Microfoundations of (inter)action between top and middle managers in strategic implementation

Samir Lótfi Vaz, Maria Elisa Brandão Bernardes, Sergio Bulgacov, Rosileia das Mercês Milagres


Objective: We used the microfoundations lens to contribute to studies on the interaction between top and middle managers, as well as to studies on the cognitive effets of strategy implementation.

Methodology: Empirical evidence result from a survey conducted with 104 middle managers of a large size telecommunications company operating in Brazil.

Originality: Making use of traditional and contemporary literature and in opposition to simplified assumptions about managers’interfaces, we revealed the relevance of managerial interactions and their idiosyncratic and inimitable nature.

Results: Our analyses revealed that a combination of micro adaptation practices by middle managers and their perceptions regarding top manager’s participative leadership positively influenced the way implementation is cognitively realised. Such effects are even more pronounced when the two groups of managers experience a good relationship.

Theoretical contributions: The survey, in pointing to microfoundational aspects that contribute to strategy implementation, opens up possibilities for future studies based on this theoretical perspective. It also contributes to the practice, by elucidating aspects, both behavioural and cognitive, susceptible to management and to improvements in the implementation processes.


Microfoundations; Strategy implementation; Top managers; Middle managers.


Abell, P., Felin, T., & Foss, N. (2008) Building micro-fundations for the routines, capabilities

Agresti, A. (2018). An introduction to categorical data analysis. Wiley.

Ahearne, M., Lam, S. K., & Kraus, F. (2014). Performance impact of middle managers' adaptive strategy implementation: The role of social capital. Strategic Management Journal, 35(1), 68-87.

and performance links. Managerial and Decision Economics, 29, 489-502.

Ashford, S. J., Rothbard, N. P., Piderit, S. K., & Dutton, J. E. (1998). Out on a limb: The role of context and impression management in selling gender-equity issues. Administrative Science Quarterly, 23-57.

Baer, M., Dirks, K. T., & Nickerson, J. A. (2013). Microfoundations of strategic problem formulation. Strategic Management Journal, 34(2), 197-214.

Baldwin, M. W. (1992). Relational schemas and the processing of social information. Psychological bulletin, 112(3), 461.

Baldwin, M. W. (1997). Relational schemas as a source of if–then self-inference procedures. Review of General Psychology, 1(4), 326-335.

Balogun, J., & Johnson, G. (2004). Organizational restructuring and middle manager sensemaking. Academy of Management Journal, 47(4), 523-549.

Balogun, J., & Johnson, G. (2005). From intended strategies to unintended outcomes: The impact of change recipient sensemaking. Organization Studies, 26(11), 1573-1601.

Barclay, D., Higgins, C., & Thompson, R. (1995). The partial least squares (PLS) approach to casual modeling: personal computer adoption ans use as an Illustration.

Barney, J. A. Y., & Felin, T. (2013). What are microfoundations?. Academy of Management Perspectives, 27(2), 138-155.

Bartunek, J. M. (1984). Changing interpretive schemes and organizational restructuring: The example of a religious order. Administrative science quarterly, 355-372.

Bower, J. L. (1970). Managing the resource allocation process a study of corporate planning and investment. Boston: Harvard University Press.

Burgelman, R. A. (1983). A process model of internal corporate venturing in the diversified major firm. Administrative Science Quarterly, 223-244.

Burgelman, R. A., Floyd, S. W., Laamanen, T., Mantere, S., Vaara, E., & Whittington, R. (2018). Strategy processes and practices: Dialogues and intersections. Strategic Management Journal, 39(3), 531-558.

Canales, J. I. (2013). Constructing interlocking rationales in top‐driven strategic renewal. British Journal of Management, 24(4), 498-514.

Chin, W. W. (1998). The partial least squares approach to structural equation modeling. Modern Methods for Business Research, 295(2), 295-336.

Collier, N., Fishwick, F., & Floyd, S. W. (2004). Managerial involvement and perceptions of strategy process. Long Range Planning, 37(1), 67-83.

Conger, J. A., & Kanungo, R. N. (1988). The empowerment process: Integrating theory and practice. Academy of management review, 13(3), 471-482.

Cruz, M. de A., Corrêa, V. S., Diniz, D. M., & Vaz, S. L. Micropráticas da média gerência e sua relação com capacidades dinâmicas. Iberoamerican Journal of Strategic Management (IJSM), 19(2), 66-86.

De Clercq, D., Dimov, D., & Thongpapanl, N. T. (2010). The moderating impact of internal social exchange processes on the entrepreneurial orientation–performance relationship. Journal of Business Venturing, 25(1), 87-103.

de Oliveira Rodriguez, C. V., Amelia Tomei, P., & de Campos Serra, B. P. (2020). Alinhamento pessoa-organização (po fit) e engajamento: um estudo de caso. Revista Ibero-Americana de Estratégia (RIAE), 19(1).

Dooley, R. S., Fryxell, G. E., & Judge, W. Q. (2000). Belaboring the not-so-obvious: Consensus, commitment, and strategy implementation speed and success. Journal of Management, 26(6), 1237-1257.

Dutton, J. E., Ashford, S. J., O’neill, R. M., Hayes, E., & Wierba, E. E. (1997). Reading the wind: How middle managers assess the context for selling issues to top managers. Strategic management journal, 18(5), 407-423.

Dutton, J. E., Ashford, S. J., O'Neill, R. M., & Lawrence, K. A. (2001). Moves that matter: Issue selling and organizational change. Academy of Management Journal, 44(4), 716-736.

Edmondson, A. C., Roberto, M. A., and Watkins, M. D. (2003). A dynamic model of top management team effectiveness: Managing unstructured task streams. The Leadership Quarterly, 14(3), 297-325.

Eggers, J.; Kaplan, S. (2013). Cognition and capabilities: a multi-level perspective. The Academy of management annals, 7(1), 295-340.

Eisenhardt, K.; Furr, N.; Bingham, C. (2010). Microfoundations of performance: balancing efficiency and flexibility in dynamic environments. Organization Science, 21, 1263-1273.

Estevão Silva, E., de Castro Krakauer, P. V., & Coda, R. (2020). Empresas startups: análise do ciclo de vida a partir do modelo de lester, parnell e carraher. Revista Ibero-Americana de Estratégia (RIAE), 19(1).

Feldman, M. S. (2000). Organizational routines as a source of continuous change. Organization science, 11(6), 611-629.

Feldman, M. S., & Pentland, B. T. (2003). Reconceptualizing organizational routines as a source of flexibility and change. Administrative science quarterly, 48(1), 94-118.

Felin, T., & Foss, N. J. (2005). Strategic organization: A field in search of micro-foundations.

Felin, T., & Hesterly, W. S. (2007). The knowledge-based view, nested heterogeneity, and new value creation: Philosophical considerations on the locus of knowledge. Academy of management review, 32(1), 195-218.

Felin, T., Foss, N. J., & Ployhar, R. E. (2015). The Microfoundations Movement in Strategy and Organization Theory. The Academy of Management Annals, Vol. 9, No. 1, 575–632, http://dx.doi.org/ 10.1080/ 19416520. 2015.1007651

Felin, T., & Foss, N. Strategic organization: a field in search of micro-foundations. Strategic Organization, 3, 441-455.

Felin, T., Foss, N., Heimeriks, K. & Madsen, T. (2012) Microfoundations of routines and capabilities: individuals, processes, and structures. Journal of Management Studies, 49(8), 1351-1374.

Felin. T. & Foss, N. (2009). Organizational routines and capabilities: historical drift and a course-correction toward microfoundations. Scandinavian Journal of Management, 25, 157-167.

Floyd, S. W., & Lane, P. J. (2000). Strategizing throughout the organization: Managing role conflict in strategic renewal. Academy of Management Review, 25(1), 154-177.

Floyd, S. W., & Wooldridge, B. (1992). Middle management involvement in strategy and its association with strategic type: A research note. Strategic Management Journal, 13(S1), 153-167.

Floyd, S. W., & Wooldridge, B. (1997). Middle management’s strategic influence and organizational performance. Journal of Management Studies, 34(3), 465-485.

Fornell, C., & Larcker, D. F. (1981). Evaluating structural equation models with unobservable variables and measurement error. Journal of Marketing Research, 18(1), 39-50.

Foss, N. J., & Lindenberg, S. (2013). Microfoundations for strategy: A goal-framing perspective on the drivers of value creation. Academy of Management Perspectives, 27(2), 85-102.

Foss, N., & Felin, T. (2011). The endogenous origins of experience, routines, and organizational capabilities: the poverty of stimulus. Journal of Institutional Economics, 7(02), 231-256.

French, J. R., Raven, B., & Cartwright, D. (1959). The bases of social power. Classics of organization theory, 7, 311-320.

Gavetti, G. (2005). Cognition and hierarchy: Rethinking the microfoundations of capabilities’ development. Organization Science, 16(6), 599-617.

George, J. M., & Jones, G. R. (2001). Towards a process model of individual change in organizations. Human relations, 54(4), 419-444.

Gilbert, C. (2005). Unbundling the strucuture of inertia: resource versus routine rigidity. Academy of Management Journal, 48(5), 741-763.

Golden, B. R., Dukerich, J. M., & Fabian, F. H. (2000). The interpretation and resolution of resource allocation issues in professional organizations: a critical examination of the professional‐manager dichotomy. Journal of Management Studies, 37(8), 1157-1188.

Guth, W. D., & MacMillan, I. C. (1986). Strategy implementation versus middle management self‐interest. Strategic Management Journal, 7(4), 313-327.

Hair, J. F., Anderson, R. E., Tatham, R. L., & Black, W. C. (1998). Multivariate data analysis. 1998. Upper Saddle River.

Hambrick, D. C., & Mason, P. A. (1984). Upper Echelons: The Organization as a Reflection of Its Top Managers. The Academy of Management Review, 9(2 (Apr.)), 193-206

Heller, F. A., & Yukl, G. (1969). Participation, managerial decision-making, and situational variables. Organizational Behavior and Human Performance, 4(3), 227-241.

Heyden, M. L. M., Fourné, S. P. L., Koene, B. A. S., Werkman, R., & Ansari, S. (2017). Rethinking ‘top‐down'and ‘bottom‐up'roles of top and middle managers in organizational change: Implications for employee support. Journal of Management Studies, 54(7), 961-985.

Hodgkinson, G. P., Whittington, R., Johnson, G., & Schwarz, M. (2006). The role of strategy workshops in strategy development processes: Formality, communication, co-ordination and inclusion. Long Range Planning, 39(5), 479-496.

Hollander, M., Wolfe, D. A., & Chicken, E. (2013). Nonparametric statistical methods (Vol. 751). John Wiley and Sons.

Hoyle, R. H., & Duvall, J. L. (2004). Determining the number of factors in exploratory and confirmatory factor analysis. Handbook of quantitative methodology for the social sciences, 301-315.

Huang, X., Wright, R. P., Chiu, W. C., & Wang, C. (2008). Relational schemas as sources of evaluation and misevaluation of leader–member exchanges: Some initial evidence. The Leadership Quarterly, 19(3), 266-282.

Huy, Q. N. (2002). Emotional balancing of organizational continuity and radical change: The contribution of middle managers. Administrative Science Quarterly, 47(1), 31-69.

Huy, Q. N. (2011). How middle managers' group‐focus emotions and social identities influence strategy implementation. Strategic Management Journal, 32(13), 1387-1410.

Huy, Q. N., Corley, K. G., & Kraatz, M. S. (2014). From support to mutiny: Shifting legitimacy judgments and emotional reactions impacting the implementation of radical change. Academy of Management Journal, 57(6), 1650-1680.

Keltner, D., Gruenfeld, D. H., & Anderson, C. (2003). Power, approach, and inhibition. Psychological review, 110(2), 265.

Ketokivi, M., & Castaner, X. (2004). Strategic planning as an integrative device. Administrative Science Quarterly, 49(3), 337-365.

Knox, B. D. (2020). A strategy map’s effect on the feedback that middle managers pass along to upper management. Journal of Management Control, 1-24.

Labianca, G., Gray, B., & Brass, D. J. (2000). A grounded model of organizational schema change during empowerment. Organization Science, 11(2), 235-257.

Lam, C. K., Huang, X., & Chan, S. C. (2015). The threshold effect of participative leadership and the role of leader information sharing. Academy of Management Journal, 58(3), 836-855.

Langley, A. (1988). The Roles of Formal Strategic Planning. Long Range Planning, .21(3 - Jun), 4.

Lê, J. K., & Jarzabkowski, P. A. (2015). The role of task and process conflict in strategizing. British Journal of Management, 26(3), 439-462.

Lenka, S., Parida, V., Sjödin, D. R., & Wincent, J. (2018). Exploring the microfoundations of servitization: How individual actions overcome organizational resistance. Journal of Business Research, 88, 328-336.

Li, G., Liu, H., & Luo, Y. (2018). Directive versus participative leadership: Dispositional antecedents and team consequences. Journal of Occupational and Organizational Psychology, 91(3), 645-664.

Lindenberg, S., & Foss, N. (2011). Managing joint production motivation: the role of goal framing and governance mechanisms. Academy Management Review, 36, 500-525

Mantere, S. (2008). Role expectations and middle manager strategic agency. Journal of Management Studies, 45(2), 294-316.

Martin, A., Keller, A., & Fortwengel, J. (2019). Introducing conflict as the microfoundation of organizational ambidexterity. Strategic Organization, 17(1), 38-61.

McKinley, W., Zhao, J., & Rust, K. G. (2000). A sociocognitive interpretation of organizational downsizing. Academy of Management Review, 25(1), 227-243.

Miao, Q., Newman, A., Schwarz, G., & Xu, L. (2013). Participative Leadership and the Organizational Commitment of Civil Servants in C hina: The Mediating Effects of Trust in Supervisor. British Journal of Management, 24, S76-S92.

Miller, S., Wilson, D., & Hickson, D. (2004). Beyond Planning Strategies for Successfully Implementing Strategic Decisions. Long Range Planning, 37(3), 201-218.

Mintzberg, H. (1978). Patterns in Strategy Formation. Management Science, 24(9 - May), 934-948.

Mirabeau, L., & Maguire, S. (2014). From autonomous strategic behavior to emergent strategy. Strategic Management Journal, 35(8), 1202-1229.

Nahapiet, J., & Ghoshal, S. (1998). Social capital, intellectual capital, and the organizational advantage. Academy of management review, 23(2), 242-266.

Nelson R. R, & Winter S. G. (2002). Evolutionary theorizing in economics. Journal of Economic Perspectives 16(2): 23–46.

Noble, C. H. (1999). The eclectic roots of strategy implementation research. Journal of business research, 45(2), 119-134.

Nonaka, I. (1994). A dynamic theory of organizational knowledge creation. Organization science, 5(1), 14-37.

Ocasio, W. (1997). Towards an attention-based view of the firm. Strategic Management Journal, 18(S1), 187-206.

Pappas, J. M., & Wooldridge, B. (2007). Middle managers' divergent strategic activity: An investigation of multiple measures of network centrality. Journal of Management Studies, 44(3), 323-341.

Parmegiani, A. & Howrad-Grenville, J. (2011). Routines revisited: exploring the capabilities and practice perspectives. The Academy of Management Journal, 413-453.

Pettigrew, A. M. (1992). The Character and Significance of Strategy Process Research. Strategic Management Journal, 13(8- Winter- Special Issue), 5-16.

Podsakoff, P. M., MacKenzie, S. B., Lee, J. Y., & Podsakoff, N. P. (2003). Common method biases in behavioral research: A critical review of the literature and recommended remedies. Journal of applied psychology, 88(5), 879.

Raes, A. M., & van Vlijmen, K. (2017). 19. The interface of top and middle managers: taking stock and moving. Handbook of Middle Management Strategy Process Research, 473.

Raes, A. M., Heijltjes, M. G., Glunk, U., & Roe, R. A. (2011). The interface of the top management team and middle managers: A process model. Academy of Management Review, 36(1), 102-126.

Rouleau, L. (2005). Micro‐practices of strategic sensemaking and sensegiving: How middle managers interpret and sell change every day. Journal of Management Studies, 42(7), 1413-1441.

Salvato, C., & Rerup, C. (2011). Beyond collective entities: multilevel research on organizational routines and capabilities. Journal of Management, 37(2), 468-490.

Schmid, T., Floyd, S., & Wooldridge, B. (2010). Putting the manager back into the picture: The value of a strategy process perspective. Handbook of research on strategy process, 142-162.

Sillince, J., & Mueller, F. (2007). Switching strategic perspective: The reframing of accounts of responsibility. Organization Studies, 28(2), 155-176.

Somech, A. (2006). The effects of leadership style and team process on performance and innovation in functionally heterogeneous teams. Journal of Management, 32(1), 132-157.

Staehle, W., & Schirmer, F. (1992). Lower-level and middle-level managers as the recipients and actors of human-resource management. International Studies of Management & Organization, 22(1), 67-89.

Tarakci, M., Ateş, N. Y., Floyd, S. W., Ahn, Y., & Wooldridge, B. (2018). Performance feedback and middle managers’ divergent strategic behavior: The roles of social comparisons and organizational identification. Strategic Management Journal, 39(4), 1139-1162.

Teece, D. J. (2007). Explicating dynamic capabilities: the nature and microfoundations of (sustainable) enterprise performance. Strategic management journal, 28(13), 1319-1350.

Teece, D. J. (2012). Dynamic capabilities: Routines versus entrepreneurial action. Journal of management studies, 49(8), 1395-1401.

Tenenhaus, M., Vinzi, V. E., Chatelin, Y. M., & Lauro, C. (2005). PLS path modeling. Computational statistics and data analysis, 48(1), 159-205.

Tengblad, S. (2002). Time and space in managerial work. Scandinavian Journal of management, 18(4), 543-565.

Thomas, K. W., & Velthouse, B. A. (1990). Cognitive elements of empowerment: An “interpretive” model of intrinsic task motivation. Academy of management review, 15(4), 666-681.

Thomas, L., & Ambrosini, V. (2015). Materializing strategy: the role of comprehensiveness and management controls in strategy formation in volatile environments. British Journal of Management, 26, S105-S124.

Thompson, R., Barclay, D. W., & Higgins, C. A. (1995). The partial least squares approach to causal modeling: Personal computer adoption and use as an illustration. Technology studies: special issue on Research Methodology, 2(2), 284-324.

Van Riel, C. B. M., Berens, G., & Dijkstra, M. (2009). Stimulating Strategically Aligned Behaviour Among Employees. Journal of Management Studies, 46(7), 1197-1226

Vaz, S. L., & Bulgacov, S. (2018). Envolvimento Estratégico da Média Gerência: Analisando o Passado e Projetando o Futuro. Revista de Administração Contemporânea, 22(3), 380-402.

Vuori, T. O., & Huy, Q. N. (2016). Distributed attention and shared emotions in the innovation process: How Nokia lost the smartphone battle. Administrative Science Quarterly, 61(1), 9-51.

Watson, D., & Clark, L. A. (1997). Extraversion and its positive emotional core. In Handbook of personality psychology (pp. 767-793). Academic Press.

Weick, K. (1969). The social psychology of organizing. Reading, MA: Addison-Wesley.

Weick, K. E. (1995). Sensemaking in organizations (Vol. 3). Sage.

Weiser, A. K., Jarzabkowski, P., & Laamanen, T. (2020). Completing the Adaptive Turn: An Integrative View of Strategy Implementation. Academy of Management Annals, 14(2), 969-1031.

Westley, F. R. (1990). Middle managers and strategy: Microdynamics of inclusion. Strategic Management Journal, 11(5), 337-351.

Wolf, C. (2017). 12. Middle management engagement in strategic planning routines: a mindfulness perspective. Handbook of Middle Management Strategy Process Research, 288.

Wooldridge, B., & Floyd, S. W. (1990). The strategy process, middle management involvement, and organizational performance. Strategic Management Journal, 11(3), 231-241.

Wooldridge, B., Schmid, T., and Floyd, S. W. (2008). The middle management perspective on strategy process: Contributions, synthesis, and future research. Journal of Management, 34(6), 1190-1221

Zhou, X. T., & Schriesheim, C. A. (2010). Quantitative and qualitative examination of propositions concerning supervisor–subordinate convergence in descriptions of leader–member exchange (LMX) quality. The Leadership Quarterly, 21(5), 826-843.

DOI: https://doi.org/10.5585/riae.v20i1.18113


  • There are currently no refbacks.

Copyright (c) 2021 Iberoamerican Journal of Strategic Management

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.

Revista Iberoamericana de Gestão Estratégica (IJSM)
Revista Ibero-Americana de Estratégia (RIAE)
e-ISSN: 2176-0756

Revista Iberoamericana de Gestão Estratégica (IJSM) © 2022 Todos os direitos reservados.

Esta obra está licenciada com Licença
Creative Commons Atribuição-NãoComercial-CompartilhaIgual 4.0 Internacional