Introduction

Agnieszka Zakrzewska-Bielawska

The changes that took place at the beginning of the 21st century, mostly related to the rapid development of technology, the progress of civilization, the digitization of processes, the focus on innovation and entrepreneurial behavior, and the processes of globalization and more fierce competition—often hyper-competition—meant that the conditions for the development of modern companies are characterized by high complexity, volatility, and unpredictability, especially in the long term. This, in turn, raises the question of whether a development strategy—broadly understood as the long-term direction in which the organization is headed, the goals it sets, and the ways they are achieved (Ronda-Pupo, G. A. & Guerras-Martin, L. A, 2012)—still makes sense (Krupski, 2003).

Due to the inability to predict and design the future, it has been stated that long-term strategic plans are useless (Trout, 2015), long-term strategy is a thing of the past (Peters, 2003), and the idea that the best moves of successful companies are the result of comprehensive strategic planning has become a myth (Collins & Porras, 2004). There are also views about the twilight of strategy (Kozminski, 2005) since, due to the uncertainty of the environment and constant internal changes within an organization, the situation at the moment a strategy is formulated may be very different from the situation when it is implemented, which, in turn, results in additional costs being incurred in order to adjust the strategy. Therefore, as opposed to strategic planning, an opportunity-based approach has been recommended (Alvarez & Barney, 2007; Bingham &C Eisenhardt, 2008; Short et al., 2010), as well as continuous improvement of the efficiency of operational processes (Miller, 2014). However, such an approach does not confirm the twilight of strategy as such, but rather changes the way it is understood and opens the discussion to new problems and challenges of strategic management.

Certainly, companies still need strategies, as they serve as an ordering function and set a coherent and directed development for companies (Jenkins & Williamson, 2015). However, due to the uncertainty of the environment, this development cannot be planned precisely or for the long term. Therefore, a strategy is currently a dynamic process of making choices in conditions of uncertainty (limitations, pressure, and opportunities) in order to maintain development potential in the long run (Amason & Ward, 2020). The strategy should therefore combine imagination, courage, and vision with pragmatism and consistency in acting (Kaleta, 2013). This, in turn, means that in order to succeed, companies must manage contradictions, reconciling and often pursuing opposing goals (Magnusson & Martini, 2008; De Wit & Meyer, 2010).

According to this approach, companies today should both explore new opportunities to secure their future profits and exploit their existing competencies to ensure current profitability (March, 1991). Therefore, neither exploitation nor exploration can be abandoned, as both are needed to gain a competitive advantage in the long term. A company’s ability to balance exploration and exploitation activities was named ambidexterity1 (Gibson & Birkinshaw, 2004; Tushman & O’Reilly, 1996), which means the ability to operate with both hands equally well (Rosing, Frese, & Bausch, 2011).

In management studies, there has been a great deal of research on ambidexterity over the last two decades (Almahendra & Ambos, 2015; Popadic & Milohnic, 2016), and the number of publications devoted to this problem is constantly growing.2 The phenomenon of ambidexterity has been analyzed from different perspectives and levels of analysis, focusing on different approaches. Studies have been located in the areas of knowledge management and organizational learning, innovativeness and technology management, organizational adaptability, organizational design, organizational behavior and human resources management, leadership, and in the area of alliances and interorganizational networks. However, the problem of ambidexterity was often considered in the context of strategic management (Zakrzewska-Bielawska, 2016a), where ambidexterity was understood primarily as a company’s ability to implement paradoxical strategies (Scott, 2014).

Researchers analyzed strategic ambidexterity primarily from the perspective of performance, noting, among other things, that ambidexterity yields better results than traditional strategic management concepts, including the concept of fit (Wulf, Stubner, & Blarr, 2010), and has a positive impact on sales growth, innovation, market valuation, subjective performance measures, or the organization’s survival (O’Reilly & Tushman, 2013). Ambidexterity was also examined in the context of strategic orientation (Dutta, 2013a; Menguc &c Auh, 2008), the process of creating a strategy (Burgelman, 2002), building a permanent or temporary competitive advantage (Kriz, Voola, & Yuksel, 2014), implementing a strategy (O’Cass, Heirati, & Ngo, 2014), or strategic flexibility (Wei, Yi, & Guo, 2014).

Despite the intensity of research in this area, ambidexterity is still an original and cognitively interesting perspective for analyzing complex and diverse problems of strategic management, as the results so far have been ambiguous and fragmented, and many questions still remain open.

One such question is, which strategies lead to success for modern companies? Are exploration or exploitation strategies still valid (i.e., do they yield the expected results), or perhaps—under uncertainty and unpredictable changes—only ambidextrous strategies combining the contradictions of these activities are the right choice? And if so, is such an ambidextrous strategy achievable for any organization?

The literature indicates that neither an exploitation nor exploration strategy will ensure a competitive advantage for a relatively long time (Levinthal &c March, 1993). On the other hand, ambidextrous strategies, due to their complexity and uniqueness, are unlikely to be successful in all organizations (Ebben & Johnson, 2005). Therefore, another question arises: what determines the choice?

The research to date has not provided a comprehensive answer to these questions. Also, in this case, different researchers have analyzed the various factors for choosing an ambidextrous approach in various ways. Most often, it was from the perspective of the dynamics, competitiveness, and uncertainty of the environment (e.g., Benner & Tushman, 2003; Jansen, Van den Bosch, &C Volberda, 2005; Mammassis &C Kostopoulos, 2019; Sidhu, Volberda, & Commandeur, 2004; Wang & Li, 2008), features of the organizational structure (e.g., Andriopoulos & Lewis, 2009; Hall- dorsson, 2013; O’Reilly & Tushman, 2008), organizational culture (e.g., Chatman et al., 2013; Khazanchi, Lewis, & Boyer, 2007; Pertusa-Ortega & Molina-Azorin, 2018), or the availability, allocation, and interdependence of resources (e.g., Cao, Gedajlovic, & Zhang, 2009; Jansen, Sim- sek, & Cao, 2012; Zhang et ah, 2020) as well as the size and age of the company (Voss &C Voss, 2013), relating primarily to a company’s overall ability to be ambidextrous. There is no research that considers the particular determinants jointly and comprehensively, indicating the choice between exploration, exploitation, and ambidexterity from the perspective of strategic choices that result in specific outcomes. Thus, there is a cognitive gap that this monograph aims to fill. It should also be noted that undertaking research in this area is in line with the current challenges of strategic management. Since there are few studies devoted strictly to the issue of strategic choices in companies, the issue requires further, deeper, and more integrated examination.

Combining the perspective on ambidexterity with the issue of strategic choices, the main aim of the monograph was to define the ambidextrous strategy in terms of how to build a competitive advantage and what performance is achieved. The focus was on product and market choices and the way a company builds its competitive advantage in the context of the external and internal conditions of its operation. A classic description of strategic choices was adopted, at the corporate and strategic business unit level, because when setting the direction for a company’s development, management must always answer two key strategic questions: where and how to compete (Grant, 2016). Moreover, products, markets, and competitive advantage are the most common categories for strategy description (Jenkins & Williamson, 2015).

To achieve the main aim of the monograph, a number of specific objectives had to be implemented, which have been defined on the theoretical, methodical, and cognitive levels. The theoretical objectives include:

  • • defining ambidextrous strategy through the lenses of basic strategic choices related to the company’s goals, the product and market domain, the sources of competitive advantage, and the approach to creating and implementing the strategy;
  • • identifying, systematizing, and explaining the antecedents of choosing ambidextrous strategy as the path for the company’s growth;
  • • defining the outcomes of implementing the ambidextrous strategy.

In terms of methodology, the specific objective was defined as operationalization and scale development of the ambidextrous strategy, the antecedents of choosing it, and the outcomes achieved through implementing it, as well as the use of structural equation modeling to assess cause- and-effect relationships between the specified constructs and variables. On the cognitive level, the detailed objectives include:

  • • assessing the strategic choices, conditions, and performance of companies operating in Poland;
  • • identifying cause-and-effect relationships between the influence of particular antecedents on the choice of an ambidextrous strategy by companies operating in Poland, and on the performance achieved.

It should also be noted that on the utilitarian level, the book aims to provide managers with knowledge and guidance as to which circumstances the ambidextrous strategy should be chosen to bring about the best outcomes.

Research of the existing literature led to the formulation of the main hypothesis:

MH. An ambidextrous strategy has a positive impact on a company’s performance, though the selection of such a strategy depends on how it is formulated and is determined by the uncertainty of the environment, resources, organizational structure, behavioral context, and strategic leadership.

The main hypothesis was developed into nine detailed hypotheses, which were based on theoretical considerations and are presented later in the monograph. In order to achieve the specific objectives of the monograph, I conducted literature research using the methods of analysis and criticism of the literature (Apanowicz, 2003) and research aimed at testing the hypotheses. In the empirical research, I used the survey method, with the integrated use of the Computer-Assisted Web Interview (CAWI) method and the Computer-Assisted Telephone Interview (CATI) method, using a questionnaire as a research tool. The sample comprised 363 companies operating in Poland, selected in a random-layer manner, which guarantees that the sample is representative and that the results can be generalized. In the data analysis stage, I used statistical description and inference tools, including structural equation modeling (SEM) and related confirmatory factor analysis (CFA), which are commonly used to estimate cause-and-effect relationships in management studies.

The monograph consists of four chapters, which are structured in line with the adopted objectives. In Chapter 1 I discuss the essence of a company strategy, focusing on its characteristics and the paradoxes that contemporary strategists must deal with. Against this background, I explain the concept of ambidexterity as a kind of paradox and its evolution. I provide detailed consideration to the methods in which companies achieve ambidexterity and the levels at which it is analyzed in an organization. I then present the results of the research on ambidexterity in strategic management systematically. The research findings to date have contributed to the definition of the strategies of exploitation, exploration, and ambidexterity in the context of basic strategic choices.

In Chapter 2 I discuss key antecedents for choosing an ambidextrous strategy as a development path of a company, including factors related to the uncertainty of the environment—its dynamics, complexity, and unpredictability—intraorganizational factors related to resources, organizational structure, and behavioral context, as well as those related to strategic leadership. I also address the problem of an organization’s performance, as management expects to achieve certain benefits when making a strategic choice. Moreover, ensuring an increase in company performance is seen as a task of strategic management. Therefore, I present here research showing the relationship between applying the ambidextrous approach and the performance achieved by companies.

Chapter 3 is methodical in its essence. I define the subsequent stages of the research procedure, indicating the purpose, the spatial and temporal scope of the research, and the research methods and techniques used. Next, I discuss the research model together with the operationalization of particular variables and their measures. I also present here the methods of statistical analysis with an emphasis on the essence of SEM. The chapter ends with presenting the characteristics of the organizations surveyed.

Chapter 4 of the monograph is empirical in nature. I present here the results of the research, which test the hypotheses I put forward. The strategic choices of the surveyed companies that were identified through the analysis, the antecedents to the choice of an ambidextrous strategy, and the assessment of the performance of its implementation and the relationships between them were the basis for managerial implications which I propose by indicating when an ambidextrous strategy is the most appropriate path for company development.

In the conclusion, I present the main findings from the research, with the indication of the monograph’s contribution to the development of strategic management, as well as limitations of the research procedure I adopted and the resulting directions of further research.

The book is dedicated to scientific researchers and students of management studies, as well as to a wide range of managers, who as part of their job must make difficult strategic choices, aimed at both increasing the performance of the company and seeking new paths for growth.

Notes

  • 1. It should be noted that the term ambidexterity is a theoretical construct proposed by academics. Management practitioners rarely use this term.
  • 2. As of 28 March 2020, search results for the keywords “ambidexterity” or “ambidextrous” within the titles or abstracts of papers on management returned 929 scientific articles from the EBSCO database, 529 from the Elsevier database, 108 from the Scopus database, and 824 from the Web of Science database. However, considering the strategy context, search results for the keywords “strategic ambidexterity” or “ambidextrous strategy” within the titles or abstracts of papers returned 102 scientific articles from the EBSCO database, 192 from the Elsevier database, 86 from the Scopus database, and 43 from the Web of Science database.
 
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