A pragmatist case …

Ethics in the boardroom is fraught with complexity. Whose interests do directors protect? Whose causes do they advance? On what basis – what ethical considerations – do they make those determinations? And how do they come to consensus about what is the right thing to do, or the right way to do it? These issues are aired in a collection of essays complied by Till Talaulicar in a new Research Handbook on Corporate Governance and Ethics, published by Edward Elgar.

My contribution to it is called “A pragmatist case for thoughtfulness and experimentation in corporate governance.” It conducts a series of thought experiments and considers how directors – you and I – might reason our way to a decision. The chapter builds a case for act-based ethics, rather than following rules, especially when the situations are novel and directors are divided over which type of ethical consideration apply.

Governing corporations with ‘strangers’

“Despite decades of theorising and empirical research, the problems of corporate governance seem intractable, particularly the relationships between investors and companies. The thought experiment in this paper asks us to look at the problem through a fresh lens. It draws on the quaint British legal custom of calling shareholders “members”, and then uses the political philosopher Michael Walzer’s idea of membership in states, clubs, neighbourhoods, and families to draw lessons for the corporate world. This paper suggests that seeing how Walzer conceives “strangers” in a polity, with fewer rights but a path to membership, lets us rethink shareholder rights as something to be earned, through engagement and commitment, that is, through stewardship. Rethinking what membership of a company might mean points to a pragmatic escape from short-termism without institutional reform.”

Read this paper in the journal Philosophy of Management.

A ‘new corporate landscape’?

In a review of a new book, I examine the proposition that corporations occupy a bigger part of the landscape of political economy. Alexander Styhre makes a combined historical and contemporary case for it in his The New Corporate Landscape: Economic Concentration, Transnational Governance, and the Corporation. But after covid and then the war in Ukraine, in which states reasserted control over our lives, I ask:

“Is the book … accidentally an anachronism? And does its analysis matter to organizations themselves and the scholars who study them? The answers to those questions are No and Yes, though we need to use Styhre’s insights as prompts to think beyond the scope of his work.”

You can read the rest in the journal Organization Studies. There’s also a version in the repository at Bournemouth University.

Theory as ‘lens’?

Scholars often say they examine problems using a “lens”. Sometimes it’s a “theoretical lens”. Others use a “philosophical lens”. But most leave the metaphor they employ undiscussed, let alone defined. In this working paper, I examine that metaphor and detect four different meanings in two categories – lenses that help us see better and one that let us see differently. An updated version, including a couple of worked examples, appears now as “The lens of theory: Seeing better or differently?” in the International Journal of Organization Theory & Behavior.

#theory #lens #research methods

How do boards decide? How does stewardship arise?

That’s the subject of a new research handbook. I’m one of the contributors. Oliver Marnet has pulled together writers from across the landscape of corporate governance for a book published by Edward Elgar, Research Handbook on Corporate Board Decision-Making. My chapter is: “Liminality, purpose, and psychological ownership: Board decision practices as a route to stewardship,” in which I argue that the way board conduct their deliberations can facilitate or impede the sense of commitment of directors. You can find it from the publisher here. The manuscript can be found in the Bournemouth University repository.

#corporate governance #stewardship #psychological ownership #boards of directors

Steering a business to success…

As part of its podcast series, Dorset Growth Hub invited me to discuss the role that boards – and corporate governance more generally – can play in smaller businesses. Theorists often talk about how boards play two contradictory roles: “service” – providing insights and access to key resources – and “control” – stopping a runaway executive.

But from my own board experience, I’ve seen how hard it is to separate the two. Let’s think about how serving on a board is like driving a car, I suggested, and then asked: “Why do they put brakes on cars?” Here’s the answer!



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Art – in corporate governance?

Philosophy of Management seems to think so. My somewhat unconventional article will be appearing in the journal.

  • Nordberg, D. (2020). Art in corporate governance: A Deweyan perspective on board experience. Philosophy of Management, doi: 10.1007/s40926-020-00152-y. (See manuscript version at SSRN.)

It uses the pragmatist philosopher John Dewey’s 1934 treatise on aesthetics to examine the motivation of company directors, reinterpreting empirical studies and examining the lived experience of the author. It also raises the question of what ugly corporate governance might consist in.Its starting point is the artwork displayed on the walls of two boardrooms, one a FTSE100 corporation, the other a social care charity…

Self or other? Board evaluation choices

Rebecca Booth and I have collaborated on a paper just published by the International Journal of Disclosure and Governance, about how corporate directors feel about an important policy direction in corporate governance. Board evaluation has been around for quite a while, and since 2010 in the UK, the code has recommended that large listed companies use external evaluators at least one year in three. Rebecca and I found out what directors who had been through the process thought about how well the process of external evaluation worked, and indeed how it worked. The results point to a need to professionalise the practice as it spreads from large listed companies to smaller firms, non-profits, and other organisation types.

The experience of ‘ownership’ at charity boards

Charities don’t have “owners”. Nor do corporations, if you consider how limited shareholder rights are, compared with owning a car or a pair of shoes. Yet the experience of board work at charities has left me with a sense of ownership – psychological ownership – that arose before I was even invited to join the board. In a new article at Management Research Review, I explore this feeling of attachment, and how it differs profoundly from the sort of “stewardship” now expected of institutional investors in listed companies. See also https://ssrn.com/abstract=3699330