I need time! Exploring pathways to compliance under institutional complexity

Aafke G.M. Raaijmakers, Patrick A.M. Vermeulen, Marius T.H. Meeus, Charlene Zietsma

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

103 Scopus citations


In this study, we examined responses to institutional complexity by analyzing when and how organizations respond to a coercive institutional demand from a powerful constituent when other important constituents do not accept the demand as legitimate. We experimentally manipulated institutional complexity and gauged the time to compliance of 100 childcare managers in the Netherlands, and then asked them to describe and explain their anticipated responses to multiple pressures. We found that institutional complexity leads decision makers to delay compliance, but usually not passively: decision makers used the time before compliance to attempt to reduce institutional complexity by neutralizing opposing pressures, challenging the coercive pressure, adapting the practice to suit opponents and their own personal beliefs, and/or waiting to see how the situation would unfold as multiple parties influenced one another. We found two factors influenced decision makers' choice of responses: (1) their interpretation of institutional complexity and (2) their personal beliefs toward the practice itself. Our findings contribute to an emerging understanding of how decision makers interpret and respond to institutional complexity, and thus complement recent studies in the institutional complexity literature.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)85-110
Number of pages26
JournalAcademy of Management Journal
Issue number1
StatePublished - Feb 1 2015

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Business and International Management
  • Business, Management and Accounting(all)
  • Strategy and Management
  • Management of Technology and Innovation


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