Complexity Theory, CSR, and Corporate Governance - The Need for Alternative Governance Models

34 Pages Posted: 2 Dec 2012

See all articles by Michael Pirson

Michael Pirson

Fordham University - Gabelli School of Business; Humanistic Management Network; Harvard University

Shann Turnbull

International Institute for Self-Governance; Sustainable Money Working Group; New Garden City Alliance

Date Written: December 2, 2012


Manuscript Type: Conceptual

Research Question/Issue: How can increased environmental complexity be managed better through more effective integration of corporate governance and CSR? What are the deficiencies of the predominant corporate governance architecture with regard to CSR support and how can the corporate governance architecture improve to support higher levels of managerial responsibility?

Research insights/findings: Based on insights from complexity theory, we find that the prevailing complexity reduction approaches lead to suboptimal corporate governance and CSR with regard to establishing managerial responsibility. We suggest that the lens of complexity absorption provides ways to redesign the approach to both corporate governance and CSR. Integrating governance and CSR by establishing decentralized governance structures that divide labor and power among all strategic stakeholders ensure higher levels of managerial responsibility.

Theoretical/Academic Implications: We outline the conceptual connection between corporate governance and CSR and advance thinking about integration that improve both. We outline why traditional, centralized governance architecture (e.g. unitary board structures) fail to support monitoring and strategic advice functions concerning CSR of the board adequately. We use complexity theory and argue that complexity reduction approaches to both governance and CSR are failing in complex environments. We also suggest that complexity absorption approaches can help address such failures. Finally, we suggest how governance and CSR can be integrated to absorb complexity and increase managerial responsibility. We thus contribute theoretically by advancing the conceptualization of corporate governance and CSR as well as by providing alternative thinking on governance structures.

Practitioner/Policy Implications: We suggest that practitioners and policy makers consider complexity absorption as an alternative to integrate Corporate Governance and CSR which will lead to higher levels of managerial responsibility. We provide evidence that decentralized governance structures that actively divide labor and power among stakeholders can lead to better outcomes in a complex environment.

Keywords: CSR, Complexity Theory, Corporate Governance, Complexity Reduction

JEL Classification: D8, E18, G38, L22, Z00

Suggested Citation

Pirson, Michael and Turnbull, Shann, Complexity Theory, CSR, and Corporate Governance - The Need for Alternative Governance Models (December 2, 2012). Fordham University Schools of Business Research Paper, Humanistic Management Network, Research Paper Series No. 14/04, Available at SSRN: or

Michael Pirson (Contact Author)

Fordham University - Gabelli School of Business ( email )

140 West 62nd Street
New York, NY 10018
United States

Humanistic Management Network ( email )

St. Gallen

Harvard University

1875 Cambridge Street
Cambridge, MA 02138
United States

Shann Turnbull

International Institute for Self-Governance ( email )

PO Box 266 Woollahra
Cell: +61418222378
Sydney, New South Wales 1350
+61293278487 (Phone)
+61280655905 (Fax)

SKYPE: shann.turnbull

Sustainable Money Working Group ( email )

Holyoake House
Hanover Street
Manchester, M60 0AS
United Kingdom

New Garden City Alliance ( email )

113 Guinness Court
London, UK, SE1 3TA
United Kingdom
+44 207 378 1902 (Phone)


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