We're not like those crazy hippies: The dynamics of jurisdictional drift in externally mandated occupational groups

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External actors often advocate for organizations to address a wide range of societal concerns, such as diversity, equality, and sustainability, and organizations have frequently responded by establishing new positions to oversee these demands. However, calls to address social problems can be broad and unrelated to an organization's primary objectives, so the external mandates that underpin these new positions do not easily translate to clear task jurisdictions inside organizations. Furthermore, previous studies have found that the tasks that are pursued by occupations established through external pressure often diverge from what external groups had envisioned for these new roles. This study addresses the question of why this divergence occurs. It does so by examining the formation of the occupational group of sustainability managers in higher education. Through fieldwork, interviews, and analyses of longitudinal archival data, this paper uncovers the dynamics of jurisdictional drift and shows how jurisdictional drift unfolded first through sustainability managers' confrontation of their jurisdictional ambiguity, and then through their efforts at performing neutrality, in particular by trading external Politics for internal politics and trading values for standards. Additionally, it uncovers how the sustainability managers attempted to partially realign their jurisdiction with their external mandate, but did so in a concealed manner. This study illuminates the process of how jurisdictions can come to drift away from mandates, highlights the importance of studying how mandates are translated into jurisdictions, and also furthers our understanding of the formation of externally mandated occupational groups.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1056-1078
Number of pages23
JournalOrganization Science
Issue number4
Early online date26 Jan 2021
Publication statusPublished - 31 Jul 2021

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
Funding: This work was supported by a Kellogg Dispute Resolution Research Center Research Grant. Supplemental Material: The online appendices are available at https://doi.org/10.1287/orsc.2020.1423.


  • Archival research
  • Jurisdictions
  • Occupations and professions
  • Qualitative research
  • Sustainability/corporate environmentalism

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Strategy and Management
  • Organizational Behavior and Human Resource Management
  • Management of Technology and Innovation


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