How diverse top management teams and a focus on continuous improvement can win the present and the future
Ambidexterity, referring to a company’s ability to manage current demands while being adaptable to changes in the environment, has been the subject of many management books and articles over recent years. Now, with AI looming and the environment changing big time, and it has become a must-have capability.
The challenge for companies, focused on winning the present while at the same time laying the foundation to win the future, is that emphasizing one priority can undermine the other. Recent research offers timely practical guidelines for overcoming the challenge of ambidexterity by examining key factors – sometimes complementary, sometime conflicting – that enable companies to focus on the present and the future.
The books say an organization should engage in enough exploitation to ensure it maximises current opportunities and engage in enough exploration to ensure its future viability; but they have often been less precise about how this is achieved.
In their recent study, Professor Andy Lockett, Dean of Warwick Business School and colleagues (see below), examine the antecedents of ambidexterity – the factors in place at the company that will support exploitation, exploration or both.
The research, based on a survey of 422 UK SMEs, analyzed four ambidexterity antecedents: the composition and size of top management teams; the existence of a clear written vision; the extent of investment in R&D; and a commitment to a company-wide continuous improvement process.
The key findings were that:
At a time of change and disruption across so many business sectors, most business leaders are only too aware of the persistent tensions and conflicts between exploitation and exploration. In this study the researchers argue that finding a balanced ambidextrous approach to resolving these tensions requires a better understanding of the antecedents of exploration and exploitation.
They highlight factors that can exacerbate the conflicts – for example, over-investment in R&D might benefit the company in the long-term but can undermine the company’s current success; and also identify factors that benefit both exploitation and exploration, such as recruiting a diverse top management team and implementing continuous improvement processes – valuable insights that can help organizations win the present and prepare for future success.
The authors of the study were:
Dr Oksana Koryak, of Cranfield School of Management; Professors Andy Lockett, James Hayton, Nicos Nicolaou and Kevin Mole – all of Warwick Business School.
Access the full research paper here:
Disentangling the Antecedents of Ambidexterity: Exploration and Exploitation. Research Policy (March 2018).
Warwick Business School is a leading thought-developer and innovator, in the top one per cent of global business schools.