Associate Professor of Business Administration, Marvin Bower Fellow
Julie Battilana is an Associate Professor of Business Administration in the Organizational Behavior unit at Harvard Business School. She currently teaches the second-year Power and Influence course and in previous years has taught the first-year Leadership and Organizational Behavior (LEAD) course in the MBA program. She also teaches in executive education offerings, including the Colloquium on Participant-Centered Learning and the High Potentials Leadership Program.
Professor Battilana's research examines the process by which organizations or individuals initiate and implement changes that diverge from the taken-for-granted practices in a field of activity. In times like these, when the question of how to reform deeply rooted systems such as healthcare and financial systems has taken on great urgency, understanding how actors can break with the status quo is crucial. Aiming to do so, Professor Battilana first studied the implementation of healthcare reforms in the National Health Service in the United Kingdom. Her work examines (1) the conditions that enable actors to initiate organizational change that diverges from the institutional status quo, and (2) the key factors of success in implementing such change.
Continuing to explore how actors can break with taken-for-granted norms, Professor Battilana's most recent research focuses on hybrid organizations that combine aspects of both corporations and not-for-profits. These hybrids, which pursue a social mission while engaging in commercial activities in order to generate revenues that sustain their operations, diverge from the model of both the typical corporation and the typical not-for-profit. Commercial microfinance organizations are an example of such organizations. Professor Battilana's research aims to understand how hybrids can sustainably combine the social welfare and commercial logics. She has articles published or forthcoming in Academy of Management Journal, Organization Science, Management Science, Strategic Organization, Leadership Quarterly, Organization, Research in Organizational Behavior and The Academy of Management Annals, as well as in handbooks of organizational behavior and strategy. Her research has been featured in publications like BusinessWeek, the Huffington Post, and the Stanford Social Innovation Review. She is also a regular contributor to the French newspaper Le Monde.
A native of France, Professor Battilana earned a B.A. in sociology and economics, an M.A. in political sociology and an M.Sc. in organizational sociology and public policy from Ecole Normale Supérieure de Cachan. She also holds a degree from HEC Business School, and a joint Ph.D. in organizational behavior from INSEAD and in management and economics from Ecole Normale Supérieure de Cachan.
The enabling conditions for institutional entrepreneurship
Under what conditions can actors, whose beliefs and actions are influenced by their institutional environment, diverge from the institutional status quo? The first stream of research in Professor Battilana’s work aims to address this question. To do so, she has examined the enabling role of actors’ social position both within their organization and within their field of activity, in a series of theoretical and empirical articles and book chapters. She developed a model that specifically highlights the impact that individuals' social position has on their likelihood to initiate change that diverges from the institutional status quo. This model was tested with data from 93 change projects that were conducted by 93 clinical managers from the National Health Service (NHS) in the United Kingdom between 2002 and 2004. The findings suggest that individuals' social position is an important enabling condition for change diverging from the prevailing institutions in a field and that, depending on the institutions from which they diverge, individual actors have different profiles in terms of social position.
Professor Battilana has also begun to explore the influence of other individual-level as well as community-level enabling conditions for institutional entrepreneurship that have so far received scant attention. Her findings point to the need to adopt a multi-level approach that accounts for the individual, the organizational, the field, as well as the community levels in examining the enabling conditions for institutional entrepreneurship. Apart from its theoretical implications, this line of research has important practical implications in that it helps to identify the profile of local champions for implementing change that diverges from the institutional status quo, be it in the form of public sector reforms or private sector change initiatives.
How the process of institutional entrepreneurship unfolds
When attempting to implement change that diverges from the institutional status quo, institutional entrepreneurs face the specific challenge of having to convince others to adopt practices that are not only new to them but also diverge from the norms in their institutional environment. How can they meet this challenge? The second stream of research in Professor Battilana’s work aims to address this question. She has done so in two recent studies. The first study, which she conducted with Silvia Dorado, examines the creation and sustainability of the first two private commercial microfinance organizations created in Bolivia. Commercial microfinance organizations provide loans to low-income entrepreneurs under market conditions. They combine the development logic that guides their mission to help the poor on the one hand, with the banking logic that dictates that the interest rates they charge generate profits sufficient to enable them to fulfill their fiduciary obligations, on the other hand. In combining the development and banking logics in such an unprecedented way, the first commercial microfinance organizations diverged from the existing organizational archetypes of both banks and not-for-profit microfinance organizations, thereby acting as institutional entrepreneurs. This study explores how these commercial microfinance organizations, which were new types of hybrid organizations (organizations that combined institutional logics in unprecedented ways), developed and maintained their hybrid nature in the absence of "ready-to-wear" organizational archetypes. The study identifies hiring and socialization policies as crucial levers for the development of an organizational identity that can sustain novel combinations of logics over time. In doing so, it contributes to better understanding how organizations that depart from existing organizational archetypes can mobilize their organizational members to support such departures.
In the second empirical project, Professor Battilana is currently further exploring the challenges of coalition building in the implementation of change that diverges from the institutional status quo. Using data on 68 organizational change initiatives conducted at the NHS, she examines, with Tiziana Casciaro, how change agents leverage their social capital when implementing such change. More specifically, the study examines the influence of change agents’ position in intra-organizational networks on their likelihood to succeed in implementing change in general, as well as change that diverges from the institutional status quo.
Institutional entrepreneurship in the social enterprise sector
Most recently, Professor Battilana has started studying institutional entrepreneurship in the social enterprise sector. Social entrepreneurs can be broadly characterized as individuals or organizations engaged in entrepreneurial activities with a social goal, such as commercial microfinance organizations. In attempting to achieve this social goal, social enterprise initiatives often break with existing institutions, thus providing a particularly adequate setting for examining the process of institutional entrepreneurship.