Microfoundations of New Venture Growth

Economies depend on the growth of entrepreneurial ventures. But little is known about the contributions of a major partner in that growth: the venture’s early employees. Sometimes called “joiners,” these recruits often work alolngside founders to bring a shared vision into being. If joiners’ work is successful, what emerges is a more elaborate organizational structure, with new processes of coordination that, paradoxically, distance joiners from the founders and decrease the possibilities for agentic, autonomous action that drew joiners to the startup in the first place. 

To explore the experiences of joiners, my dissertation draws from 2 years of observations and interviews in a medical lab that grew from 25 to 250 employees in just a few months. Findings explain how joiners lose influence as their company scales—and the actions they take to reassert their agency. I then propose a new “microfoundations” lens that may help companies address the people side of scaling.

Another study of scaling, this one with Anat Rafaeli, examines more than 400,000 Slack messages from a burgeoning tech firm. Rather than the quick professionalization into various functional divisions, which the organizational chart might suggest, in the Slack data we see divisional siloes forming slowly, over 4 years, through employees' connecting practices. Shifts in topics, emotional tone, and other features of the messages likewise hint at the ways in which employees' connecting behaviors shape the startup's journey toward professionalization.

Shared Purpose and Belonging

I believe organizations can be forces for good, with influence beyond the full-time employees who are the usual focus of organizational behavior research. 

Many of my projects involve people sometimes thought to be on the margins of organizational life--low-wage, remote, or temporary workers, for example, or the family members of employees. I am particularly interested in how these groups experience belonging, shared purpose, and a sense of community through their (perhaps more tenuous) organizational ties. 

Dignity at Work

Another research stream involves how people co-create a sense of dignity at work. In my dissertation, I explore how members of a startup help and harm each other's felt worth as their company grows.

In a second study, coauthors Julia Lee Cunningham, Alaina Segura, Nathan Meikle and I examine how employees experience manager-led activities designed to build relationships. We find these workplace rituals are particularly effective when they invite employees to affirm each other's worth as people, not just as workers. 

A third study, this one with Wayne Baker, connects perceptions of interpersonal mattering at work with how often people are willing to ask each other for help. 

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