Micro-foundations of improvement initiatives in MNCs: A fuzzy-set analysis of operations managers’ beliefs

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Dr. Johannes Meuer

Group for Sustainability and Technology (SusTec) at the Department of Management, Technology, and Economics

EHT Zürich, Schweiz


Launching improvement initiatives, (i.e. the adoption of operational practices) is a common strategy for companies that strive toward operational excellence. The success rate, however, is often disappointing. Empirical evidence highlights middle managers’ support and acceptance of the initiative as a major hurdle for sustainable adoption. Despite the key role of middle managers’ commitment, its social psychological foundations are still unclear. In this paper, we take a micro-organizational approach of improvement initiatives taken by facilities of MNCs. We investigate how operations managers’ beliefs relevant to the adoption of an operational practice relate to their actual commitment to it. In line with claims for recognition of legitimacy explanations, we included beliefs related to efficacy (“pull”) and beliefs related to legitimacy (“push”) to study the convergence of two apparently contradictory theoretical arguments. We use fuzzy-set Qualitative Comparative Analysis (fsQCA) to analyze survey data. fsQCA unveils three configurations (or sets) of beliefs that lead to operations managers’ commitment to the operational practice adopted at their facility: the believer, the reformer, and the persuadable manager. By examining operations managers’ cognitive, normative and control beliefs, we contribute to the growing literature on behavioral operations management with an understanding of the individual-level dynamics of improvement initiatives.

Co-authors: Dr. Maricela Arellano Caro, ETH Zürich; Prof. Dr. Torbjørn H. Netland, ETH Zürich


Johannes Meuer is a senior researcher in the Group for Sustainability and Technology (SusTec) at the Department of Management, Technology, and Economics of ETH Zurich. Johannes is broadly interested in how organizational design shapes technological innovation. He is studying this in the context of corporate sustainability, drawing on theories at the intersection of corporate sustainability, strategic management, and technological innovation, to investigate strategies for firms to integrate sustainability into their business operations. Johannes also develops new methodological approaches based on set theoretic methods such as fuzzy set Qualitative Comparative Analysis (QCA), and is applying these methods in various substantive field such as organization and innovation theory, strategic HRM, and production and operations management.
Johannes holds a PhD from Rotterdam School of Management, Erasmus University and an MSc in International Economics from Corvinus University Budapest. During his studies, he spent time at USC Marshall Business School in Los Angeles, the China Europe International Business School (CEIBS) in Shanghai, and the Universidad Complutense Madrid. At USC, Johannes conducted research under the supervision of Peer Fiss on configurational methods in the context of organizational innovation and design. Before joining ETH Zurich, Johannes worked as a researcher at the University of Zurich where he focused on investigating how firms draw on institutional resources to integrate technological and organizational innovation. Moreover, from 2012 to 2013 he held a position as an associate researcher at the Leibniz GIGA Institute of Asian Studies, and from 2011 to 2015 a position as a visiting fellow of the Cranfield School of Management.

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Birgit Kappert

Assistant Resident Faculty

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