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Client embeddedness of service professionals

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The embeddedness literature has provided rich insights into the constituents and consequences of firmlevel relational arrangements; much less is known about their construction and dynamics. In particular, there is a paucity of research about how individuals participate in the construction of embeddedness of inter-firm relationships. This is particularly important to our understanding of professional service firms (PSFs), where client-professional social relations are crucial to the performance of work. Our study is concerned with the mechanisms of how junior service professionals become socially embedded with clients. We develop a measure of embeddedness based on junior professionals' self-assessment of their social integration with clients and then deduce, through grounded theory building, what distinguishes junior professionals who score high on this measure from those who score low. Our data come from survey and in-depth interviews with 68 respondents recently promoted to client-facing roles in three PSFs. We discover that young professionals who find themselves more socially integrated with clients rely on framings, norms and strategies that lead them to focus on clients at the expense of partners. Alternative career logics provide basic ingredients to constructing such (more) embedded relationships with one over another key stakeholder in their future. These findings suggest that development of embedded relationships requires trade-offs and focus by the individuals at the core of inter-firm relations. Our study contributes to an understanding of the social structures surrounding economic action as fragmented and conflicting, and highlights the importance of agency in embeddedness construction.

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