Understanding Social and Organizational Capital & Decision Making for Take-Off Stage Firms in the Food Industry During Unexpected Environmental Change, Frances Sweeney

This study contributes to the fields of organizational behavior, decision-making, and change readiness. I observed take-off stage organizations which are disrupting systemic food categories in the US food industry during the coronavirus disease 2019 pandemic. More specifically, these organizations build values like sustainability and social impact into their business model from the start. This research aims to answer the question: Can a firm proactively build change management strategies into their decision making structures in the context of unexpected environmental change in time to avoid failure?

In order to answer this question, I conducted semi-structured interviews with five C-suite and founder level executives in this population. I coded these conversations for recurring themes and trends that indicated change readiness. To supplement and validate my findings, I analyzed two impact and sustainability reports from an organization that shares the identified value structure but has grown into a leader in their category.

The findings are categorized into five themes: values alignment, supporting social capital, reinforcing activities, documentation, and understanding externalities. I conclude that organizations who build key processes and structures around stakeholders like the environment, local communities, the well-being of their workforce, and a holistic view of the supply chain are inherently building preparedness for unexpected change and are therefore better equipped to weather extreme external events.

For future studies in this field, I recommend a comparative analysis of these disruptor organizations against their more traditional competitors to understand the most vulnerable conditions of our food system and work to address them in sustainable and holistic ways.

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