Modern organisations increasingly have to find a balance between conflicting
aims and responsibilities. For example. the health service's primary purpose of
providing the best patient care must also be balanced with its need to
demonstrate financial accountability, and even profit. To see how seemingly
incompatible aims can be successfully combined, researchers at Cass Business
School and Saïd Business Schoolconducted a year-long study of reinsurance
trading at the venerable Lloyd's of London financial institution. Here,
underwriters must balance the need to increase profits and market share with an
ability to function as a member of the tight-knit and highly traditional
social community of Lloyd's. To focus on one aspect more than the other is
potentially damaging. So how do they achieve balance?
The research finds that underwriters have adopted a model that allows them
to strike a balance between commercial and community. Rather than there
existing an "either-or" prioritisation between conflicting demands, the
relationship is transformed into one of "both-and". The following three
mechanisms are employed to bring this about:
- segmenting, this is where underwriters perform conflicting
duties in different locales, to avoid stirring tension between rival
- bridging, which is the method by which the underwriters
connect their segemented work, and
- demarcating, the means by which
underwriters ensure they do not over-prioritise one set of demands and lose
focus on another.
This model allows individual practitioners to meet the demands of
'institutional complexity', the modern challenge of aligning their practices
with incompatible 'logics'. This challenge is found in many businesses and
sectors, and the research urges leaders to support an implementation of the
model discussed to ensure their staff can effectively balance the competing
demands they face.
The final draft edition of the research is available for download at the
One of the authors of the research, Professor Paula Jarzabkowski, discusses
the study in the latest
Cass Talks video.