Shaping an ambidextrous orientation: managerial activity configuration & top management influence

Nawtej Dosanjh

Research output: ThesisDoctoral Thesis

Abstract

This study examines managerial activity configurations with a view to understand the influences on attention middle managers give to activities they carry out. The role of top management in orienting managerial work is a fundamental influence that mediates other aspects such as task environment characteristics and response to performance feedback. Enhancing managerial performance under varying task situations and iterative performance feedback calls for an evaluation of content, and of practice. This would entail looking within the remits of past experience with existing activity configuration to enhance effectiveness and/ or looking outside to explore novel approaches to improving activities and their mutual fit. The balance between exploitation and exploration while seeking to do well at both makes such calibration in activities being marked by what I call aspirations of ambidexterity. Reflecting on constructs like managerial work environment characteristics, performance feedback, risks and benefits of pursuing ambidexterity, nature of activities, and the interaction between top and middle management, is not new to research. However, what remain missing is an empirical examination of top management influence on ambidexterity in managerial practice, and also, a focussed examination of how managers’ scope and orient attention to activities that they do. From this perspective, the study situates the unit of analysis as activities carried out by individual managers, as in how the top management influences the ambidextrous orientation of subordinate managers. The study uses data collected through a semi structured survey instrument. This is complemented with data from meeting observation memos. The survey instrument has been rigorously pre-tested and modified prior to data collection from the study research site which is federated organisation with a rather flat structure hierarchically relative to others in the industry. Several findings from the study contribute to both research and practice, and include: evidence for top management encouraging selective ambidextrous practice by looking at managers who do well; the strategic and operational alignment perception in middle managers affecting their propensity to make changes to their activity portfolios; evidence for the need for demonstrative inclusion of feedback for greater buy in by middle management; the mediation by and variation in work environment characteristics being an influence, among others. A behavioural and cognitive interface with influencing antecedents and consequences for how managerial work is shaped and evolves along aspirations of ambidextrous capability underpins the discussion in this study. The study provides support to and extends the conceptualisations along trajectories in research, primarily those that concern themselves with managerial attention, managerial activity configurations and ambidextrous practice in evolving what managers do.
Original languageEnglish
Publication statusAccepted/In press - Jan 2017
Externally publishedYes

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