This research is particularly concerned with organizations’ advocacy of value-based change aimed at improving consumers’ well-being. This work contributes to the Transformative Services Research area and presents a conceptualization of the value-laden service organization (VLSO), which I define as organizations that advocate for specific value-based behaviors from consumers both within and beyond the particular service setting.
In a VLSO, consumers are expected to act in accordance with the values of the organization. If the consumer’s pre-existing value system is not aligned with the values of the service organization, the consumer may experience a sense of psychological disequilibrium, which can lead to unintended decrease in well-being. This research explores how value conflicts are managed by both the organization and by the consumers.
This work emerges out of an interpretive study of a Catholic-based homeless shelter for pregnant women. From it, I identify the practices of consumers and the service organization and explored their interactions. This has resulted in a theoretical conceptualization of a Rescue Institution, which combines aspects of both a Total Institution and a Reinventive Institution in a unique way. Further, I conceptualize a cycle of agency and authenticity that maps the dynamics of the consumer in a VLSO as they negotiate the structure/agency duality.
In gathering data, I used an interpretive approach over the course of three years’ of direct involvement with a service organization, St. Mary’s House. My methods included participant observation, collection of artifacts, and one-on-one in-depth interviews. I interviewed a total of 30 participants, whose transcribed interviews resulted in over 1500 pages of text. Analysis of themes and concepts occurred as a result of repeated examinations of both existing theory and data.
My findings reveal key organizational and consumer practices that negotiate the tension between structure and agency. Organizational practices include rules and social norms, as well as two forms of hierarchy. Consumer practices, often in response to organizational practices, include a cycle of agency and authenticity and participation in a shadow structure. These practices collectively influence consumer’s interpretive drift, which is their adoption of the organization’s values that creates internalized change. I conclude with implications for theory and service organization management. First, value priorities mean that tradeoffs must be made, which can cause unexpected and painful conflict. The experience of change, from both the consumer and service provider perspective, can be very messy. This process includes a dynamic and individual negotiation of authenticity and agency, which will be of interest in future studies. The service providers must be open to this process, carefully navigating their responses to the consumer’s dynamic authenticity, agency and values. Service providers should expect and acknowledge the conflict in consumers’ experience in order to foster their long-term perspective and perseverance.