In response to increasing global competition, many private firms as well as public agencies readjusted their organizational governance structures in attempt to increase flexibility and to cut costs. At the same time, mounting accountability pressures forced organizations as well as whole professions to rethink the way they safeguard the quality of their work. At the organizational level, these developments resulted in manifold trajectories of planned organizational change, with the purpose to replace traditional top-down control structures by “flatter” forms, in which coordination and control is based on self-organization through informal networks. At the level of the professions, accountability pressures triggered debates about the necessity for and effectiveness of “professionalization”, as well as the strategies to achieve it. In both cases, informal institutions play an important role.
Three questions are central to this research theme. First, how do different types of intra-organizational social networks (e.g. friendship, advice, third party gossip) co-evolve, depending on the characteristics of the (changing) formal settings in which they are embedded? This question is the focus of seven PhD-projects, of which three are ongoing. Issues addressed in the completed projects include the co-evolution of power and trust, the emergence of status hierarchies, or the determinants of employee voice. The ongoing projects investigate the determinants of middle-manager entrepreneurship, or leadership problems in social sourcing networks. Second, how doe informal norms affect the likelihood that administrative reforms and reorganizations are successfully implemented? This question was part of my VIDI grant, and of a recently completed PhD-project. Third, how do informal networks, norms and conventions affect the effectiveness of professionalization initiatives of public and non-governmental settings? This question has been central to two completed PhD-project on the humanitarian sector focusing on retention, commitment and performance of aid workers, and of other joint research on rule compliance in the profession of accountants.