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The Composition and Emergence of an Organizational Code

Bulger, Emily P (2018) The Composition and Emergence of an Organizational Code. Doctoral Dissertation, University of Pittsburgh. (Unpublished)

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The very things that provide firms with advantages in the present may undermine their future viability. This dualism pervades the organizational and strategic management literature and leads to theorization of core organizational constructs as embodying trade-offs between stability and change. For example, the concept of organizational code focuses on how organizations structure information representation to enhance coordination effectiveness and efficiency; yet, efficiency comes at the cost of information loss. Economic-based organizational theories treat the code as an integral, yet inertial part of an organization’s invested infrastructure, inseparable from the organization’s historical-cognitive context, and understood across the entire organization. By conceptualizing forces for continuity and change as dualities, I show how the organizational code acts as a mechanism by which organizations manage these tensions. In an abductive, longitudinal case study of communication by and within a large, multi-national pharmaceutical company from 1985 to present, I examine firm-specific language and how this language emerges. I find that, when the code is discernable as firm-specific language, it typically has more to do with change than stability. Codified blueprints for practice are an exception to this, but these play a role more akin to proprietary technology or boundary objects than to theoretical conceptualizations of the organizational code. When an organization recognizes some need to change, there is an emergent or deliberate effort to articulate what that change should look like. The emergence of the code happens through these efforts to create a novel conceptual space with unique words, acronyms, phrases, and visuals (WAPVs). This new language, with its firm-specific meaning, has an important effect on how a firm creates value. It becomes meaningful as ‘use cases’ for it are identified, enabling translation into practice and mindsets. Once an organization generates a use case ‘catalogue’ for new WAPVs, members better understand why change is needed, what work needs to happen, and how that work gets done. By showing how an organization transforms the ‘language we use to get work done’ into new practices and ways of thinking that enrich the organizational code, I explain how dualities of continuity and change are managed over time.


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Item Type: University of Pittsburgh ETD
Status: Unpublished
CreatorsEmailPitt UsernameORCID
Bulger, Emily Pepb15@pitt.eduepb15
ETD Committee:
TitleMemberEmail AddressPitt UsernameORCID
Committee ChairCohen,
Committee MemberPrescott,
Committee MemberCamillus,
Committee MemberAlvarez,
Committee MemberSwigart,
Date: 27 September 2018
Date Type: Publication
Defense Date: 23 May 2018
Approval Date: 27 September 2018
Submission Date: 9 June 2018
Access Restriction: No restriction; Release the ETD for access worldwide immediately.
Number of Pages: 133
Institution: University of Pittsburgh
Schools and Programs: Joseph M. Katz Graduate School of Business > Business Administration
Degree: PhD - Doctor of Philosophy
Thesis Type: Doctoral Dissertation
Refereed: Yes
Uncontrolled Keywords: organizational code, organizational language, organizational adaptation, organizational transformation, dualities, continuity and change, business model, pharmaceutical manufacturing, precision medicine
Date Deposited: 27 Sep 2018 17:29
Last Modified: 17 May 2019 18:45


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