Managing sustainability in for-profit organizations can give rise to multiple tensions, including those between financial and social objectives or meeting competing stakeholder demands on the firm. Recent research into these tensions suggests that framing them paradoxically, as competing objectives that are interconnected and persist through time, can help to manage those tensions and may even promote innovative solutions. This research project, consisting of two complimentary papers, examined how a paradox approach might help directors on the boards of for-profit companies more productively manage sustainability. Specifically, it examined how a paradox mindset, a willingness to embrace multiple tensions among competing objectives, relates to the types of sustainability paradoxes experienced by these board members. The first paper developed a new conceptual model and propositions based on the corporate governance, sustainability, and paradox literature. The second paper tests and expands upon the first. Using grounded theory methodology to analyze semi-structured interviews with US-based corporate directors, I propose that board members respond to endogenous and exogenous factors to render multiple sustainability-related paradoxes salient. Once salient, these paradoxes provoke positive and negative cognitive affective responses which are put through a process that involves implicit coordination and construal-level theory. These responses result in adaptive or contingent strategies to manage or mitigate tensions, respectively. The paradox mindset is found to moderate both salience and the response to tensions. This project extends sustainability and paradox research into the board context, with practical implications for board member development, as well as board structure, management, and recruitment.
Library of Congress Subject Headings
Boards of directors; Corporate governance; Sustainability; Paradoxes
Date of Award
George L. Graziadio School of Business and Management
Bikel, Robert S., "Board-level sustainability paradoxes" (2022). Theses and Dissertations. 1401.