What is it about?

------------------------ Research Focus ------------------------ Following inductive case research, we explore means-ends decoupling within the research setting of an industrial R&D project in the period of 2015 to 2017. We focus in particular upon the role of means-ends decoupling work to understand how the goals are managed. We identify three types of means-ends decoupling work and six related dynamic micro-mechanisms. Together, they collectively influence the making and nature of means-ends decoupling work and allow for the fluid switching of work as the institutional conditions permit.

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Why is it important?

------------------------------------------------------- Contribution to Academic Scholarship ------------------------------------------------------- The main contribution of our study is a better understanding of means-ends decoupling in business networks. First, Our findings show how market actors accommodate different, sometimes competing or contradictory, pressures and goals in R&D project implementation. An institutional decoupling work approach provides a new way of understanding implementation gaps where competent network actors inhabit and maintain project implementation gaps. Second, we find that the six identified micromechanisms contribute to maintaining project implementation gaps, while simultaneously complying to the institutional regime. We identify and aggregate lower-level micro-mechanisms in our model and empirically validate their relevance with reference to the broad spectrum of actor-based and firm-based data sources in our case research. Discrete combinations of micro-mechanisms predetermine the nature of means-ends decoupling work. Third, our study uncovers the linkage between the lower-level mechanisms and the nature of the actual industrial project work. Our findings show how such micro-mechanisms hold causal powers over the nature of that work, where traditional project rules do not always apply or work in vague institutional settings. By implication, then, there is always ‘wriggle room’ in the work directed towards institutional goals, regardless of the scrutiny that that implementation gap brings. Finally, by focusing on an industrial R&D project. on our study complements and broadens the empirical scope for research on means-ends decoupling, building upon a stream of industrial marketing literature on the workings of project networks and implementation work. ------------------------------------------------------- Contribution to Management Practice ------------------------------------------------------- Our study results provide two recommendations for practice. First, we suggest that managers might wish to think about the R&D project design in a way increases extra-institutional behaviours. It is important to consider the mutual influence of individual project leadership, evaluators and investors, along with different institutional regimes, on selection criteria. This can increase or decrease partner flexibility, technical capabilities, and resources. Second, R&D projects' designers might consider the institutional maintenance required to enable a continuous follow-up of the partners throughout the project life-time. Institutional entrepreneurs should take the identified micro-mechanisms into account, by combining autonomy, engagement, and reward in R&D project settings. Invitation and event involvement and evaluation could be undertaken to recognise individual actions that take advantage of field opacity. Relatedly, R&D project developers might consider the highly competitive and rapidly changing nature of the institutional field. Considering the rapidly changing evolution of markets, the project partners should implement continuous needs assessment studies to capture the newly emergent customer needs over the life of the project, and accordingly adopt their innovations to these new customer needs.


This research aims to address the puzzle of how compliant adopters, who follow clear inducements and have sufficient resources, still fail to achieve the intended project goals. The specific objectives of this study are twofold. First, to further develop an understanding of the nature of means-ends decoupling work, particularly with reference to an industrial R&D project implementation. Second, to identify how the micro-mechanisms dynamically influence means-ends decoupling work within an industrial R&D project implementation. Our findings delineate some of the inherent, institutionally embedded causes and conditions, which consequently lead to the occurrence of means-ends decoupling within intentionally created business networks.

Full Professor Dirk Schneckenberg
ESC Rennes School of Business

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This page is a summary of: Institutional means-ends decoupling work in industrial R&D project implementation, Industrial Marketing Management, January 2019, Elsevier, DOI: 10.1016/j.indmarman.2019.01.012.
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