The Flow of Management Concepts
In today’s fast-paced business world, organizations strive to adapt and thrive by exploring innovative approaches. Influential management concepts like Lean, Agile, and Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) have gained considerable attention in the past two decades and have had profound effects on our work environments. Previous research has highlighted the significance of intermediary actors who play a crucial role in driving organizational change and acting as translators. However, existing studies have offered limited insights into the diverse roles of translators and the strategies they employ to adapt concepts within organizations. Our research, published in the Scandinavian Journal of Management, takes a fresh perspective by adopting a brokerage work approach and develops a more comprehensive understanding of how intermediary actors shape the translation processes.
Unveiling the Role of Intermediary Actors
Traditionally, the role of intermediary actors in translating management concepts has been viewed as a linear process, with concepts flowing down from top-level managers to lower-level employees. In the traditional linear understanding of translation, the concept would be refined and modified by top-level managers before being communicated down the hierarchy to lower-level employees. However, our research reveals a more complex picture. We find that key intermediary actors, such as middle managers, play a crucial role in shaping the translation process. These middle managers, positioned between top-level management and front-line employees, have the unique opportunity to interact with and influence both parties. Instead of simply relaying information downward they affect the interaction between the organizational levels by which and the interpretative abstraction at which translation activities are performed, purposely drawing on each of those two to affect the other. Or in other words: intermediary actors actively use their position to affect both the way people interact within the organization and how they understand and interpret information.
Intermediary actors actively use their position to affect both the way people interact within the organization and how they understand and interpret information.
Unraveling Modes of Translation
Through in-depth interviews with intermediary actors responsible for Lean implementation in a hospital setting, our research uncovers three distinct modes of translation: stretching, shielding, and synthesizing. These modes demonstrate how managers strategically position themselves as carriers of ideas and employ specific tactics to navigate the translation process:
- In the stretching mode, translation tactics focus on promoting interaction between different organizational levels, but they primarily revolve around abstract conceptualizations of the idea.
- In the shielding mode, translation tactics are aimed at creating a disconnect in the interaction across hierarchical boundaries. This allows for diverse interpretations of how the concept is translated into specific local practices within the organization.
- In the synthesizing mode, translation tactics are geared towards enhancing interaction across hierarchical boundaries by integrating the interpretations of different parties involved. This mode seeks to find a common ground and understanding among the various perspectives on the concept.
We delve into the conditions under which each mode is enacted and identify the translation tactics utilized within them, such as positioning, labeling, and channeling. Our findings reveal that these tactics are closely intertwined with the social positions of intermediary actors and significantly shape the translation of management concepts within organizations. Contrary to the conventional belief that alignment is the primary goal of translation, our study highlights the importance of purposeful misalignment through “shielding” between high-level management and front-line professionals.
Shielding allows managers to intentionally create a disconnect between high-level management and front-line professionals, opening up space for diverging interpretations and the adaptation of concepts to local practices.
Conclusion: Driving Organizational Change through Effective Translation
Our research sheds light on how implementation managers, acting as intermediary actors, play a crucial role in intra-organizational translation. We present a conceptual model of brokerage work that provides insights into the three modes of translation and their associated tactics. In practical terms, our research offers valuable recommendations for individuals in change intermediary roles. By embracing the translation tactics identified in our model, middle managers can enhance their work during organizational change. One valuable recommendation is to consider using ‘shielding’, even if it goes against established norms. Shielding allows managers to intentionally create a disconnect between high-level management and front-line professionals, creating room for different interpretations and adapting concepts to local practices.