OMT WebOrganization and Management Theory Division of the Academy of Management
Interview by Marco Clemente, HEC Paris
The 2012 OMT Division’s Best International Paper Award went to Joris Knoben (Tilburg University), Tal Simons (Tilburg University) and Patrick Vermeulen (Radboud University Nijmegen) for their paper: “A Community Level Theory of Organizational Resistance to Anti-Smoking Regulation.” The paper also won the Academy of Management’s Carolyn Dexter Award, making it the third year in a row the winning paper has come from the OMT Division. Congratulations to the winners! Discover what Patrick, Tal and Joris have to say about their paper, the award and how everything started in a bar…
MC: First, congratulations on winning the 2012 Best International Paper Award. Can you briefly present your paper?
PV: Our paper investigates small bar owners’ resistance to the introduction of anti-smoking regulations. We collected data from all municipalities in the Netherlands. We make two contributions. First, we examine how resistance led to a situation where a powerful actor was unable to impose new legislation. Second, we look at the role of local communities in influencing the resistance of organizations.
TS: Thank you, I think the paper makes a significant contribution to institutional theory and more specifically, to the growing body of work that views communities as significant arenas where contestation and resistance to institutional pressures take place.
MC: The Best International Paper Award recognizes research regarding themes and content of interest internationally. Why do you think the theme of this paper is of international interest?
PV: I think that our paper addresses a very relevant theme that crosses the boundary of a single country. In addition, we are ourselves from different countries.
TS: I’d like to think -- and the reviews we received from OMT first, and then from the Carolyn Dexter Award attest to the fact that -- it is a high quality paper. Once that requirement was satisfied, I believe that the focus on local communities in the Netherlands and how their inner social dynamics are captured in the paper contributed to the decision. The paper tells a local story that relates to universal issues.
JK: I’d like to echo Tal’s remark that even though we tell a detailed local story, anti-smoking regulation and the reactions on it are relevant issues in many countries. Moreover, I like to think that the novelty of the research approach for management scholars triggered the fascination of the AOM reviewers as well as the award committee.
MC: Now, let’s talk about the paper itself. How did you come up with the idea of the paper? How did each of you got involved in the project?
PV: The first idea for this emerged in the only place where it could have…in a bar. A bar owner talked to me about his frustration about the new smoking regulation and the frustration that not all of his colleagues were willing to join the organized resistance. That signaled to me an interesting phenomenon. Why were some of these bar owners more willing to resist, and run the risk of being fined, than others. So could we explain these heterogeneous responses? Tal was immediately fascinated by the topic. We quickly noticed that there were huge differences in the Netherlands, regional differences. Which is how Joris, with an economic geography background, got involved.
TS: Patrick and I have been discussing working together (then it was soon after I joined Tilburg University), exploring various options but with a general interest in organizations’ resistance to change. We were as mentioned exploring various aspects and contexts, when Patrick came along with his story which seemed perfect for us. Joris later joined and brought along valuable methodological expertise in spatial, geographical analyses and his close knowledge of Dutch data sources.
JK: During a commute Patrick and I had in common he described a dataset covering the resistance to anti-smoking regulation he had and that he wasn’t sure how to deal with data at the community level. Having a background in economic geography I frequently work with spatially aggregated data and saw huge opportunities in the data Patrick described and especially the regional heterogeneity therein. I think all three of us recognized that large synergies between our different areas of expertise were could be exploited. The result speaks for itself in that regard.
MC: All of you are based in Netherlands now. It seems the topic of your paper has been an important issue in the country in the last years. Do you have some anecdotes from day-to-day life that happened to you while you were working on the paper?
PV: I was actually ‘kindly asked’ to leave a bar once. I was not even ‘on duty’, but just told a bar owner that I personally liked the fact that there was no smoking allowed. It is an illustration of how serious this is for some bar owners. Also, after a recent interview for a regional newspaper, I immediately received an email from a bar owner in which he politely explained to me why there was so much resistance. It had everything to do with the ‘unfairness of the law’ and ‘the last thing he wanted was to be a police officer for his customers who wanted to light a cigarette’. So there is a lot of emotion among bar owners.
TS: Sorry, but I don’t smoke, nor do I go to bars often. So no neat anecdotes as above; however, I’m engaged in a broader research program focusing on tobacco companies and their strategies, so often I have to stop myself from approaching smokers asking about their smoking related experiences.
JK: After running our statistical analyses we conducted phone interviews with several bar owners to help us make sense of our findings. This is perhaps the only case I have experienced so far where respondents were so eager to participate in these interviews that we actually had to stop them from spilling their guts. They wanted to share their frustrations with the anti-smoking regulations so badly. I hope I experience such instances more often in future research J.
MC: What is the surprising finding of your paper? What do you think are the implications of your paper for the policy that the Netherlands or the EU has or is going to implement on this matter?
PV: One strong feature of the paper is the fact that we can actually measure resistance and that a community’s social endowment strongly affects the level of resistance. Furthermore, we find that the cohesiveness of a community has a strong effect on resistance as well. I think that the government has underestimated the potential for resistance in this case. Small bar owners are not very powerful organizations, but collectively they do represent a significant group. Even in the case of a highly contested practice, such as smoking, the government is not able to just enforce regulation. If this will impact on policy makers I don’t know, but recent events in the Netherlands have at least shown that there is more attention from the government to public outcries.
TS: For me it was quite surprising to initially see the considerable variance across communities with respect to the level of bars’ resistance. That increased my confidence that there’s a community level story to be explored and furthered my wish to figure out the underlying dynamics.
JK: It initially surprised me that there was so much resistance against the smoking-ban in the first place. In many other countries, similar bans were implemented without uproar. Later on in our study, I was surprised that the social pressures in the communities had such a large influence on the behavior of the bar owners. I had expected the financial/economic issues to dominate the analysis. It might also just show my prejudice as an economist.
MC: Did you aim to win this prize? What does this prize mean for each of you?
PV: No, although we did sign up for it. But I never expected to win it. We were quite happy with the paper, but also realized we had to spell out our contribution in more detail. So it was a great encouragement that we won this prize. It signaled the potential in the paper. And to have your work acknowledged in this way obviously means a lot. For me personally it was nice that it had not been won by a Dutch scholar before.
TS: I can speak for myself of course, and the answer is no. Naturally it’s very satisfying to have one’s work recognized by peers but basically, what I try to do is work with theoretical perspectives and empirical contexts that I find interesting.
JK: I definitely did not aim to win this prize. I personally aim to do the best possible research and hope that reviewers and other readers recognize that. In that regard, I was already very happy that our paper was selected for the best paper proceedings. After that, the OMT-best international paper award was already a reason for champagne and the 2012 Carolyn Dexter Award was the icing on the cake.
MC: Finally, do you have any advice for the people who would like to win this prize in the future?
PV: I think that the topic of the paper has to be relevant across boundaries. And it needs good data to hold across geographies. That is the most important advice I would give. So the topic should be both relevant to the local setting and have an international appeal.
TS: I really don’t have concrete advice other than to be engaged in projects because of a genuine interest in them. One of the things that did come through all of the reviews is that the paper is well-written, clear and well-thought out, maybe that could serve as something to strive to and a practical advice.
JK: Do good research, keep challenging your own ideas by collaborating with a wide range of different scholars, and have patience.
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