Routines

A number of scholars have identified the routine as a candidate for the replicator when studying organizational change. There are however many competing definitions for the routine, including recurrent interaction patterns or ‘regular and predictable behavioral patterns’ (Nelson and winter, 1982), ‘if–then’ rules, heuristics, rules of thumb (Cyert and March, 1963), standard operating procedures and dispositions to express certain behavior (Hodgson and Knudsen, 2010). Despite these differences most authors agree that routines are collective phenomena and involve multiple actors. They depend on the connections, the stitching together of multiple participants and their actions form a pattern that people can recognize and talk about as a routine (Becker, 2004, 2005) and organizational members must learn their parts within these routines. As routines involve multiple actors, their smooth running is due to an implicit truce established between those giving and those executing the orders (Cyert and March, 1963; Nelson and Winter, 1982). - see [Breslin, 2011]

Many researchers have used the routine to develop evolutionary accounts of change in organizations. The Carnegie School take the routine to present a view of organizational learning, in which senior management vary routines, select them based on perceived and interpreted fit with changing environmental circumstances, and retain 'successful' routines for future use (Cyert & March, 1963; Levitt & March, 1988). These behavioral and cognitive accounts bring agency back into the evolutionary story, with managers driving the variation-selection-retention of knowledge over time, through experiential, trial-and-error learning. Drawing on these works, others have put forward multi-level conceptualizations of change in organizations (Aldrich, 1999), with routines being selected 'for' through the selection 'of' groups and organizations (Hodgson & Knudsen, 2010).

In contrast to what some have termed the 'entity' view of the routine, others have put forward a practice-based view of the routine, as represented by the duality of the ostensive-performative aspect (Feldman and Pentland, 2003; Pentland and Feldman, 2005). In addition Feldman and Pentland have adopted the concepts of variation-selection-retention, and more recently the genotype-phenotype with a view towards unpacking the dynamics of change within the routine.

Recommended Reading

Becker, M. (2008). Handbook of Organizational Routines, Edward Elgar: Cheltenham, UK.

This edited volume contains a wide range of perspectives on the organizational routine. While few of these include evolutionary narratives, the development of routines literature and evolutionary research are set to more closely co-evolve in the coming years.
Cyert, R. and March, J. (1963). A Behavioral Theory of the Firm. Blackwell

This seminal work develops key ideas in the concept of the routine as a building block of changing behavior in organizations. A number of researchers have drawn from this text in developing co-evolutionary accounts.
Feldman, M.S. and B.T. Pentland (2003), ‘Reconceptualizing Organizational Routines as a Source of Flexibility and Change’, Administrative Science Quarterly, 48(1), 94-118.

Feldman and Pentland put forward the ostensive-performative duality alongside the concepts of variation-selection-retention to conceptualize endogeneous change within routines
Pentland, B.T., M.S. Feldman, M.C. Becker and P. Liu (2012), ‘Dynamics of Organizational Routines: A Generative Model’, Journal of Management Studies, 49(8), 1484-1508

Pentland and colleagues adopt the additional concepts of genotype-phenotype in the development of this numerical model of change

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