Journal of Business Ethics

, Volume 110, Issue 1, pp 85-95

When One Size Does Not Fit All: A Problem of Fit Rather than Failure for Voluntary Management Standards

  • Dayna SimpsonAffiliated withDepartment of Management, Monash University Email author 
  • , Damien PowerAffiliated withDepartment of Management, University of MelbourneUniversity of Groningen
  • , Robert KlassenAffiliated withRichard Ivey School of Business, University of Western Ontario

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Voluntary management standards for social and environmental performance ideally help to define and improve firms’ related capabilities. These standards, however, have largely failed to improve such performance as intended. Over-emphasis on institutional factors leading to adoption of these standards has neglected the role of firms’ existing capabilities. External pressures can drive firms to adopt standards more than their technical capacity to employ them. This can lead to problems of “fit” between institutional requirements and a firm’s existing capabilities. We describe a conceptual model that considers the impact of an interaction between a firm’s institutional requirements and its existing capabilities on standards failure. We suggest solutions that align institutional requirements to appropriate governance forms as a means to improve standards success. We contribute to theory by describing the role of firms’ internal capabilities to the success of voluntary management standards and the reliability of self-regulation generally.


Voluntary standards Institutional theory Operational capabilities Social and environmental performance