Research question and theoretical approach
Currently, media managers face extensive challenges in combining the constant demands for operational and organisational change, innovation and creative development with the requirements for higher efficiency and refinements for greater streamlining of the on-going production. In attempts to understand this complex phenomenon, this paper offers a strategic management approach by applying the concepts of ambidexterity and organizational capabilities.
Ambidexterity refers to an ability to simultaneously exploit current assets and mature markets profitably as well as to explore developmental possibilities for competing in new technologies and markets, utilizing environmental changes and organizational resources to capture new opportunities (O’Reilly & Tushman, 2011; O’Reilly & Tushman 2013; see also March 1991). Achieving both at the same time, i.e. being truly ambidextrous in practice, should enable continuous successful development, but achieving that is difficult and inevitably leads to various tensions and paradoxes on different organisational levels (O’Reilly & Tushman, 2004; Andriopoulos & Lewis, 2009; Raisch, Birkinshaw, Probst & Tushman, 2009). This presents a challenge for media managers aiming at adapting their organisations to both optimize and to innovate (see Küng, 2007). However, there is a lack of theoretical understanding about how the conscious management of ambidexterity actually happens in organisations (O’Reilly & Tushman, 2008; O’Reilly & Tushman, 2011). Media organizations are exceptionally relevant and fruitful cases for discussing ambidexterity, because they do not traditionally separate on-going production, understood as exploitation, and innovative development, approached as exploration, but aim at achieving both simultaneously and effectively.
The concept of organizational capabilities offers an insightful way to analyse ambidextrous tensions during strategic change. As applied in strategy research, capabilities can be divided hierarchically into operational and dynamic capabilities (Zollo & Winter, 2002; Hine, Parker, Pregelj &Verreynne, 2013). Operational capabilities exploit the existing resources for incremental innovations whereas so called higher-order dynamic capabilities explore new technologies and other resources for radical innovations. In our study, dynamic capabilities are defined as organization’s capacity to sense and seize new opportunities and reconfigure its resource base to address the changing environment (Teece, Pisano & Shuen, 1997; Helfat, Finkelstein, Mitchell, Peteraf, Singh, Teece & Winter, 2007; Teece, 2007). The senior management abilities and competence are crucial in relation to resource allocation and in orchestrating “the complex trade-offs that the simultaneous pursuit of exploration and exploitation requires” (O’Reilly & Tushman, 2011, p. 6). The development of capabilities and managing the inherent tensions is a central, but at the same time a complex executive leadership responsibility in ambidextrous organizations (O’Reilly & Tushman, 2008; O’Reilly & Tushman, 2011).
Empirically, the paper analyses what is characteristic to ambidextrous tensions and their management (prerequisites and requirements) in relation to organizational capabilities on the basis of an empirical case from Yle, the public service broadcaster of Finland. The empirical research material consists of 20 semi-structured in-depth interviews conducted with Yle senior management during winter 2013/14. At the time Yle was taking strategic actions in relation to digitalization of its content production, structures and customer relationship.
In the interviews, managers were asked about the difficulties, challenges and tensions they have faced during the change process. They were also asked about how they understand the need for change, how they scan the changing media market and make decisions. The analysis approach is qualitative, and the transcribed interviews are analysed according to a thematic analysis and coding method (e.g. Patton, 2002; Miles, Huberman, & Saldaña, 2014) using Atlas.ti data analysis software. The preliminary analysis shows that managers are continuously balancing between exploitation and exploration. Also, ambidextrous tensions seem to underlie strategic thinking and managerial processes and practices on an everyday basis.
Contributions and managerial implications
The reasonably new research area around ambidexterity is evolving and growing (e.g. Raisch & Birkinshaw, 2008; Lavie, Stettner & Tushman, 2010). However, in relation to media organisations or media management it has hardly been applied (for a rare example, see Järventie-Thesleff, Moisander & Villi, 2014). The operationalization of ambidexterity with operational and dynamic capabilities offers a fresh and insightful approach for analysing media management in the face of digitalization. The theoretical approach will provide media managers with new insights and practical understanding of e.g. how managing change relates to capabilities and competencies that either exploit and support continuity or explore and create discontinuity, and especially of the ways to tackle the related ambidextrous tensions between exploitation and exploration.
EMMA Annual Conference 2016, Creativity, Coopetition and Uncertainty in Media, Porto, June 2-5, 2016