Julie Battilana, Harvard Business School

Purpose and Power in Corporations: Are More Democratic Forms of Organizing Better Suited to the Pursuit of Multiple Purposes?
Julie Battilana


Fall 2022
Lecture Time: 
Friday, October 7, 2022 - 1:30pm to 3:00pm
Lecture Location: 

This lecture is exclusively on Zoom.

Introduced By: 
Angie Kim


Corporations are increasingly expected to pursue social and environmental purpose in addition to profit, but we still do not know much about which forms of organizing may be best suited to enable them to rise to this challenge. In this paper, we ask: which distributions of decision-making power are better suited to sustaining the pursuit of multiple purposes in corporations? To investigate this question, we present a framework of four ideal type forms of organizing that vary along two key dimensions: purpose and power. We conceptualize organizations as varying in whether they pursue a single purpose vs. multiple purposes, and in whether decision-making power is concentrated at the top (oligarchical) vs. more democratically distributed amongst workers. We then integrate organization theory and democratic theory to present three theoretical propositions. Specifically, we advance that more democratic forms of organizing will make it easier to sustain the pursuit of multiple purposes over the long term, and we propose that formal spaces of deliberation and deliberative culture help facilitate the success of such democratic forms of organizing. Our paper contributes to theorizing at the intersection of power and purpose, two lines of work that have until now evolved mostly on separate tracks.

Recording & Additional Notes

Julie Battilana is the Joseph C. Wilson Professor of Business Administration in the Organizational Behavior unit at Harvard Business School and the Alan L. Gleitsman Professor of Social Innovation at Harvard Kennedy School, where she is also the founder and faculty chair of the Social Innovation and Change Initiative. Prof. Battilana’s research aims to elucidate what it takes to initiate divergent change, and how to succeed in its implementation. To do so, she has developed two streams of research that address divergent change at different levels of analysis. The first focuses on understanding the conditions that enable individuals to initiate and implement divergent change within their organizations. The second examines how organizations themselves can diverge from deeply-seated organizational forms, which, as they become taken-for-granted over time, prescribe the structures and management systems that organizations in a given sector ought to adopt. A native of France, Prof. Battilana earned a B.A. in sociology and economics, an M.A. in political sociology and an M.Sc. in organizational sociology and public policy from Ecole Normale Supérieure de Cachan. She also holds a degree from HEC Business School, and a joint Ph.D. in organizational behavior from INSEAD and in management and economics from Ecole Normale Supérieure de Cachan.