Management strategies for cooperative and social enterprises and impact on performance

Research Area: Management & Governance
Scientific coordinator: Luca Fazzi

Project status: on-going

The project took as its starting point a scientific reflection on the dual nature of social enterprises as organizations aimed a maximizing their social function, but which also need to balance their social and economic missions in their managerial strategies so as to render the business sustainable. The research has therefore focused on analysing, including empirically, the strategies for managing institutional complexity. This complexity derives from the fact that social enterprises must on the one hand confront pressure – primarily from stakeholders – to create social value, in a participatory, democratic and collaborative way, and on the other, deal with pressure from the market which obliges the enterprise to reach financial sustainability through hierarchical management forms and competitive business models.

In light of these considerations, research has been carried out in recent years on balancing the social and economic aspects in the social accounting of social cooperatives, as well the analysis of managerial profiles, with a specific research project carried out on what is known as “symbolic management”, the managerial approach aimed at increasing the legitimacy of the action and the organization in regards to key stakeholders and the specific context.

Currently the research is turning its attention to the relationship between management, governance structures and organizational performance.  


The overall objective of the research project under its current investigative profile is to analyse relationships between the managerial structures and governance systems of social cooperatives and the performances achieved by these cooperatives.

The first specific objective, however, is to identify the types of social cooperative manager, including in terms of personal knowledge and skills and leadership. The second objective is to evaluate the power of a cooperative manager within the complex and diversified governance structure of social cooperatives; what are the governance models being promoted and who are the subjects with the most influence over the managerial policies of social cooperatives? Lastly, the third objective is the identification, for the same social cooperatives, of qualitative and quantitative performance parameters, with an analysis of the possible trade-offs between them. The chance to have all of this information and the analysis parameters available will therefore allow the data to be combined in order to achieve the final objective of evaluating the relationship between types of manager, types of governance and the performance of social cooperatives.

Main results

The activities carried out in the past on the topic of cooperative and social enterprise management have allowed for confirmation of the presence in social cooperatives of a balancing between social and entrepreneurial objectives, between the social value being generated and the efficiency of the organization. Alongside these analyses there has also been a reflection on the specific role of a trained management, which can bring not just classic managerial policies to the organization but also symbolic and value-related elements and personal motivations. The research will continue in the coming years, with the expected result of identifying management and governance models that can not only find an equilibrium between these different aspects, but also optimize the equilibrium by arriving at better organizational performances.

This research project is an evolution of considerations and results that have emerged in previous years, particularly in the following studies and European projects:

The management of legitimacy in social enterprises / Symbolic management and the acquisition of organizational legitimacy in Italian social enterprises

Ariadne:  The managerial guidance in the social economy;

EU COOPC – European Coop Campus


IRIS Network
University of Trento
Confcooperative, Legacoop, ACI

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