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2021 SAP Best Practice Oriented Paper Award

  

The winner of the SAP Best Practice Oriented Paper Award is Vikas N. Prabhu with the paper “Enacted Clock-Time: How Temporal Agency Structures Strategic Activity”.

Congratulations on winning the SAP Best Practice Oriented Paper Award! What is your paper about?

First of all, it is a great honour to receive the Best Practice Oriented Paper award from the SAP DIG of AOM. Having my work recognized at such high levels at an early stage of my career is an incredible feeling.

My paper is an attempt to understand how temporal agents strategize. By temporal agents, I refer to the temporal embeddedness of agentic actions (as Emirbayer and Mische, 1998, have suggested). My study, positioned at the intersection of temporality and strategy practice literatures, looks at how temporal perspectives of individuals shape (and are shaped by) their strategizing activity. The study is an attempt to gain insights into the intricate balancing act that individuals undertake in pursuit of their strategic goals. By investigating strategic activity from a temporal lens, the study unpacks how individuals, as temporal agents, enact a temporal structure – which I call the ‘enacted clock-time perspective’ – that facilitates creation and accomplishment of (intermediate) strategic goals. In other words, my study provides a temporal underpinning to how individuals strategically triumph big battles through small wins.

 

What sparked this project? How did it change over time?

It became clear to me, quite early on in my doctoral research, that the concept of time is core to strategy. Having done my master’s in philosophy, I was aware of the debates surrounding the objective and subjective aspects of time. Hence, I became interested in understanding how the conception of time interacted with strategy. The idea of this paper was sparked when I came across the activity-based view suggested by Johnson, Melin, and Whittington (2003). Strategy practice literature (e.g., Golsorkhi, Rouleau, Seidl, & Vaara, 2015) provided the foundation to position the activity-based view within a strategy frame. Finally, the concept of temporal structuring, as suggested by Orlikowski and Yates (2002), provided the analytical context to drive my study.

I embarked upon the study during the early stages of my doctoral program at Indian Institute of Management Bangalore (IIMB). Hence, the continued interaction with IIMB faculty over the period of the doctoral coursework was timely in shaping the study. I have immensely benefitted from discussions with various professors as the study evolved. Notably, discussions with Prof. Saras Sarasvathy and Prof. R. Srinivasan provided early impetus through connecting with the relevant literature. Prof. Mukta Kulkarni provided methodological guidance at various points of time, and Prof. Rishikesha Krishnan provided comments on various draft versions.

 

Did you experience challenges during the research process? If so, how did you manage them?

I have not faced any challenges peculiar to the study as such. Given the intense engagement demanded by the study and the extensive literature it involved, having access to the right resources was a key requirement. In that respect, I am extremely grateful to my institute (IIMB) for providing the necessary infrastructure – in terms of research resources and faculty guidance – that were critical in shaping the research study. Further, my study involved capturing intimate details of the participants’ everyday lives; hence, ensuring privacy and confidentiality were a prime concern. The Institutional Review Board (IRB) at IIMB extended a helping hand in framing the ethical aspects of the research process.

One of the persistent questions I have had to face was to justify the relevance of my study context as well as the participants (i.e., doctoral students) for management research. I have attempted to explain the relevance by: (1) citing past research that has involved similar participants as well as drawing parallels between (doctoral) program structure and organizational contexts, (2) specifying instances (like organizational innovation) where my findings can be relevant for management research, and (3) on the basis of the above two justifications, emphasizing the importance of intimate connect (which I shared with the participants) as the foundation to understanding individuals’ lived experiences, thus, enabling the deeper insights that my study has been able to glean.

 

Your paper found that temporal agents attempt to control their strategic context through enacting temporal discipline. Can you tell us more about the implications of this finding for managers navigating complex strategic contexts?

The temporal agents I studied were doctoral scholars working their way through the doctoral program. While their overall strategy was (timely) completion of their doctoral dissertation, various aspects of the program such as intensity of research, serendipitous nature of findings, and goal uncertainty, demanded strategizing at the level of the activity. Further, their temporal contexts involved both objective and subjective aspects such program deadlines, planned tasks, unplanned activities, and unforeseen interventions. Thus, charting a static timetable of activities did not serve their purpose. My study found that agents worked through enacting dynamic yet time-bound plan of action that afforded small ‘windows of accomplishment’ and enabled their progress towards an uncertain goal. From a temporal perspective, this was a novel finding as individuals enacted clock time-like patterns to facilitate their strategic activities.

While the core contribution of my study is actually theoretical – it elaborates on the temporal structuring model proposed by Orlikowski and Yates (2002) – there are practitioner implications as well. In broad terms, reinforcing what Kaplan and Orlikowski (2013) found, my study suggests to practitioners that strategizing in uncertain contexts involves temporal work. In drawing managerial implications, I argue that my study setting comes close to organizational contexts such as learning and innovation insofar as they involve pursuit of uncertain ends over the long-term, with a need to show progress in the intermediate-term. In this respect, my study provides insights into the temporal work that goes into how learners/innovators may strive to balance objective needs of the organization/market with the inherently subjective processes of human creativity.

 

Finally, do you have any recommendations for members of the SAP community who aim to also win this award?

Given that I am still a mid-stage doctoral student and lack sufficient scholarly experience to call myself an authority in any area, I do not command any position to be able to suggest recommendations to audience that may be senior to me. However, for the benefit of junior scholars and doctoral students, I would like to share two general insights I gained through my own research experience, and one specific methodological advice.

(1) It is important to carry the dual perspective of both bird’s eye view and worm’s eye view when working with any particular subject. While the worm’s view is important for diving deeper into the context, the bird’s view ensures one remains cognizant of the broader landscape within which one’s research is situated.

(2) Maintain a clear idea of the theoretical pillars that your research builds upon. In other words, be clear about which conversations in the literature you are going to be a part of. This facilitates identification of relevant studies as well as helps to draw boundaries for the scope of your work.

(3) Finally, I echo the call by several scholars for more process studies in management. Our field crucially needs studies that dive deeper into the black box and attempt to unpack phenomena. My study embarked on one such effort. I exhort scholars to take active interest in undertaking process studies and not hesitate in going out to the field and engaging intimately with individuals who are performing the activities that are of research interest to you. To borrow notionally from Isaac Newton’s words, it is only when you take the walk on that seashore can you truly behold that great ocean of unexplored truth and create chances to stumble upon that smoother pebble or prettier shell than ordinary.

 

References:

Emirbayer, M., & Mische, A. (1998). ‘What is Agency?’ American Journal of Sociology, 103(4): 962–1023.

Golsorkhi, D., Rouleau, L., Seidl, D., & Vaara, E. (Eds.) (2015). Cambridge Handbook of Strategy as Practice (2nd ed.). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Johnson, G., Melin, L., & Whittington, R. (2003). ‘Micro Strategy and Strategizing: Towards an Activity-Based View’, Journal of Management Studies, 40: 3-22.

Kaplan, S. & Orlikowski, W. J. (2013). ‘Temporal Work in Strategy Making’, Organization Science, 24: 965-995.

Orlikowski, W. J., & Yates, J. A. (2002). ‘It’s About Time: Temporal Structuring in Organizations’. Organization Science, 13: 684–700.

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