professions, professional jurisdictions, human resources, strategic HR, compliance, interpersonal mediation, ethnography


To protect themselves against deskilling and obsolescence, professionals must periodically revise their claims to authority and expertise. Although we understand these dynamics in the broader system of professions, we have a less complete understanding of how this process unfolds in specific organizational contexts. Yet given the ubiquity of embedded professionals, this context is where jurisdictional shifts increasingly take place.Drawing on a comparative ethnographic study of human resources (HR) professionals in two engineering firms, we introduce the concept of jurisdictional entrenchment to explain the challenges embedded professionals face when they attempt to redefine their jurisdiction. Jurisdictional entrenchment describes a condition in which embedded professionals have accumulated tasks, tactics, and expertise that enable them to make jurisdictional claims in an organization. We show how such entrenchment is a double-edged sword: instrumental to the ability of professionals to withstand challenges to their authority but detrimental when expertise and skills devalued by the professionals remain in high demand by clients, thus preventing the professionals' shift to their aspirational jurisdiction. Overall, our study contributes to a better understanding of how embedded professionals renegotiate jurisdictional claims within the constrains of organizational employment.

Original Publication Citation

Kurt Sandholtz, Daisy Chung, Isaac Waisberg (2019) The Double-Edged Sword of Jurisdictional Entrenchment: Explaining Human Resources Professionals’ Failed Strategic Repositioning. Organization Science

Document Type

Peer-Reviewed Article

Publication Date


Permanent URL


Institute for Operations Research and the Management Sciences (INFORMS)




Marriott School of Management



University Standing at Time of Publication

Assistant Professor