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Conforming or transforming? How organizations respond to multiple rankings

Pollock, N   Williams, R   Leforestier, L

Accounting, Organizations and Society   64 55-68


November 2017

The vast majority of research on rankings tends to conceptualise the organizational response to rankings as a simple process of ‘reactivity’ (Espeland and Sauder 2007). In contrast to the widespread suggestion that they react by ‘conforming’ to the prevailing measures of performance, we find this is no longer always the case as organizations are typically surrounded by too many rankings. This raises the question as to which ones they should conform. In the complex and rapidly-changing contexts described in this paper, the information technology sector, and drawing on an in-depth ethnographic study, we find organizations are not simply aligning with rankings but transforming internally to respond to the problem of multiple rankings. This includes constructing and elaborating new forms of knowledge, expertise and practices. Unlike prior studies which present organizations as ‘constrained’ by performance information (reacting by conforming), we find that they are becoming increasingly proactive (which we name “reacting by transforming”). To this effect, we show how organizations are able to exercise greater choice about which rankings they respond to, how they help shape their placings on these measures, as well as how they wield influence over the ranking criteria and, in a few cases, the wider evaluative ecosystem.