People at ILR

Marya Besharov
people / faculty

Marya Besharov

Associate Professor of Organizational Behavior
Organizational Behavior


Marya Besharov is an Associate Professor of Organizational Behavior at the ILR School at Cornell University. An organizational theorist with a background in organizational sociology, she studies how organizations and their leaders sustain competing goals. Much of her research focuses on hybrid organizations such as social enterprises and mission-driven businesses that seek to address deeply rooted societal challenges while also making a financial profit. Marya’s work has been published in journals such as Academy of Management Journal, Academy of Management Review, Administrative Science Quarterly, Business Ethics Quarterly, Academy of Management Learning and Education, Journal of Business Ethics, Research in Organizational Behavior, Research in the Sociology of Organizations, and Industrial and Corporate Change. Marya is currently an Associate Editor for the Academy of Management Annals, and she serves on the editorial boards of Academy of Management Journal, Administrative Science Quarterly, and Organization Science. She received a BA in Social Studies, an MA in Sociology, and a PhD in Organizational Behavior from Harvard University. She also holds an MBA from Stanford University. Prior to her academic career, Marya worked as a researcher and consultant in the health care field.

Teaching Statement

There are two central premises underlying my approach to teaching. First, like my research, my teaching draws inspiration from the work of early organizational theorists who recognized that organizations are complex social systems in which there is not a universally correct approach to management and leadership. Contingencies abound, tensions arise between the technical and symbolic elements of organizations, and decisions are constrained by political, historical, and cultural factors. Managing and leading such complex social systems involves making trade-offs. My courses are designed to provide students with theoretical frameworks for analyzing these trade-offs.

The second premise is that organizational theory will be more effectively retained, and ultimately more useful to students, when its application to practice is apparent. In my courses, I focus on the application of organizational theories to the types of situations students are likely to encounter when they leave the university setting. To this end, my courses rely heavily on case discussions and experiential exercises that help students develop skills in applying theoretical frameworks to real-world problems.

Currently, I am working with a cross-departmental team of ILR faculty to develop an undergraduate curriculum in Social Sector Studies (3S). The 3S program consists of an introductory course, summer engaged learning experiences with a pre-course to prepare students for the placement and a post-course for research/reflection, and a suite of electives organized around substantive themes (e.g., health, environment, education, immigration). The goal is to provide students with both academic frameworks and practical experience for understanding and contributing to the growing number of non-profits, businesses and hybrid organizations focused on social and cultural issues. Curricular offerings and engaged learning experiences address issues such as the legal and institutional environment, the distinctive organizational and leadership challenges associated with generating revenues, managing volunteers, and addressing multiple stakeholders, and the values and perspectives that distinguish the social and cultural sector as an alternative to the for-profit and government sectors.

Research Statement

I study how organizations and their leaders sustain competing demands, particularly those associated with multiple and seemingly incompatible values. Much of my research focuses on hybrid organizations such as social enterprises and mission-driven businesses. Hybrids present a theoretical and practical puzzle: Some experience severe internal conflict or mission drift and ultimately fail to uphold their dual social and commercial missions, yet others survive and thrive. I investigate the structures, practices, and processes for addressing these challenges and sustaining competing demands over time. In recent work, I have shown that the severity of conflict in hybrids depends on the extent to which there is a clear hierarchy of goals and on the extent to which organizational members treat multiple goals as compatible or incompatible (Besharov & Smith, 2014). I have also found that frontline managers are critical and detailed the practices through which “pluralist” managers who value both social and commercial goals mitigate tensions between employees who value just one goal or the other (Besharov, 2014). I have also detailed the role of "guardrails" -- dedicated expertise, relationships, and formal structures associated with each of an organization's competing goals -- and shown how they work in conjunction with pluralist management practices to enable ongoing adaptation that sustains competing goals over time (Smith & Besharov, 2019).

Service Statement

In my service to the ILR School, the University, and the profession, I aim to help build and maintain a vibrant, supportive, and productive intellectual community. Through Engaged Cornell, the Social Sector Studies program at ILR, and my role as a Campus Change Leader for Ashoka Innovators for the Public, I am working to strengthen connections among faculty, staff, students, alumni, and community members involved in researching, participating in, and leading social and cultural organizations. I am currently an Associate Editor for the Academy of Management Annals, and I serve on the editorial boards of Academy of Management Journal, Administrative Science Quarterly, and Organization Science.


Journal Articles

  • Wendy K Smith, Marya Besharov. 2019. Bowing before dual gods: How structured flexibility sustains organizational hybridity, Administrative Science Quarterly . 64(1):1-44.
  • Bjoern Mitzinneck, Marya Besharov. 2018. Managing value tensions in collective social entrepreneurship: The role of temporal, structural, and collaborative compromise, Journal of Business Ethics .
  • Jean-Baptiste Litrico, Marya Besharov. 2018. Unpacking variation in hybrid organizational forms: Changing models of social enterprise among nonprofits, 2000-2013, Journal of Business Ethics .
  • Marya Besharov, Rakesh Khurana. 2015. Leading amidst competing technical and institutional demands: Revisiting Selznick's conception of leadership, Research in the Sociology of Organizations . 44:53-88.
  • Marya Besharov, Wendy K Smith. 2014. Multiple institutional logics in organizations: Explaining their varied nature and implications, Academy of Management Review . 39(3):364-381.
  • Marya Besharov. 2014. The relational ecology of identification: How organizational identification emerges when individuals hold divergent values, Academy of Management Journal . 57(5):1485-1512.
  • Michael Gonin, Wendy K. Smith, Marya Besharov. 2013. Managing social-business tensions: A review and research agenda for social enterprise, Academy of Management Proceedings .
  • Wendy K. Smith, Michael Gonin, Marya Besharov. 2013. Managing social-business tensions: A review and research agenda for social enterprise, Business Ethics Quarterly . 23(3):407-442.
  • Wendy K Smith, Marya Besharov, Anke Wessels, Michael Chertok. 2012. A paradoxical leadership model for social entrepreneurs: Challenges, leadership skills, and pedagogical tools for managing at double bottom line, Academy of Mgmt Learning & Education . 11(3):463-478.
  • Joel M Podolny, Rakesh Khurana, Marya Besharov. 2005. Revisiting the Meaning of Leadership, Research in Organizational Behavior . 26:1-37.
  • Joel M Podolny, Marya Besharov. 2004. Hedonic and Transcendent Conceptions of Value, Industrial and Corporate Change . 13:91-116.

Book Chapters

  • Marya Besharov, Wendy Smith, Tiffany Darabi. 2019. A framework for sustaining hybridity in social enterprises: Combining differentiating and integrating. in Handbook of Inclusive Innovation: The Role of Organizations, Markets, and Communities in Social Innovation. Cheltenham, UK: Edward Elgar Publishing, 2019. Gerald George, Ted Baker, Paul Tracey, and Havovi Joshi. (394-413)(Accepted)
  • Julie Battilana, Marya Besharov, Bjoern Mitzinneck. 2017. On hybrids and hybrid organizing: A review and roadmap for future research. in The SAGE Handbook of Organizational Institutionalism. Thousand Oaks, CA, United States: Sage Publications, 2017. Greenwood, R., Oliver, C. Lawrence, T., & Meyer R. (133-169)
  • Marya Besharov, Garima Sharma. 2017. Paradoxes of Organizational Identity. in The Oxford Handbook of Organizational Paradoxes: Approaches to Plurality, Contradictions, and Tensions. New York, NY, United States: Oxford University Press, 2017. Lewis, M. W., Smith, W. K., Jarzabkowski, P., & Langley, A. . (178-196)
  • Marya Besharov, Shelley L. Brickson. 2016. Organizational identity and institutional forces: Toward an integrative framework. in The Oxford Handbook of Organizational Identity. New York, NY, United States: Oxford University Press, 2016. Michael Pratt, Majken Schultz, Blake Ashforth, Davide Ravasi. (396-414 )
  • Spela Trefalt, Marya Besharov. 2016. The journey from data to qualitative, inductive paper: Who helps and how?. in Handbook of Qualitative Organizational Research: Innovative Pathways and Methods. New York, NY, United States: Routledge, 2016. K.D. Elsbach & R. M. Kramer. (401-410)
  • Joel M Podolny, Rakesh Khurana, Marya Besharov. 2010. Revisiting the Meaning of Leadership. in Handbook of Leadership Theory and Practice. Boston, MA, United States: Harvard Business Press, 2010. Nitin Nohria, Rakesh Khurana. (65-105)

Written Cases

  • Christopher Marquis, Marya Besharov, Bobbi Thomason. 2010. Whole Foods: Balancing Social Mission and Growth. Boston, MA, United States: Harvard Business School, 2010.
  • Nancy F Koehn, Marya Besharov, Katherine Miller. 2008. Starbucks Coffee Company in the 21st Century. Boston, MA, United States: Harvard Business Publishing, 2008. (45p.)

Book Reviews

  • Marya Besharov. 2019. Review of Christian Seelos and Johanna Mair, Innovation and Scaling for Impact: How Effective Social Enterprises Do It. Administrative Science Quarterly, 2019.
  • Marya Besharov. 2017. Book Review: Organizing Organic: Conflict and Compromise in an Emerging Market. Organization Studies, 2017. (285-288)