The goal of this dissertation is to understand how high technology organizations simultaneously innovate and improve to maintain a competitive advantage. Too much attention paid to innovation does not address the problems of today, while too much attention paid to improvement may not build a better tomorrow. Gaining a competitive advantage requires that organizations balance both innovation and improvement. Ambidexterity is one mechanism that allows organizations to achieve the proper balance of the two. However, theoretical knowledge on ambidexterity is relatively new. Toward this end, this dissertation develops a multilevel theory on organizational ambidexterity through three interrelated essays.
The first essay, "Multiple Levels of Ambidexterity in Managing the Innovation and Improvement Dilemma: Evidence from Case Studies," adopts a grounded theory building approach using a case study design to develop a multilevel theory on organizational ambidexterity. Data for this study is collected from four high technology divisions and involves over 198 respondents. Both qualitative (53 semi-structured interviews) and quantitative data are collected from multiple levels within each division. Case study analyses indicate three complementary solutions to balancing: cognitive ambidexterity, contextual ambidexterity, and structural ambidexterity. Cognitive ambidexterity, a dynamic capability at the strategic level, facilitates decisions on the right balance of innovation and improvement. Contextual ambidexterity helps align decisions between the strategic and the project levels through disciplined project management, metric alignment, and roll-over of divisional plans. Finally structural ambidexterity helps facilitate simultaneous execution of innovation and improvement at the project level through distinct rewards, project team and leadership structures.
The second essay, "Antecedents to Organizational Ambidexterity - A Multilevel Investigation," empirically tests the theories developed from the case studies. Data for this study is collected through an online survey conducted at 34 high technology divisions and involves 110 innovation and improvement projects. Informants from multiple levels within each division are used in the data collection process. Results from this research suggest that organizational processes such as information analysis and methods, customer and market focus, and inter functional multilevel planning teams (grouped as scanning practices) synthesize internal and external information and predict cognitive ambidexterity, the ability to resolve strategic contradiction between innovation and improvement. Disciplined project management and scorecard approach are approaches to connect innovation and improvement project level decisions with the division's strategies and promote contextual ambidexterity. Both cognitive and contextual ambidexterity impact the division's ability to simultaneously pursue innovation and improvement strategies.
The third essay, "Explaining Structural Ambidexterity in High Technology Organizations," delineates structural ambidexterity into two different contexts: macro organizational contexts (e.g., organizational processes, organizational structures) and micro organizational contexts (e.g., team leadership, team incentives, project team structures). Using multilevel data collected from 34 high technology divisions and 110 innovation and improvement projects, this research examines the effects of macro and micro organizational contexts on innovation and improvement project performance. Results from this multilevel research suggest that improvement projects benefit from both organizational macro contexts and certain micro contexts (project team leadership and project team incentives). Innovation projects, on the other hand, mainly depend on micro contexts and are negatively affected by organizational macro contexts. Results from this research also introduce a third classification of projects - hybrid projects -which have both innovation and improvement goals embedded in them. Theoretical and practical implications from this research are discussed.
The dissertation concludes with a discussion of the key findings from each of the three essays. Limitations and directions for future research are also identified.
University of Minnesota Ph.D. dissertation. June 2009. Major: Business Administration. Advisors: Dr. Kevin W. Linderman and Dr. Roger G. Schroeder. 1 computer file (PDF); xiii, 208 leaves, appendices pages 113-194.
Multiple levels of ambidexterity in managing the innovation-improvement dilemma: evidence from high technology organizations..
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