Organizations adopt corporate responsibility (CR) policies often ceremonially, meaning that policy adoption is not substantive and lacks alignment with actual practice. Prior research in institutional theory has largely assumed as static view of adoption and suggests that a situation of opacity (i.e. the difficulty or impossibility of evaluation) stabilizes ceremonial adoption and thus impedes substantive adoption. This paper offers a dynamic view of adoption sequences and re-examines the role of opacity in promoting substantive adoption among multiple organizations within a given field or industry. Using a three-state Markov chain model, we specify the boundary conditions under which initial opacity paired with a change towards transparency (i.e. the relative ease or possibility of evaluation) maximizes the overall number of substantive adoptions. Our findings suggest that the institutionalization of CR-related policies can be advanced by leaving organizations significant leeway and autonomy in their adoption decision. In turn, institutionalization may be hampered by initial requests for transparency and organizational accountability. We discuss implications for (1) efforts to institutionalize CR as a global governance mechanism and (2) the institutional theory concepts of decoupling and (re-)coupling.
Corporate responsibility; Decoupling; Diffusion; Implementation; Institutional theory; Self-reinforcing process