The BUSINESS Model is Dead: Long Live the Organizational Value Model!

Strange Fruits. Pic provided by O. Laasch

By Oliver Laasch.

An ApPeaRange!

Business models are logics of value proposition (Pr), creation (Cr), exchange (Ex) and capture (Ca). When closely looking at sustainability business models, it becomes clear that these ‘value functions’ are not only shaped by a commercial logic, but also by one of sustainability. Many of sustainability business models include further logics of social welfare (e.g. social enterprises), and government (e.g. private-public partnerships) (Laasch, 2018b). If a homogeneous commercial business model was an orange, these business models are more like a heterogeneous mixture between an apple, a pear and that orange, an ApPeaRange! Their value logics are not homogeneously commercial, but heterogeneous mixtures.

Strange Fruit Everywhere

Heterogeneous value logics like the one of sustainability business models are widespread. Imagine you peel an orange and find an apple inside:

Over half of the FTSE100 corporations have integrated a responsibility logic into their business model descriptions (Laasch & Pinkse, 2018). Many large businesses, such as LEGO, as well as SMEs are family-run, integrating their commercial logic with a family logic (Laasch & Conaway, 2015). We may also think of the Chinese semi-conductor producer Goodark blending commercial logic with a spiritual logic of Confucianism; the German car supplier Allsafe with its humanistic logic of freedom and responsibility; or the Brownie bakery Greyston with its commercial value logic firmly wrapped around a social welfare logic (Laasch et al., 2018). Once opening our eyes to the variety of ‘values’, of normative orientations and purposes businesses are oriented towards (Randles & Laasch, 2016), the perceived number of companies adhering to a purely commercial value logic shrinks considerably. While the purely commercial business model might not be entirely dead, it sure shouldn’t be considered the norm. And then there are entirely non-commercial organizations with value logics.

Comparing APPLE and Oranges: Yes!

Isn’t comparing a commercial organization, for instance, Apple and noncommercial organizations, let’s say a church, like comparing Apple and oranges? Yes, cheap pun intended:

“…a commercial business like Apple. With a customer value proposition (Pr) of high quality and high-end design, it depends on highest-standard production processes (Cr) and on the ability to maintain high margins (Ca).”

Laasch, 2018b: 165.

It appears we have found a purely commercial value logic, one that deserves the name BUSINESS model. Can we analyze a non-business organization, for instance a church, the same way?

“…shaped by an institutional logic of religion. It may pursue a value proposition of spiritual salvation (Pr), by helping believers to live according to religious values through the provision of religious services from marriages and funerals to humanitarian aid (Cr), and exchange value in a global network of churches (Ex).”

Laasch, 2018b: 165.

It appears non-business organizations, while not having a BUSINESS model per se, do have an organizational value model of value proposition, creation, exchange and capture. Freeing the organizational value logic from its commercial business origins enables us to take a fresh look at any kind of organization: Churches, universities, NGOs, governments, your favorite sports club, you name it! Organizational value logics lend themselves to study, design, and improve all kinds of organizations.

How to Farm Strange Fruits?

It has been argued that one of the main challenges of our times is to create companies and other organizations shaped by alternative logics, be it the one of sustainability, or of social welfare. We have seen that many organizations already have heterogeneous value logics. How to change the ones that don’t? Three interrelated manifestations of organizational value logics together form an organizational value model:

  • Cognition: An organizational value logic manifests in organizational members’ cognitive structures, their mental models and related decision making.
  • Activities: Value logics manifest in the logic of action of the activity systems through which an organization’s value model is enacted.
  • Artefacts: Value logics materialize in physical form, as texts, or images, such as a business model description in the annual report, factory layouts, or products.

Changing an organization’s value logic can start in any of its manifestations. For instance, as a corporate responsibility strategy circulated through a multinational retailer, the document’s responsibility logic was translated into peoples’ mental models, new activities and structures (Laasch, 2016, 2018a). In the companies Goodark, Allsafe, and Greyston mentioned above, new practices centered on a humanistic value logic (Laasch et al., 2018; Laasch, Dierksmeier, & Pirson, 2015) changed the networks of practices’ enacting their business models (Boons, Laasch, & Dierksmeier, 2018; Laasch et al., 2015). The emerging field of business model sociology provides further insight into such change processes (Laasch, 2018c).

Oliver Laasch is an Assistant Professor of Strategy at the University of Nottingham Ningbo China, founder of the Centre for Responsible Management Education and a visiting professor at the University of Tübingen’s Global Ethic Institute. Currently, he is a part of Copenhagen Business School’s Governing Responsible Business (GRB) World Class Research Environment Fellowship program.

References and Materials

If you enjoy strange fruits, have a look at the ‘apples and oranges’ audioslides with a more ‘academic’ presentation.

  • Boons, F., Laasch, O., & Dierksmeier, C. 2018. Assembling organizational practices: The evolving humanistic business model of Allsafe, 6th Asian SME Conference. Tokyo.
  • Laasch, O. 2016. Business model change through embedding corporate responsibility-sustainability? Logics, devices, actor networks. University of Manchester, Manchester.
  • Laasch, O. 2018a. An actor-network perspective on business models: How ‘Being Responsible’ led to incremental, but pervasive change. Long Range Planning, [DOI 10.16/j.lrp.2018.04.002].
  • Laasch, O. 2018b. Beyond the purely commercial business model: Organizational value logics and the heterogeneity of sustainability business models. Long Range Planning, 51(1): 158-183.
  • Laasch, O. 2018c. Business model sociology: Exploring alternative lenses (not only) for the study of alternative business models. CRME Working Papers, 4(4).
  • Laasch, O., & Conaway, R. 2015. Principles of responsible management: Glocal sustainability, responsibility, ethics. Mason: Cengage.
  • Laasch, O., Dierksmeier, C., Livne-Tarandach, R., Pirson, M., Fu, P., & Qu, Q. 2018. Humanistic management performativity ‘in the wild’: The role of performative bundles of practices, 32nd Annual Australian & New Zealand Academy of Management (ANZAM) Conference. Auckland.
  • Laasch, O., Dierksmeier, C., & Pirson, M. 2015. Reality proves possibility: Developing humanistic business models from paradigmatic practice. Paper presented at the Academy of Management Annual Convention, Vancouver.
  • Laasch, O., & Pinkse, J. 2018. How the leopards got their spots: A typology of corporate responsibility business models, 3rd Annual Conference on New Business Models. Sofia.
  • Randles, S., & Laasch, O. 2016. Theorising the normative business model (NBM). Organization & Environment, 29(1): 53-73.

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