Academic journal article Journal of Organizational Culture, Communications and Conflict

Organizational Ambidexterity and the Multi-Generational Workforce

Academic journal article Journal of Organizational Culture, Communications and Conflict

Organizational Ambidexterity and the Multi-Generational Workforce

Article excerpt

INTRODUCTION

As Birkinshaw and Gibson (2004) reported, economic instability experienced in the early 2000's solidified the idea that adaptability is paramount for an organization to succeed. However, moving quickly toward new opportunities and adjusting to unpredictable economic shifts are often not enough to carry an organization through a period of sustained success. Organizations must also focus on alignment, or developing a "clear sense of how value is being created in the short term and how activities should be coordinated and streamlined to deliver that value" (p. 47). Companies who master both important strategic initiatives--also known as adaptability and alignment, or exploitation and exploration--are often referred to as ambidextrous (Duncan, 1976). These researchers warn leaders that focusing too narrowly on adaptability will cause an organization to lose today's business at the expense of tomorrow's business. Conversely, focusing too narrowly on alignment will help business succeed today, but make it susceptible to inevitable industry changes.

The traditional "Ambidextrous Structure" that is widely accepted in research maintains that businesses should employ two completely separate units, one that focuses on core business, and one that focuses only on innovation. These units are encouraged to maintain their own separate identity, budget, culture, etc., and do not interact directly. In this model, the head of each unit reports to a common general or executive-level manager (O'Reilly & Tushman, 2004). Leaders in ambidextrous organizations must consider many different factors when planning how to balance their organization's efforts to exploit their core business and explore potential opportunities. When reviewing the necessary components that allow an organization to maximize both core business and innovation, Scott (2014) found that, "the ability to compete in current and new markets begins with the strategies and priorities that are responsible for the very nature of innovation capabilities" (p. 44). Aligning organizational strategies with innovative priorities is of paramount importance for businesses that desire to maintain success with core business while also innovating new products or services that go beyond the incremental innovations occurring in the core business unit.

Other researchers have highlighted the importance of examining the changing landscape of the workforce in a time when a new generation is gaining a majority representation in the workplace. The workforce has shifted from a composition of roughly half Baby Boomers in 2005 to about a third in 2015 (Fry, 2015). Millennials, a generation that outnumbers members of Generation X in population by nearly twelve million, have entered the workforce and surpassed the percentage of Baby Boomers and Gen Xers represented in the workplace in just under a decade's time (Pew Research Center, 2015). As new research about generational strengths and preferences emerges, business leaders are adapting to this generational shift in the workforce by updating policies on flexible work hours, changing the expectations for providing and receiving feedback, and implementing reciprocal mentorship programs (Bannon, Ford & Meltzer, 2011; Meister & Willyerd, 2010; Chaudhuri & Ghosh, 2012).

New research suggests that the ambidexterity of organizations--their ability to effectively innovate while still maintaining focus on their core business--is being impacted by the changing landscape of the generational mix represented in the workplace (Blackburn, 2011; Moon, 2014), although little direction in the literature exists to strongly connect this relationship. This author proposes that the development of an updated ambidextrous organization structure for businesses would contribute to the knowledge base of business strategy scholars and professionals for this topic. Constructing a model highlighting the need to encourage knowledge transfer while a generation that dominated the workforce ten years ago is rapidly replaced by one who dominates the others in tech skills and desire for constant feedback (Chaudhuri & Ghosh, 2012; Gibson, Greenwood & Murphy, 2009; Patterson, 2005; Stevens, 2010; Thompson & Gregory, 2012; Yu & Miller, 2005) could be a good initial step for many organizations in the move toward becoming a more innovative enterprise. …

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