Organizational curatorship comprises all of the activities that organizational actors employ to preserve, exercise connoisseurship over, and orchestrate their resources. These three functions parallel much of the literature on curatorship in the arts world.
There has been a good deal of emphasis by resource-based and dynamic capability scholars on the role of resources and competencies in sustaining competitive advantage. Unfortunately, resources and capabilities—defined as valuable, rare, hard to imitate, and having no clear substitutes—are subject to particular challenges of vulnerability. Paradoxically, sometimes it is the very sources of value and isolating mechanisms of such resources that make them or their rents especially hard to sustain. Reputation is one such resource. This entry examines three categories of vulnerability identified by Isabelle Le Breton-Miller and Danny Miller that call for particular modes of organizational curatorship.
Erosion occurs for several reasons. First, the value of a resource may attract rivals who wish to capture it; hence, valuable employees who contribute to a firm’s reputation may become the targets of head hunters. Another threat is that valuable departments may become jaded or draw firm resources disproportionately, thereby crippling or alienating other parts of an organization and leading to lapses in conduct. Another source of erosion comes from path dependence, whereby resources or capabilities can only be accumulated over time to create value. Although this is a barrier to imitation, it is also a potential source of fragility, especially for resources such as reputation, which are hard to build but much easier to destroy. It may take years to develop a reputation for quality and service, yet one significant lapse can erode it, and then it takes much time and effort to repair and rebuild it.
Ambiguity represents a challenge to resource curatorship in that many resources, as well as the sources of their value, are ambiguous. Some resources are ambivalent; that is, they have both positive and negative aspects, which makes them hard to appreciate or even detect. That can be the case, for example, with brilliant employees who have behavioral problems or whose inexperience conceals their talent. Another source of ambiguity presents when firms cannot understand their assets or the sources of rent from these assets. Reputation, for example, is an attribute with complex and diverse sources; it can represent a constellation of features that appeal to stakeholders in varying measure. Knowing what is most important may be a challenge. This problem is exacerbated where reputation relies on the tacit skills of members, who cannot easily impart them to others in the firm—for instance, a high level of artistic or craft skill, or “attractiveness” to major clients.
A final challenge to curators comes from difficulties in preserving alignment. The value of some resources depends on a complementary context. Although this makes them difficult for rivals to appropriate, it also makes them vulnerable to changes in context. Thus, reputation may depend on a team effort that delivers high-quality goods and services, but when a key member of the team leaves, reputation may suffer.
These vulnerabilities are not independent; for example, the tacitness of an ambiguous resource may obscure its value, especially where there are requirements of aligning it with a changing context. This may be the case for some types of reputation, which can erode due to internal lapses, difficulties in comprehending its sources, and failure to align with changing client demands or tastes, or inroads by rivals.
Organizational curatorship aims to address these challenges of resource vulnerability. Specifically, erosion challenges can be met by assiduous efforts at preservation. These can take the form of carefully hiring key people who fit the firm culture and embedding them in complementary teams, making it unattractive for them to leave. Generous investment in resources and capabilities that sustain quality in the long run, despite short-term costs, can help ensure that any reputational edge will be preserved. This is easiest done when governance systems emphasize long-term team rewards and loyalty rather than favoring a short-term star system. It is useful also to build redundancy into some resources to preserve capability even under conditions of turnover.
Connoisseurship is another important lever of curatorship, and its primary target is to reduce ambiguity. This may entail identifying resources that can be used to build or sustain reputation. For example, 360-degree appraisals can identify who has the talent to create value and where the person should be colocated to tutor others to share key skills. Parsing resources to deal with causal ambiguity may be achieved via information systems that determine which units, functions, or products enjoy the best reception and which individuals and teams are responsible for that. Tacit resources can best be preserved via close mentorship and apprenticeship programs, as well as by implementing systems that reward talented individuals for sharing their knowledge.
Finally, orchestration is a curatorship lever that addresses the challenges of alignment. Given that some resources contributing to reputation are context dependent and that many contexts are always changing, it is important to determine how they can be complemented by alternative resources as things evolve—for example, by people with different skills or by new market opportunities. Moreover, it may be useful to develop new sources and even types of reputation to deal with a changing environment. Where reputation is dependent on a complex value chain, as it often is, it is essential to build robustness and flexibility into that chain and its various interdependencies.
Certainly, the resource challenges and vulnerabilities noted above are not trivial—and that is especially the case for reputation, which is a complex, tacit, often context-dependent resource. But if managers work diligently at all of the levers of curatorship—preservation, connoisseurship, and orchestration—there is a greater chance of sustaining reputation for years to come.
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