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Employees’ agency in the formalisation of knowledge-intensive business service processes: A cross-case comparison

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleScientificpeer-review


Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)45-70
Number of pages26
JournalJournal of Service Theory and Practice
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - Apr 2019
Publication typeA1 Journal article-refereed


Purpose – This study aims to identify and explain how different kinds of knowledge-intensive business service processes (KIBS processes) can be formalised without excessively limiting employees’ agency, and thus flexibility in value creation. Previous research acknowledges the need to balance flexibility and formalisation but does not investigate how employees achieve this balance in various types of KIBS processes.
Design/methodology/approach – This paper employs a qualitative multiple-case study approach to compare employees’ agency in six successful formalisation projects targeting different types of KIBS processes in three firms. Through a systematic mapping of employees’ agency across the cases, this study reveals alternative patterns of formalisation that enable agency.
Findings – The findings reveal notable differences in employees’ agency in the studied cases. When KIBS processes were scale-intensive and/or the culture favoured conformity, formalisation projects were centrally organised, and employees obeyed codified process templates, even though some agency remained. When KIBS processes were smaller scale and/or the culture favoured freedom, employees conducted formalisation projects autonomously and retained higher levels of agency in formalised KIBS processes.
Practical implications – Firms and business units providing KIBS should choose their formalisation approaches locally based on the scalability of the KIBS process, their employees’ skill levels, knowledge bases and culture. Choosing the right approach enables flexibility while striving for efficient processes.
Originality/value – Previous studies suggest that formalisation benefits only some KIBS, but this comparative approach shows that a variety of KIBS processes benefit from formalisation if the formalisation approach is tailored to the context. Alternative patterns of formalisation are revealed to guide further empirical research on the topic.

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