Pivoting in Action: How Repositioning Successive Change as Scientific Revision Enables Managerial Discretion



Because strategic change involves the revision of earlier strategies, it has the potential to highlight the shortcomings of prior strategies and the leaders responsible. This longitudinal ethnographic study of an early-stage biotechnology company focuses on multiple and contiguous shifts in the organization’s strategy, thus surfacing insights into how leaders might respond to the political liabilities of strategic failures that arise amidst successive change. Our findings show that CEOs can more effectively respond to the failings of their own prior strategies by repositioning successive change analogically as a process of scientific-like revision, involving hypothesis testing, learning, and “pivoting.” Whereas other approaches to communicating successive change undermine the CEO’s discretion during the formulation or implementation stages of the strategic change process, employing the language of scientific revision resolves these challenges by enabling leaders to celebrate rather than defend against inevitable failures. Taken together, our findings enable us to build new theory on navigating the perils of successive change, while challenging and extending longstanding research on managerial discretion.