Judith Van Helvert-Beugels (2018)

The emerging role of advisory boards in strategizing in family firms: A sensemaking perspective

This thesis addresses the emerging role of advisory boards in strategizing in privately held family firms. The thesis focuses on the period in which family firms start considering to work with an advisory board through the board’s first several years of existence. A micro-level strategy perspective is combined with insights from sensemaking theory to understand how the practitioners involved make sense of this new arena involved in strategizing. Empirically, the study is based on four real-time case studies that primarily use observations along with interviews and secondary documents. The within- and cross case interpretations are integrated into a conceptual model that explains how the roles of advisory boards in strategizing emerge over time.

The most important finding of this study is that advisory boards emerge into unique configurations through the sensemaking activities of the practitioners involved. Moreover, this study shows that practitioners make sense of both the content that should be addressed and the role and tasks of the advisory board. This sensemaking is achieved in different ways and in different forms (individual versus mediated versus collective sensemaking), which explains the substantial differences between the advisory boards in different situations. It is suggested that the lack of an institutional frame or institutional norms provides considerable freedom in interpreting the role of the advisory boards, through which such boards largely become a contextualized practice. Two underlying causal mechanisms have been identified that drive the sensemaking processes of the practitioners involved in advisory board meetings: the learning orientation of the practitioners involved and the (a)symmetry between the advisory board members on the one hand and the family firm decision makers on the other hand.

This dissertation contributes to our current understanding of advisory boards using a micro-level strategy lens instead of a governance lens to understand the emerging role of the advisory board in strategizing in the family firm context. This approach has helped to characterize the advising and sensemaking processes at play and how advisory boards emerge into unique configurations over time. Second, this dissertation contributes to the strategy as practice literature by devoting attention to a new arena involved in strategizing that emerges over time and the elements that play a role in this process. Instead of studying how an existing arena is performed, this study focuses on the emergence of a new strategy arena along with the practices used, the praxis performed and the practitioners involved. Thus I show how such a new arena is contextualized and becomes situated over time, attending to the processual dimensions, the content dimensions, the outcomes of the process and the outcomes generated by strategizing.