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European Academy of Management (EURAM) Conference

Having evaded volcano-laden air currents, we're back from Rome for a day before heading to the US tomorrow. At the EURAM Conference (European Academy of Management ) John and I were co-chairs of the "Socially Responsible Management" mega-track organized by Siv Vangen, an Open University management professor. All of you will be happy to know that the conference included many sessions on various aspects of corporate social responsibility, sustainability, and cross-sector working. About 600 people attended from all over Europe and a few from the US.

Lest you think this was all mainly about soaking up the ambiance of ancient ruins, beautiful gardens and shaded sidewalk cafes, we should note that Tor Vergata University is a modern suburban campus full of chunky buildings in former farm fields and olive groves. At times we also felt like imperialist interlopers, since many a session included references, not always favorable, to the dominance of "Anglo-American" management and the mighty US (as they emphasized) Academy of Management.

Here are a few highlights from the sessions on socially responsible management (meaning mainly business management that acknowledges or incorporates pro-social values), worldly leadership (contrasting with globalized leadership and making room for multiple cultural "worlds"), gender in management, and strategic management. We'll begin with some presenters' explorations that relate to initial conditions, process and contingencies in cross-sector collaborations. Due to the richness and depth of this conference, we will cover Cross-Sector Collaborations in this post and address the other aforementioned topics in future blog posts.

Cross-sector Collaborations
Initial conditions: People in the Worldly Leadership track talked about the importance of respecting community boundaries but also (echoing Margaret Wheatley) of seeing boundaries as important places for learning and growth. One presenter noted that many people these days belong to multiple communities.

Two Italians highlighted the effects of local culture on the willingness of small and medium-sized firms (SMEs) to be socially responsible. The focus was on the Marche region of Italy, where business connections to civic organizations are longstanding.

Several papers focused on the CEOs and managers, or people who could act as champions and sponsors of CSR (Corporate Social Responsibility) activities. Not surprisingly, the values of these managers affect whether their companies actually engage in CSR activities. One study of Swiss managers indicated that the majority supported CSR as a method of meeting social needs and making profits; they were not very interested in CSR as philanthropy (that is, purely altruistic contributions) but only a small minority thought business had only legal obligations to society.

Steve Zaccaro, who has previously written about top managers, argued that leaders with complex cultural self concepts are best situated to help diverse collectivities make sense of the problems that confront them. He recommended "stretch experiences" for helping develop more complex self concepts.

Process: Barbara took away from the "Worldly Leadership" track a reinforcement of the notion (resonating with complexity theory) that the systems in which complex social problems are embedded can be disrupted or "nudged" toward beneficial (or harmful) outcomes but not controlled or directed. One method of nudging is to enact small change behaviors that might ripple through a system and create repeated patterns (or fractals). This would probably apply to cross-sector collaborations themselves.

In the socially responsible management track, a couple of presenters highlighted the use of language ("discursive strategies") to enhance or balance power in cross-sector relations. They analyzed corporate CSR reports in Finland to look for what might be called partnership language vs. dominance language.

Contingencies and constraints: Several of the presentations pointed to the importance of varying organizational characteristics in determining an organization's capacity for collaboration - for example, whether it has incorporated some version of CSR into core strategies, the flexibility of its structures, the adequacy of needed resources, and whether its culture has a long-term orientation. The size of the organization might also matter (at least a couple of presenters thought SMEs were more likely to be socially responsible than bigger firms were).

Stay tuned for more on the EURAM Conference in subsequent blogs!

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