Few weeks ago, I got an amazing new: I had the grant to start my PhD. After having worked so hard on the project, it was suddenly becoming true… But, at that moment, I had in the back of my head that little but persistent question: why am I doing that PhD again? By spreading the good news, I had to explain what I was going to do for the next four years. And that’s how I remind myself why I choose that adventure. Social enterprises are part of the solution to the tensions, social or environmental, caused by the actual economic system. By combining social purpose and economic activity, entrepreneurship spirit and commitment for a societal mission, social enterprises appear as a credible alternative to an unbridled capitalism.
But what make the heart of those social enterprises? Human beings! They are at the heart of any organization but maybe more strongly in social enterprises. Indeed, social enterprises are brought, by their purpose, to produce services rather than the goods, the workers being then the often unique image of the organization (Davister, 2006, 2010; Laville & Sainsaulieu, 1997; Borzaga & Solari, 2001). Moreover, the specific governance and the actors’ diversity (volunteers, people in socio-professional integration, associate personnel…) require different organizational models and specific management.
At the present time, the social enterprise sector is undergoing important changes: diversification of social demands, increased complexity of legal and institutional frameworks, transformation of public funding ways (contractualisation, setting up competition between providers in a quasi-market) (Dees & Elias, 1998; Mertens, 2010). At the same time, we may observe a professionalization of social enterprises (Bode et al., 2006; Comeau & Davister, 2008; Davister, 2010; Petrella & Richez-Battesti, 2010). The movement toward professionalization, which is affecting the entire sector of social enterprises, is bringing along with it other changes that may be observed particularly with regard to evolutions in human resources management practices (Davister, 2010): increasing formalization of procedures, developments of senior staff training, replacement of volunteer positions with salaried positions, a changeover from a militant attitude on the part of directors toward a managerial attitude, etc.
In this context, my research project consists of studying the processes of the professionalization of human resources management in social enterprises. In particular, this research aims to understand in what ways, how and under what conditions the specific aspects of social enterprises have an impact on the practices leading toward professionalization of their human resources management. Will this professionalization take the form of a simple repetition of what has been done before or are other pathways conceivable? And under what conditions might this take place?
Thus the central debate is indeed conducted around a series of two-sided questions. On the one hand, increasing pressure exercised by the context (conditions of intervention on the part of public authorities, demand for profitability, legal frameworks, social norms, entering into competition, etc. ) may favor the adoption on the part of social enterprises of practices of human resources management and change management similar to what has been observed in classic private businesses (Méda, 1999; Laville, 2000; Demoustier, 2000; Laville & Nyssens, 2001; Bidet, 2003; Bode et al., 2006). In other words, is there in social enterprises a process of “institutional isomorphism” such as that observed in many other socioeconomic contexts (Powell & DiMaggio, 1991), including the field of “nonprofit” organizations (DiMaggio & Powell, 1983; Bode et al., 2006; Evers & Laville, 2004)? And what are the factors that have caused this process to appear? On the other hand, the specific aspects that characterize social enterprises (democratic governance, social purpose) and their human resources (volunteers, people in socio-professional integration, associate personnel) push them to show that they can be innovative in terms of human resources management (Borzaga & Solari, 2001; Comeau & Davister, 2008; Meyer, 2009). This research is thus intended to test the capacity for innovation of social enterprises and to understand what factors allow them, outside of conventional models (Pichault & Nizet, 2000), to develop new modes of human resources management, or to manage “in a different way” the professionalization of human resources management. If you are interested in the theoretical frameworks of my research, feel free to contact me.
As you can see, I could speak for hours about that topic. I think this is a quite good reason to start a PhD. Without falling in an idealistic approach, my passion for that topic and the feeling that there is a need there made me take that decision and I must say, I am quite happy with it!
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Charlotte Moreauis a PhD student at the Centre for Social Economy and the LENTIC (HEC Management School – University of Liege, Belgium).She is researching in human resource and change management in social enterprises and institutional theory. Specifically, the title of her PhD in management science, beginning at October 2011, is Professionalization of human resources management in social enterprises: Isomorphism or innovation?