many of these studies have focused on broader management philosophies or macro-trends in management thinking. We have positioned our study within management fashion theory which focuses more narrowly on management concepts, and puts relatively more emphasis on the role of commercial actors involved in the management fashion arena than on society-level actors. Since we have studied three countries with similar institutional profiles, it is arguably easier to distil the importance of fashion-setting actors in shaping the diffusion of the concept in the three countries.
We argue that the paper makes two contributions to the literature on fashionable management concepts. First, we extend current conceptualizations of the management fashion arenas by explicitly taking into account the international dimension, and distinguishing between the various national management fashion arenas and the international management fashion arena built around a management concept. By drawing on the notion of institutional duality, we highlight the dynamics between local and international actors in the cross-national diffusion process. Second, we have carried out a three-country study which answers the calls in the literature for more comparative empirical research on management concepts and fashions. The findings show that pioneering actors influence the local emergence of concepts, and that the relative importance of different types of actors varies across the countries.
6.2. Shortcomings and Future Work
First, one weakness of the research reported in this paper is that the countries chosen are similar and closely related both in terms of institutional profile (e.g., [65,66,68]), size and geographical location. It would have been interesting to study countries that diverge more in terms of “business systems” . However, despite the fact that the countries share many commonalities, the data show that the markets are still largely national with key identifiable players.
Second, it is possible to argue the fact that Sweden was the “leader” with respect to the emergence of the concept in the 1990s could be explained by other factors rather than by the actors in the fashion arena. For example, one could make a case that a factor such as macroeconomics is driving the phenomenon. However, the cited literature on the countries’ institutional profiles does not provide clear indications that Sweden was a significantly more mature economy than Norway and Denmark in the 1990s. Research does, however, point out that the Swedish consultancy market has a longer history and is more mature than in, for example, Norway , which indicates that the diffusion infrastructure may have been better in Sweden than in the two other countries.
Third, the research approach employed in the paper paints an overall “picture” (, p. 649) and does not necessarily provide a complete overview of all the activities of the actors involved in the three countries. The interviews also relied on the actors’ recollections of past events, which may be subject to biases and distortions such as post hoc rationalization . To mitigate this problem, available archival data and secondary data from other studies were used to corroborate the interview data.
Fourth, the focus in this study was on the main actor types identified in early research on the management fashion arena  such as consulting firms, the business media, professional organizations and business schools. In this study, we found that other types of actors such as software firms play key roles in the management fashion arena. Therefore, future studies should focus more on the role of software firms and various actors operating on the Internet (e.g., social media), as their relative importance in the management fashion arena is likely to increase as a result of the digitization of management and accounting [2,11]. With specific reference to actors such as software firms, Jung and Kieser (, p. 339) note that “… hitherto largely neglected participants in the management fashion arena and their interrelationships with consultants deserve a closer investigation…” Future studies could focus more explicitly on other types of actors such as book editors and publishing houses [26,76] as they seem to have played an important role in the diffusion of the BSC, particularly in Denmark.
Lastly, future studies should aim to study the establishment and workings of actors in the management fashion arena longitudinally. As van Veen, Bezemer and Karsten  point out, future studies should examine all actors involved in the evolution of a concept over time. One possibility would be to combine management fashion theory with social network theory to map how actors in the arena develop ties and relationships over time, and how concepts are circulated between different actors in the arena. In addition, as we have argued in this paper, it is important to study the ties and relationships between actors in national and international arenas, which could improve our understanding of how fashionable management concepts are diffused across borders.
Conflicts of Interest
The authors declare no conflict of interest.
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