Posted by: nsrupidara | July 10, 2010

Mimesis, adoption logic, and corporate identity


Mimesis has been a major vehicle in the reproduction of human cultures, including in the modern life of corporate world. In 1983, DiMaggio and Powell challenged the perspective of differentiation of organisational structure and behaviour by putting a reverse question on why homogeneity of forms and practices was so prevalent. They further proposed three mechanisms to explain the phenomenon of institutional isomorphism. Mimetic processes, one of the mechanisms, pointed as being used by institutional actors to model their behaviour in accordance with the others’. This allows different models of behaviours and structures travel across contexts, from one actor to the other.

This paper deals with mimesis as the research findings reveal that it is a major source of ideas in the construction of HR systems. This result comes out of research on how HR actors within subsidiaries of multinational companies in Indonesia actually configure their HR systems, as its major research question.

A clear finding from the study is that, as an isomorphic mechanism, mimesis conveys a meaning that actors are active to behave in accordance to others’ behaviour. The imitating actors seek a model or two of particular comparing actors to whom they expect to become similar. A further question follows this initial finding is on factors drive the actors to take such behaviour. By imitating other, they would be judged as being irrational to any extent, a world driven by competitive pressures that suggest the power of differentiation. The actor, however, are often acting as if they were fully rational toward their decisions and actions.

The construction of HR systems has been argued elsewhere to be both a rational process and institutionally framed (Rupidara and McGraw 2009). It is as a rational process means that the systems are or have been constructed on the basis of coherent understanding of the HR managers in pursuing their ultimate utilitarian ends (cf. Wettersten, 2006; Kiwit et al., 2000). The managers are assumed as actors that actively use their agency power (reference about agency).

With regard to the rational aspect of the process, rareness or uniqueness has been argued as one of important characteristics to allow HR systems to secure its position as source of sustained competitive advantage of the firm (give reference, e.g. Barney). Within the resource-based view, HR systems are viewed as to be configured in certain way to accomplish the criterion of rare or unique. This implies a deliberated rational choice making process (Rupidara and McGraw, 2009) to result in such unique configuration of systems.

Meanwhile, research in organisational institutionalism on the other hand shows that similarities are ubiquitous in organisational settings (e.g. DiMaggio and Powell, 1983). The phenomenon of institutional isomorphism has been regarded as a common thread in organisational institutionalism as it is in the studies of fashion in the field of management (e.g. Czarniawska and Joerges, 1996).

The two conflicting views, however, have both been accepted and also developed into the fabric of HR studies and practices. They have become institutionalised ideas by their own which in turn influence the way HR actors in the field think and behave in their daily managerial activities, and particularly in the process of constructing HR systems within their organisations.

From a phenomenological perspective, we thus argue that human beings are social agents that take care of their actions and not merely respond to external stimuli in mechanical way. As constructors and also carriers of social meanings, people are also shaped by various institutional logics around them. Thus the use of agency by actors is on the other hand constrained by existing institutions. Based on such complicated nature of relationships between the actors and their surrounding environments, this research takes an open perspective pertaining to how the HR actors in the field cope with the process of configuring HR systems.

On the paper it is argued that HR researchers lack of clarity in understanding of how actually HR ideas come into practices. Referring to the institutional perspective, we need to unfold the mechanisms of which the HR actors acquire and translate relevant ideas to configure the overall HR systems of their companies.

Rather than being tempted to verify any predetermined perspective, the current paper tries to construct such perspective of the process based on a grounded analysis (Glaser and Straus 1967; Charmaz, 2006). The current paper presents new findings in this terrain based on a grounded-analysis of empirical evidences.

In the research, in-depth case studies at three subsidiaries of foreign multinational companies in Indonesia were conducted. The studied firms are different in terms of their home-nationalities and sectors where they operate in. They however possess similarities as joint ventures with a major foreign ownership. The foreign parent companies took over the ownership from previously major Indonesian companies. Their commonality as firms with shifting ownership from locals to multinationals is a unique characterised that should be considered in the case studies. In addition to this firm, a comparative case study was also conducted at an Indonesian national institution. It has been added in order to value the possibility of local institutions in Indonesia and viral diffusion of HR ideas across different organisational contexts.

Data was collected through narrative interviews to 22 participants from the multinationals and nine other people from the Indonesian national institution. In addition to that, several other informal conversations, daily observation into the activities within each HR department, and relevant corporate documents have also formed the foundation of the analysis. The data collection within the case study firms was undertaken within a period of 8-10 days working in each of the companies.

As mentioned above, early analysis of the empirical data shows that evidence of mimesis are prevalent and manifested into corporate actions. Evidence shows that although the managers have been trying to be rational in responding the problematic situations their firms are facing and in the expectation of gaining economic results of any managerial choice taken, the process that lead them into the are mostly driven by mimetic behaviours. Data, however, show that local adaptation and/or locally development of elements of HR systems also take place.

The mimetic behaviours have been attributed to a consequence of market pressures. The managers perceive that within both product and factor markets, especially the human resource market, they have been facing of an increasing degree of competition or the changing nature of the competitive landscape. The adoption of more advance HR systems has been argued as a proper means to appropriate response to such environment.

Further investigation shows the relationship of the behaviour and the claimed logic with the perception of corporate identity. Being or intending to be leading firms in Indonesia often sometime implies having and practicing the most advanced HR practices. If the source of ideas of the advanced practices is not the mother firm, mimicking other leading firms and receiving assistance from consulting firms are other alternative mechanisms for the adoption of world best practices. Renewal processes may then take place in replacing old systems with the new ones.

A full-length grounded analysis of the empirical data is being conducted which may result in changes of the main emphasis of the finding. An extended analysis is expected to be presented in the full paper.

Neil Semuel Rupidara
PhD student, Dept. of Business, Macquarie University, Sydney


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