The institutional environment is complex. This complexity is characterized by forces that ebb and flow in wavelike patterns as societal expectations evolve, with attention coalescing around specific events and then dissipating. Some of these critical events are broad and affect many firms, whereas others are narrow and affect individual firms. In either case, when they occur, these events elevate organizational susceptibility to societal demands but encourage different kinds of behavior in response. This study seeks to model this complexity in an area of growing interest for organization scholars—business ethics. In particular, I examine how firms respond to shifting societal pressures for greater ethical behavior by adopting and implementing the Ethics and Compliance Officer position, from 1990 to 2008. Results demonstrate that although firms decide when to adopt in response to broad fieldwide critical events, it is narrower firm-specific critical events that determine resource commitments in implementation.
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