Framing Sustainable Practices: Middle Managers and Social Intrapreneurial Championing

Framing Sustainable Practices: Middle Managers and Social Intrapreneurial Championing

Jeffrey Gauthier (SUNY Plattsburgh, Plattsburgh, NY, USA), Chris Meyer (Fordham University, New York, NY, USA) and David Cohen (Skidmore College, Saratoga Springs, NY, USA)
DOI: 10.4018/IJSECSR.2016070102
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This paper develops and clarifies social intrapreneurship theory by examining the “how” of effective intrapreneurial championing. More specifically, the authors consider the following research question: How does the manner in which middle managers frame sustainable practices influence successful championing outcomes? The authors integrate the natural-resource-based view of the firm with research on middle management championing behaviors and issue-contingent models of ethical decision making to propose a model of sustainability championing for social intrapreneurs. To that end, propositions are developed concerning the relationship between the types of sustainable practice championed, how the argument for a given practice is framed, and successful championing outcomes. This paper contributes to a growing body of literature on social intrapreneurship, providing insight into how intrapreneurial championing can be more effective and building a foundation for future research.
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Increasingly, large businesses claim that they are committed to solving social and environmental concerns (Massetti et al., 2016). These claims have spawned a range of productive literature streams, including scholarship on the triple bottom line of sustainability, i.e., measuring social and environmental impacts, in addition to financial results, and how it can be implemented in firms. Despite this focus, it continues to be unclear whether this professed concern is a matter of marketing or mission, which has obvious implications for corporate commitment to social and environmental sustainability (Massetti et al., 2016). In this paper, the authors suggest that to understand whether triple bottom line measures have become integral to the firm’s strategy, we need to examine the firm’s strategy process.

Strategy guides the firm’s decisions about investing in internal resources to better fit its industry environment (Barney, 1991; Venkatraman, 1989). Strategy process is concerned with how these decisions are made (Floyd & Wooldridge, 2000). A firm that has decided that its strategic fit does not depend upon triple bottom line factors may hold only a limited commitment to social and environmental concerns, viewing sustainability more as marketing than strategy (Massetti et al., 2016). Before a business will commit to transfer sufficient resources to address triple bottom line concerns, top managers must believe that addressing those concerns will support the business’s strategy moving forward. But how do top managers come to be convinced in the strategic importance of sustainability?

It is this process of “convincing” that is the focus of this paper. More specifically, the authors address the following research question: How does the manner in which middle managers frame sustainable practices influence successful championing outcomes? Championing constitutes a tool used by middle managers to affect change in their firm’s strategy (Burgelman, 2016; Dutton & Ashford, 1993; Floyd & Wooldridge, 1992). Middle management championing is critical for successful strategic adaptation (Heyden et al., 2015; Rouleau, 2005, Wooldridge et al., 2008). For businesses to make substantive triple bottom line progress, middle managers must learn to champion triple bottom line improvements as a critical part of organizational strategy. In brief, for firms to commit to sustainability, middle manager “social intrapreneurs” (Mair & Marti, 2006) must use the levers and routines of the firm’s strategy process, including framing, to champion improvement.

This paper makes two important contributions. First, the authors develop and clarify theory about social intrapreneurship by suggesting that middle management championing is critical for increasing resource allocation towards positive social and environmental change (Floyd & Wooldridge, 2000). Second, the paper adds nuance to our understanding of middle manager championing processes by utilizing triple bottom line measures as a context to break down the nature of and activities involved in championing. Strategy process in general, and championing in particular, is critical to understanding how firms come to commit resources to social and environmental considerations. Social intrapreneurs “persistently champion a vision of change” (SustainAbility, 2008, p. 5), and by combining elements from the sustainability and social intrapreneurship literature with the literature on championing, the authors add useful insight into how social intrapreneurship championing can be more effective.

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