Strategic Change as a Progenitor of New Service Development
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Strategic Change as a Progenitor of New Service Development Kjartan Sigurdsson*, Marina Candi*, Johann Riedel** *Reykjavik University, School of Business, Center for Research on Innovation and Entrepreneurship **Nottingham University Business School, University of Nottingham, UK)
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Abstract This research focuses on how the implementation of strategic change can lead to new service development. To this end we examine a technology-based SME that implemented a new strategy of corporate social responsibility (CSR) and how this strategic change led to the development of a new service offering. There is increasing pressure on SMEs – pressure that was previously felt mostly by large multi-national firms – to demonstrate social responsibility. As a result SMEs are increasingly adopting some form of CSR to remain competitive. Although there has been research on CSR in large firms, less is known about how CSR can be implemented in SMEs and what the implications and opportunities are. This research focuses specifically on CSR as a progenitor of new service development (NSD) in SMEs. Using in-depth longitudinal case research we examine the journey of an SME from its initial interest in CSR, through the implementation of a CSR strategy and on to the development of a new service based on the new thinking that came about as a result of the CSR implementation. While explorative, the examination of this case provides some initial indication about not only how SMEs can implement CSR strategies to good effect but, of particular interest, how implementing a CSR strategy can form the basis for the development of services that fall outside a SMEs’ previous scope of activities. Based on this research we find that in the SME studied the main driver of an idea for a new service and its subsequent successful implementation was the new thinking brought about as a result of the process of implementing a CSR strategy. For managers, this research offers suggestions about what kinds of activities and decision-making are needed to successfully implement CSR and how CSR implementation can be leveraged to instigate a change in corporate culture resulting in new ideas about services that can appeal to new (types of) customers and market segments. Keywords: New service development, corporate social responsibility, small and medium sized enterprises, strategy, innovation.
Introduction Strategic change is sometimes viewed as a threat to stability and may meet with scepticism by both managers and employees (Nadler and Tushman, 1989). Businesses embark on strategic change for a variety of reasons and one of those reasons is to respond to a prevailing trend in an effort to maintain competitiveness. An example of such a trend is the call for corporate social responsibility (CSR). Previously primarily the concern of large multinational corporations, particularly those having negative environmental impact, there is increasing pressure on business as a whole, including small to medium sized enterprises (SMEs), to adopt a stance of corporate social responsibility and demonstrate commitment to the environment and ethical standards (Perrini, Russo and Tencati, 2007). Challenges often
breed opportunities, and this research specifically examines how implementing a CSR strategy can lead to successful new service development (NSD). Existing research suggests that important advantages can be gained by implementing a CSR strategy. These advantages include positive social awareness from job seekers – since CSR can signal a positive working environment (Gond, El-Akremi, Igalens, and Swaen, 2010) – lower staff turnover, improved productivity, waste reduction, and improved reputation and social recognition (Murillo and Lozano, 2006). Another positive consequence of implementing a CSR strategy can be increased employee creativity, which can lead to NSD. There is an important gap in the current understanding of CSR and its opportunities. In particular, little is known about CSR in small to medium sized enterprises (SMEs) and even less about how SMEs can take advantage of the potential opportunities that may be gained from implementing CSR strategies (Perrini, 2006; Vyakarnam et.al 1997). In fact, many SMEs fall short in terms of strategic planning, which can lead to high failure rates and poor business performance (Wang, Walker and Redmond 2007; Jocumsen 2004). While larger organizations are more likely to have formal written strategies for all business activities, SMEs are more likely to lack formal documented strategies and may even operate mostly ad hoc rather than based on strategic planning about where they are heading (Wang, Walker and Redmond, 2007). Consequently, this may lead to myopia caused by owners-managers neglecting strategic planning, which may in turn lead to under-achievement and a risk to survival (Berry, 1998). Consumers report that they would prefer to direct their patronage to firms that behave in ethically and environmentally responsible ways (Mohr, Webb and Harris, 2001). Having a CSR strategy can contribute to a healthy business environment; however, businesses need a supportive environment and lively demand for their products and services to be able to reap the potential rewards of CSR (Porter and Kramer, 2011). About 97% of the world’s business is estimated to be conducted in SMEs (Perera, 2009). Many of these organizations have adopted the core of CSR without being aware of it (Hohnen, 2007). SMEs tend to be willing to seek opportunities in less traditional ways than larger businesses and so might be prepared to try increasing their competitiveness by implementing formal CSR strategies (Jenkins, 2009). For example, a CSR strategy may contribute to new opportunities for innovation (Upton, Teal and Felan, 2001; Beaver and Prince, 2002; Stewart, 2002; Gibbons and O'Connor, 2005) and has been positively linked to innovative activities despite SMEs’ limited capacity for investment in research and development (Acs and Audretsch, 1990). The intent of this research is to shed light on how SMEs can gain from effectively implementing CSR strategies, and in particular, how implementing a CSR strategy can form the basis for the development of new offerings that fall outside a SMEs’ previous scope of activities. For managers, the research offers suggestions about what kinds of activities and decision-making are needed when implementing a CSR strategy and how implementing a CSR strategy can instigate a change in corporate culture, resulting in new service development that can appeal to new customers and market segments. This paper is based on in-depth longitudinal case research in a technology-based SME in which the SME’s journey from consideration of CSR, to implementation of a CSR strategy and culminating in the development of a successful new service based on this journey is examined. The findings suggest that not only can implementing a CSR strategy be an important means for an SME to maintain its competitiveness but it can also be the precursor of changes in thinking that lead to the creation and development of a successful new service offering.
Theoretical framework CSR can be viewed as having three areas of influence: Social responsibility, which focuses on human rights and “giving back” to society; environmental strategy, which supports waste management, reduces pollution, and focuses on the impacts of the full product life-cycle (Hart, 1997); and employees, which are an essential resource that should be treated with respect and a concern for their well-being (Ramus & Steger, 2000). There is an expectation that organizations have an obligation to implement actions that will benefit society (Wood, 1991a). Many CSR activities fall under the domain of laws and regulations, but some organizations make the deliberate decision to go beyond what is required by law (Curran, Rutherfoord and Lloyd Smith 2000) and develop their own CSR strategies. When the concept of corporate social responsibility (CSR) emerged it was shaped by both managerial and ideological ideas (Gond and Moon, 2011).Two concepts were prominent in the early debate, i.e. “stewardship” which refers to “those who own property have the duty of using and administering it, not exclusively for their own purpose, but in ways that will serve the needs of the whole society” and “trusteeship” indicates “the owner is a trustee accountable to God and society” (Bowen, 1953, pg. 33; Gond and Moon, 2011, pg. 5). The search for a better understanding of CSR has been prominent in the debate among managers and scholars over the last three decades (Thompson and Smith 1991; Friedman; 1962; Bowen 1953). Many concepts have emerged, and the relationship between CSR and a wider company strategy (Gond and Moon 2011) is perhaps one of the contentious aspects of the debate, but also one of the important factors organizations should have in mind when tailoring CSR strategies. The predominant understanding of CSR has been influenced by transient societal trends. Keith Davis was among the scholars who shaped the debate of CSR in the sixties. He directed his focus to how important businesses are in society as core organizational builders and innovators (Davis, 1960). At this time the debate about CSR was changing from being managerially oriented to becoming more of an academic concept (Bowen 1953, Walsh, Weber and Margolis 2003, Clark 1916). CSR is difficult to define because of its diverse approaches to social phenomena and no authoritative definition has become accepted yet. Some scholars go as far as saying the term is vague and ambiguous in its practice and in theory (Coelho, McClure and Spry, 2003). However, the following are three definitions that have reached some level of acceptance: 1.
“The idea of social responsibilities supposes that the corporation has not only economic and legal obligations’ but also certain responsibilities to society that extend beyond these obligations” (McGuire, 1963, pg. 144).
“Corporate social responsibility refers to the firm’s consideration of, and response to, issues beyond the narrow economic, technical, and legal requirements of the firm. It is the firm’s obligations to evaluate in its decision-making process the effects of its decisions on the external social system in a manner that will accomplish social benefits along with the traditional economic gains which the firm seeks. It means that social responsibility begins where the law ends. A firm is not being socially responsible if it merely complies with the minimum requirements of the law, because this is what any good citizen would do” (Davis, 1973, pg. 312-313).
“The social responsibility of business encompasses the economic, legal, ethical, and discretionary expectations that society has of organizations at a given point in time” (Carroll, 1979, pg. 500).
The literature gives little or no information about the prevalence of CSR in SMEs. Even if SMEs claim to have a CSR strategy they may not be meaningfully engaged, but rather have only “ticked the box”. SMEs need to develop their innovation capabilities beyond that of technological innovation (Davenpot and Bibby, 1999). The flexibility of customizing new product and services to the requirement of the market is a sometimes neglected source of opportunity and advantage (O’Regan et. al., 2006). However, there is a relative paucity of in depth studies of innovation in SMEs (Humphreys, McAdam and Leckley, 2005). Moreover, the literature has extensively focused on new product development (NPD) with less attention to service development (Kelly and Storey, 2000). It has been argued that idea generation for new development can arise almost anywhere (Robinson and Stern, 1997). However, some techniques have been developed for idea stimulation in order to generate an on-going basis for innovation (Crawford, 1994). Service firms with formal strategy are more confident and satisfied in their service development (Kelly and Storey, 2000), which leads to the argument that strategic change can lead to innovation through a new way of thinking. What can organisations gain from implementing CSR strategies? To remain competitive businesses need to improve their activities to fulfil demands from society as well as the markets they operate in (Jenkins 2009). Pursuing CSR can be attractive to investors and stakeholders (Turban and Greening, 1977) and can open opportunities for a higher level of sophistication and concomitant ability to charge a premium for products and services (Bansal and Roth, 2000). Having an implemented CSR strategy is likely to attract high quality employees (Wang and Bansal, 2012; Greening and Turban, 2000; Turban and Greening, 1977). Moreover, implementing a CSR strategy may result in improved performance and new business opportunities. Further, as Porter and Linde (1995) argue, positioning CSR at the core of an organization’s activities and culture is likely to contribute to the ability to develop new competitive products and services that have CSR at their core. CSR strategies can stimulate companies to revise their environmental, social and human resource systems. Freel (2005, pg. 52) argues that “environmental uncertainty requires firms to change and adapt”. He refers to how hostile competition and cost reductions can lead to a shortage of resources, which may hinder businesses from moving towards implementing strategies that can lead them to become CSR oriented. CSR strategy is dependent on social characteristics (Whittington 1993), personal values and context (Jenkins 2009), which in most cases rest on the owner-managers in SMEs. A welldefined CSR strategy should have the potential to enable SMEs to treat the environment and their employees in fair and respectful ways, invest in local communities and develop philanthropic initiatives (Wang and Bansal, 2012; Aquilera, Rupp, Williams and Ganapathi, 2007; McWilliams and Siegel, 2001). Implementing CSR strategy in SMEs could constitute a foundation for environmental responsibility, social benefits and allowing human capital to reap success in terms of attractiveness to employees and further innovation potential. Strategic planning can be viewed as key determinant of business success (Lurie, 1987; Schwenk and Shrader, 1993; Miller and Cardinal, 1994; Hormozi, Sutton, McMinn and Lucio, 2002). Environmental responsibility Davis (1992) argues that there is a need for new strategies focusing on less environmentally destructive manufacturing. He argues that those organizations that transform themselves to
environmentally friendly production may incur short-term economic cost but reap long-term economic benefits (Davis, 1992). Organizations have been challenged to take a closer look at “the constraints and challenges posed by the natural (biophysical) environment” (Hart, 1995, pg. 989) as a driver for future development. Hart (1997) argues that companies should think strategically in their environmental responsibility implementation processes. Furthermore, a paradigm shift and new challenges leading to environmental responsibility may lead to emerging capabilities such as waste minimization, green product development and technology development in the developing world (Hart, 1997; Gladwin, 1992; Hart, 1994; Kleiner, 1991; Schmidheiny, 1992). Hart’s work presents a distinctive view of the strategic relationship between CSR and environmentally friendly development for organizations. Value creation through environmental responsibility can stem from innovation, new technology and new production methods, for example in the food industry, with respect to human health and nutrition. An example of a positive environmental initiative is the development of vegetables, fruits and other food products free from pesticide and other ingredients that can have a negative effect on consumers or the environment (Wang and Bansal, 2012; McWilliams and Siegel, 2001). Rennings et al. (2006) shows a positive link between the maturity of environmental management systems and environmental new product and service development, which act to strengthen the relationship between CSR strategies and innovation. Furthermore, advantages and value creation can be gained if companies strive to minimise negative environmental effects through new technology, decreased energy consumption and increase overall recycling and waste management. Social benefits Organizations committed to CSR are likely to adapt best practices and align themselves with existing initiatives to look for ways to benefit their societies (Hohnen, 2007). To create value from CSR strategies, Porter and van der Linde (1995) argue that companies need to incorporate social and environmental responsibility into their products and services. For example, “giving back” to society can be incorporated as part of a CSR strategy and can also form the core for innovation. Although monetary donations are likely to continue to be prominent, organizations are also turning to more hands-on approaches to creating social benefits. An example of such a successful initiative is Succead Academy (UK), which specializes in educating young people who would not otherwise be likely to gain an education in the field of information technology. In addition to being a positive social initiative, this venture constitutes an important innovation and a new source of revenue for the SME that created and runs the academy. Human capital SMEs tend to approach CSR on a more personal level than larger organizations, and tend to focus on people’s beliefs and values (Grayson, 2004). CSR can be considered as one of the elements used to increase positive impacts for human capital along with minimizing the negative effects of environmental and social impacts and maximizing positive impacts (Lantos, 2001; Mercuina, 2007). Good human resource management is one of the empowerment tools that organizations can use to create a culture of innovation (Laferot, 2007). Laferot (2007) identifies innovative resources for SMEs by looking into strategies that can be used to increase competitiveness through creative staff as well as effective planning. CSR foci in SMEs can contribute to collaboration and increased consensus among employees and managers. As collaboration
increases among employees and managers in organization a high level of trust and discretion in problem solving may in turn lead to increased innovativeness (Arundel et al. 2007).
Research methodology The goal of this research was to explore the implementation of CSR in practice in an SME to increase our understanding of both how CSR can be successfully implemented in SMEs and how such a strategic change can be the precursor to new service development. An inductive qualitative research method was chosen based on an open-ended and interpretive approach to obtain insight and develop theory from a single case study (Sutcliffe, 2011). The single case study approach focuses on understanding the dynamics present in a single setting (Eisenhardt, 1989) by employing an embedded design of analysis within a single study (Yin, 1984). Technology-based firms are an important setting in which to study new service development because research has shown that economic growth and opportunities for new job creation are unusually prevalent in technology driven companies (Kane, 2010). Moreover, a technologybased SME was deemed to be an ideal setting in which to examine the capabilities and resources needed to implement a CSR strategy and how this undertaking might lead to the development of new successful services. The empirical setting for this study is an SME established in 1999, here after referred to as CC (an acronym). CC started out as a small enterprise, building websites for businesses in creative sectors in the UK. Since then, it has enjoyed healthy growth and is currently a high profile industry leader providing a wide range of business-to-business services covering everything from graphic design and print production to social media, film, e-commerce and web development. Studying a growing firm such as CC allows generating understanding about how an SME can reap possible growth through developing a new service resulting from implementing a CSR strategy. 28 employees were interviewed, some of them more than once, over the course of about two years. Each interview took about one hour and a total of 66 (N=66) interviews were completed. All interviews were transcribed and analysed along with internal reports, company records, and published data sources (Eisenhardt and Graebner, 2007; Yin, 2003).
Findings During the two years CC progressed from an initial assessment of CSR, to commitment, to the development of a formal CSR strategy, to its implementation, and - as an unplanned byproduct - to the development of a new service offering based on the new thinking brought about by the CSR implementation. A group of four employees was formed to identify potential CSR activities falling under the categories of environmental activities, social awareness and human capital responsibilities. This involved meetings with managers and key staff involved in the entire CSR strategy development in the company individually and in brainstorming meetings. Next, the company established a clear goal to implement a formal CSR strategy. The process followed is described in Table 1.
Table 1. CSR process Phase Activity Plan 1. Conduct a CSR assessment
2. Develop a CSR strategy
How Assemble a CSR leadership team Define a working definition for CSR Identify legal requirements Review corporate documents, processes and activities Identify and engage key stakeholders and owners Build support with CEO, management and employees
3. Develop CSR commitments
4. Implement CSR commitments
Research what others are doing, assess the value of recognized CSR instruments Prepare a matrix of proposed CSR action Develop emerging CSR ideas Decide on direction, approach, boundaries and focus areas Consultation with major stakeholders and owners Develop an integrated CSR decision making structure Set targets and identify performance measurement
Engage employees and others to whom CSR commitments apply Design and conduct CSR training Establish mechanisms for addressing problematic behaviour Create internal and external communication plans Make commitments public
5. Assure and report on progress
Measure and assure performance Engage stakeholders/owners Report on performance internally and externally
6. Evaluate and improve
Evaluate performance Identify opportunities for improvements Engage stakeholders/owners
Cross-Check top down process to see whether the CSR strategy needs improvements and further evaluation.
As the creation of the CSR strategy got closer to the implementation process some ideas about a new service offering started to take shape. The idea for new service development came from one of the web developers in CC. His interests emerged from his work for clients stating that they work in a very close relationship with CC and CC should approach this relationship and the knowledge they gain in working for different industries as an opportunity for the business. The knowledge and experience
they have in different industries could differentiate them from other companies in similar industries and increase CC’s competitive advantage. Like the web developer who brought this idea to the table said: From this exercise we are looking at the possibilities of offering the knowledge to others, in the short term there is nothing that will let us make money directly from it [CSR] but from the knowledge and experience we can educate others and the benefits of having a CSR policy means the business is better. So I think to measure it could be difficult but the services we offer could be knowledge of what we gained. The idea did not gain acceptance at the outset but as the CSR process developed the creation of the new service idea started to emerge among the members of the CSR team as something interesting and challenging. They decided to give it a go and started to sketch the idea up for further discussion with management. After brainstorming and some ideological research the idea was brought up in a meeting with the senior manager, the line manager responsible for all services related to clients and the web developer who brought this idea up in the beginning (it should be stated that he was highly involved from the beginning of the idea generation for the NSD). The managers both showed some interest and asked for further development of the idea. In order to understand the firm’s overall approach many employees were interviewed, including owners and managers. Results from the interviews showed that the people were quite well informed about the CSR implementation process as a whole and its potential for the new service development. One employee explains: We were too small to offer CSR as a new service before we moved into the new office and hired all the new staff but we saw it as a business opportunity and a service to offer to customers. Now we have the expertise and people dedicated to offer it as a product. Internal discussion about the new business opportunity was thoroughly discussed since some employees had some issues about swaying away from their core business as a technologybased firm as recalled from one of the line managers: We often have to advise people on what should be on their web site as a part of their branding. Because we are in such close relationship to the customer and we have to research the company we work for each time quite well we tend to know a lot about their businesses… and from there we saw it as an opportunity to structure our CSR strategy as a service we could offer and I think it’s working. Another approach to CSR as a business opportunity resulting in new service development is expressed by one of the managers: The CSR strategy has made companies ready to buy into it because companies are more aware of their social aspect… seeing it from a web page design and marketing perspective it can help companies to make their CSR commitments visible resulting in a significant growth… in a positive way. The interviews show that most members of the firm were well informed about the new service they were offering. Some patterns were apparent in the interviews, for example: new service opportunity, we have the knowledge and expertise to do it, close relationship to customers and their business activities, it’s important to think about social responsibility, companies are more aware of CSR, CSR is an opportunity to raise ethical standards, CSR connects people and the society. Consequently, the CSR implementation process resulted in opportunity recognition, which was undertaken as an on-going activity along with the final
implementation of the CSR strategy. As a more proactive approach to new service development one employee suggested the following: Using our CSR strategy as a product or a service offering might appeal to customers as a proper way of doing business ethically. Companies need CSR to differentiate and that is what we feel is one of the matters they are seeking and we can provide that service. I think our CSR strategy can influence other companies and encourage them to sort their ethical issues to become socially responsible companies. Figure 1 shows the design of the CSR strategy that resulted from a process of evaluation and on-going improvements. The evaluation part of the process was facilitated through discussions with all members of the company in order to improve understanding and knowledge of the CSR process. As shown in the model there is a box for clients who became involved later in the process as the new service took form. The two boxes “Your CSR” and “Enquiry Form” represent the new service that came about as a by-product of the CSR implementation process.
Figure 1. Design of CSR strategy. A link on the company web site was implemented in order to advertise the CSR strategy and the new service offering related to the CSR strategy: It’s something that keeps the company connected to the people and the society in a positive way. It really advertises us and help us to connect to new clients, it offers a real opportunity to our clients to rethink and may help them to differentiate their business. The visible CSR strategy implemented by CC has become a useful by-product of their business with customers showing interests in buying the service as a single product. The overall finding is that the main driver of one of the new service development projects in CC was the new thinking brought about by the process of implementing a CSR strategy. Implementing the CSR strategy involved all employees, which may be one of the main
reasons why it had a widespread influence throughout the company. This may in fact constitute a particular advantage for SMEs when it comes to CSR, because they may be better placed than larger more dispersed companies to instantiate a tangible change in culture.
Conclusions It is important for managers and others involved in strategic development to have the confidence as well as the insight to uncover the innovative capabilities a firm has through their activities and expertise. This research has provided an example of strategic change, namely the implementation of a CSR strategy, and how such strategic change can lead to new service development. Central to the CSR strategy implemented is the new service development and the knowledge developed about the firm’s adaptive capabilities in fast moving and complex markets. This is in in line with how Day (2011) defines adaptive capabilities: (1) open marketing, (2) vigilant market learning, and (3) adaptive experimentation. According to this CC adopted capabilities through vigilant market learning and experimentation in an open market environment by differentiating their business through their CSR strategy and new service offerings, which may result in further market research and new service development. For managers, the research offers implications about how implementing CSR can instigate a change in corporate culture resulting in the development of new offerings that can appeal to new customers and market segments.
Acknowledgement This research was funded by the EU FP7 Programme under the Marie Curie IndustryAcademia Partnerships and Pathways Programme (IAPP).
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