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Document Type

Open Access Dissertation

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Degree Program


Year Degree Awarded

Fall 2015

First Advisor

Bill Wooldridge, PhD

Second Advisor

Bruce Skaggs, PhD

Third Advisor

Steven Floyd, PhD

Fourth Advisor

Lawrence Zacharius

Subject Categories

Strategic Management Policy


My dissertation is a set of three independent papers exploring both conceptually and empirically the processes by which middle managers influence organizational strategy. Specifically, I examine the hows and whys of middle management strategic influence. By what mechanisms do middle managers change the course of organizational strategy and why do some middle managers, but not others, change the organization’s strategic direction? I do so from a perspective of methodological reductionism (that is, I look to the actions of the individual for explanations of organizational level phenomena, such as strategic change). In particular, all three papers explore how an individual middle manager’s structural position within the firm interacts with personal characteristics (broadly defined) to explain strategic influence or its absence. As such, I contribute to three different strategy literatures: research examining strategic change (Naranjo‐Gil, Hartmann & Maas, 2008); the middle management perspective on strategy process (Wooldridge, Schmid & Floyd, 2008); and the microfoundations of strategy process (Schmid, Floyd & Wooldridge, 2010).

Although my three papers are tightly tied to my central research question, each paper differs in its focus. My conceptual paper (The Strength of Moderate Identities: The Microfoundations of Middle Manager Divergent Strategic Influence) develops a person-situation model of middle management lead strategic change. I suggest that middle managers situated in particular structural positions are more likely than others to be able to change organizational level strategy, but the relevant structural position differs with different strategic types. Even then, properly situated managers’ ability to see new strategic opportunities depends upon individual level characteristics.

Because of my interest in the microfoundations of strategy process, my second paper (Thar She Blows! Middle Managers and the Microfoundations of the Attention Based View of the Firm) is qualitative, using the perceptions of individual middle managers to elucidate process (the “how” question) and to generate more fine-grained theory. I report qualitatively on three attempts (two successful and one unsuccessful) by middle managers to influence organizational strategic change by directing the attention of top managers to strategic opportunities. I use this research to build theory about the microfoundations of the attention based view (ABV) of the firm; specifically the role of individual middle managers in alerting the firm to environmental change. In particular, I examine the question of how individual structural position and cognition is enlisted to supplement top manager attention. I contribute to the strategy process literature (and specifically to both the ABV and middle management perspective) by using the tools of microfoundations research to work towards an attention based view of middle management, thus allowing for a richer and more textured understanding of the cogs and wheels of strategic change.

Because I theorize that middle manager strategic influence can be traced back, in part, to structural factors, my third paper is a social network study (The Microfoundations of Middle Manager Strategic Influence In A High Tech Firm) focusing on structure and its interaction with personal characteristics. If large firms are information moving and reasoning machines (Ocasio, 1997; Simon, 1947), then an understanding of the processes and routines that lead to strategic change (Teece, 2007) must incorporate an understanding of how information moves through the firm and whether “reasoning” takes place in particular people, as an artifact of organizational routines or both. Tracing these mechanisms to their foundation is part of the microfoundational turn in strategy process research (Schmid, Floyd and Wooldridge, 2010; Teece, 2007; Felin and Foss, 2005). In my third paper I add to this literature (and speculatively to the theory of the firm) by trying to find a link between strategic influence, access to information and behavior in the ego-networks of middle managers in a high tech firm. In particular, in my sample synthesizing behavior has significantly more weight in contributing to perceived influence than any of the other three Wooldridge and Floyd (1992) types of middle management strategic influence. Although the generalizability of this work is limited, it does point towards some interesting areas of future research into how middle managers influence strategy and, more broadly, into the internal processes that lead to strategic change.