Other Peoples' Choices Make Organizations SimilarTHE ROLE AND EFFECTS OF ISOMORPHIC PRESSURES ON THE EFFICIENCY AND RATIONALITY OF INDIVIDUAL CHOICES, IN A SERIES OF EXPERIMENTS VALENTINA MELE AND PAOLO BELARDINELLI
Imagine that a civil servant, when purchasing a software package, is informed that the application, although recommended by his professional association, is a suboptimal choice. What will he do? Will he conform his choice to that of his peers or will he choose an alternative? This is the kind of question that Valentina Mele and Paolo Belardinelli have asked while investigating the decisions of civil servants managers through eight experiments conducted with Nicola Bellé and Paola Cantarelli.
“In the literature, isomorphism is the process by which organizations become similar to each other”, they say. “We have investigated the micro-foundations of isomorphism to find out if isomorphic pressures lead to suboptimal decision making in the context of public administration”.
The authors asked 764 public employees to imagine themselves as a superintendent who has to choose between two refresher courses or two software packages. One option was explicitly worse than the other, yet supported by guidelines, colleagues or professional associations. Without isomorphic pressures, 11% to 17% of individuals, depending on the experiment, chose the worst option. With isomorphic pressures, the percentage rose to a maximum of 63%. “According to a qualitative inquiry, civil servants have not engaged in irrational choices. They opted for the suboptimal option because it actually met some need; because it guaranteed uniformity of the public sector; because they trust institutions and colleagues who make recommendations”. The risk of a suboptimal decision is lessened when subjects have to autonomously infer the inferiority of the recommended option from data. “Beware: isomorphic pressure does not necessarily lead to suboptimal decisions. Isomorphism should be used with awareness to promote evidence-based choices”.
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by Claudio Todesco