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Professor wins best paper award at strategic management conference

Thursday, October 15, 2015

LAWRENCE — Research by a University of Kansas School of Business professor has received top honors from the premier association in strategic management.

Professor Laura Poppo and doctoral candidate Zheng Cheng won the best paper award for their study, “Inter-organizational Collaboration, Search Heuristics, and Knowledge Work: The Path of Trust to Innovation.” They were honored Oct. 6 at the 2015 Strategic Management Society annual conference in Denver.

Poppo’s current research focuses on innovation, a driving force underlying value-creation and competitive advantage. This study examines innovation in the context of business-to-business collaboration and questions how managers select collaborative partners.

“Our findings translate to, ‘Do I trust that this supplier has the necessary skills and capabilities to perform well?’” Poppo said. “When managers pick more competent suppliers, both are more likely to exchange and share knowledge with each other, which leads to greater process and product innovations.”

The paper shows that managers select suppliers based on their judgments regarding competence.

Their study indicates that when managers work with suppliers who are generally concerned about their partner’s interests and goals, called benevolent trust, these suppliers are more willing to disclose their trade secrets, helping both parties develop more innovative products and processes.

“The theoretical contribution we make in this paper is showing that trusting judgments are an effective search rule,” Poppo said. “Prior research documents how trust functions as a social lubricant but had not tied it to how managers use trust to make decisions regarding with whom should they work to best innovate.”

One practical implication of this study is that companies that are perceived as less capable are going to be left behind, she said.

This is of special concern in emerging economies, as it suggests that companies that lack knowledge on effectiveness and efficiency in manufacturing cannot count on developing partnerships that will help them with the learning curve. 

“The well-known example of how Starbucks helps its coffee suppliers meet high-quality standards is not representative of most B2B partnerships,” Poppo said.

The KU scholars competed against academics from top global business schools, including the Wharton School, Northwestern University, University of Michigan, INSEAD and the University of Minnesota.

Poppo is the Edmund P. Learned Professor of Business. She holds a doctorate in organization and strategy from the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania, and she is known globally as a thought leader in strategy.

The Strategic Management Society is composed of nearly 3,000 members from more than 80 countries.

Poppo and Cheng’s paper was selected as the top paper among more than 50 entries judged as the most innovative research submitted to the conference. Their study was supported by an international research grant from the KU School of Business.

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