Organizational Ambidexterity – Transformation and Transition
21st April 2016 | Peter Stokes
Change and transformation seem rapid and endemic in the modern experience of work. Long gone are the idea of stable markets, a society fixed in particular practices and conventions, and, predictable careers of an entire lifetime spent working in one organization. The dynamics of contemporary organizational and institutional globalised environments are often marked by swift and transformatory changes. Moreover, recent decades have witnessed the emergence of conceptual approaches based on, for instance: adaptability, flexibility, agility, chaos and complexity.
Kindred with these aforementioned notions, the key topical idea of ‘organizational ambidexterity’ has moved centre stage. Ambidexterity as applied to organizations, in basic terms, suggests that organizations, and the people who work within them, are presented with the challenge of trying to move between ‘exploitative’ and ‘explorative’ states. Exploitative states represent conditions, markets and environments which exhibit stability, predictability and possess ‘known’ factors with low risk and therefore seem to offer more certainty. Alternatively, explorative settings and contexts can contrast sharply with exploitative environments – they are dynamic, rapidly changing, contain unknowns and often encompass new ideas, innovations and fresh challenges to existing boundaries. As such explorative conditions suggest a (high) degree of risk and uncertainty. Therein, a key issue emerges about how managers and employees in organizations identify, align with (or not), and negotiate between, these contrasting states. While it is possible to locate academic papers on these issues, a new text - Organizational Management (Kogan Page) - explicates the key ideas of organizational ambidexterity and undertakes the task of translating and applying them for people operating in varying company or institutional contexts. This provides an invaluable aid to providing understanding the theory/practice interface of this useful concept and comes with helpful cameos and examples.
Thus, ambidexterity offers itself as a mechanism through which to understand the complexities and challenges of a changing world. In some regards, dealing with such situations may be viewed as primarily a generational issue rather than a broader one. For instance, will those people born at the turn of the millennium and now exiting their teens, entering early adulthood and their first roles in organizational life view ambidextrous dilemmas in the same manner as the late baby-boomers who are likely to be holding senior positions in various fields and professions? This, then, raises the need to consider concepts not only in organizational contexts but also in their relational, societal and cultural dimensions. These issues are discussed in the book by Dr Simon Smith through the topic of ambidexterity in relation to talent management and Dr Jessica Lichy in relation to differing generational attitudes towards the internet in private and professional contexts. These collected insights ask, and respond, to the transforming and dynamic environments which are set to change radically in the coming decades. The various chapters of Organizational Management provide a potent and comprehensive amalgam of, and lens through which, to consider these perplexing and exciting issues.