Loughborough University
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Legitimation through openness: managing organisational legitimacy through open strategy in a pluralistic context

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posted on 2018-02-06, 16:38 authored by Josh Morton
This research explores how an open strategy approach can be used to manage organisational legitimacy in a pluralistic context, characterised by the competing demands of key stakeholders. Open strategy demonstrates an interest in strategising processes becoming more inclusive and transparent (Hautz et al., 2016). Open strategy work to date has focused on its uses and implications, and how strategic inclusion and transparency are being displayed in different organisational contexts. Much open strategy literature also associates the central purpose of open strategising activity with organisations seeking to manage legitimacy (e.g. Chesbrough and Appleyard, 2007; Whittington et al., 2011; Tavakoli et al., 2017), particularly through ensuring that their actions are desirable in the opinion of key stakeholders (Suchman, 1995). Whilst a small number of studies have explicitly focused on open strategy and legitimacy, these do not go beyond illuminating legitimacy as a potential effect (Gegenhuber and Dobusch, 2017) or outcome (Luedicke et al., 2017). Absent has been research attempting to specifically understand open strategy as a process of legitimation (Uberbacher, 2014), and there remains a need to unpack and elevate the significant potential of open strategy approaches for managing legitimacy further. To address this gap, this research presents an in-depth single case analysis of an organisation undertaking the development of a new four-year strategic plan using an open strategy approach. A number of data collection methods were used, including completion of 30 semi-structured interviews, participant observations, and collection of significant social media and documentation data, to explicate the concepts of open strategy and organisational legitimacy, addressing the question; How does an open strategy approach represent a process of legitimation for managing the competing demands of organisational stakeholders? . A pluralistic context, a UK-based professional body, is the basis for the empirical work. It is acknowledged that interrogating the intricacies of strategising in pluralistic contexts, and the inherent competing demands of stakeholders, might offer new perspectives, and a useful means of expanding the contextual base of practice-based strategy work (Jarzabkowski and Fenton, 2006). However, studies of open strategy in pluralistic contexts remain near non-existent in the literature (Lusiani and Langley, 2013). In the organisational legitimacy literature, there is much discourse on how legitimacy is managed and gained through specific legitimation processes and strategies, and increasingly such a focus has been adopted to recognise how organisations might manage legitimacy demands in contexts defined by plurality, amidst diffuse power and divergent objectives (Denis et al., 2007). In this study, a practice-based activity theory framework is used (Jarzabkowski 2005; Jarzabkowski and Wolf, 2015) to explore legitimacy in relation to organisational direction and priorities, and as a means of redefining the organisation s core goals in an enactment of strategic openness. The work here conceptualises how the case organisation has adopted a plethora of open strategising practices for legitimacy effects (Suddaby et al., 2013), providing a detailed account of how different dynamics of open strategising activity connect to specific forms of legitimation over time. The findings indicate that different open strategy dynamics represent the case organisation switching between distinct approaches to legitimation, as a means of managing the competing legitimacy demands of organisational stakeholders in a flow of activity. Through this narrative, a greater perception of legitimation as a core purpose of open strategy is provided. Overall, this research offers an important contribution by accentuating the principal relevance of organisational legitimacy in open strategising, particularly through elevating legitimacy beyond being understood as an effect or outcome in open strategy work. Further, this more explicitly brings open strategy into close alignment with the organisational legitimacy literature and its theoretical conceptions (Lawrence et al., 2009; Suddaby et al., 2013), which is imperative for understanding the potential importance of open strategy as a means of legitimation.


Loughborough University.



  • Business and Economics


  • Business


© Josh Morton

Publisher statement

This work is made available according to the conditions of the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International (CC BY-NC-ND 4.0) licence. Full details of this licence are available at: https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-nd/4.0/

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A Doctoral Thesis. Submitted in partial fulfilment of the requirements for the award of Doctor of Philosophy of Loughborough University.


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