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The ambidextrous manager: what role does culture play?

Ian R. Hodgkinson (School of Business and Economics, Loughborough University, Loughborough, UK)
M.N. Ravishankar (School of Business and Economics, Loughborough University, Loughborough, UK)
Michelle Fischer (School of Business and Economics, Loughborough University, Loughborough, UK)

Journal of Business Strategy

ISSN: 0275-6668

Article publication date: 15 May 2017




It is known from research that the right context can help managers develop an ambidextrous approach. But just as few of us are naturally ambidextrous, many managers fail to balance conformity and change during strategy implementation. This paper aims to investigate why.


Through a qualitative study of managers of an international airline, the authors examine a series of cultural barriers that constrain managers’ agile decision-making and stop managerial ambidexterity.


The authors identify six culturally ingrained practices that block managerial ambidexterity: top management’s unwavering emphasis on cost control when survival hinges on fresh investments; little or no scanning of the environment for new areas of opportunity; intensive planning oriented toward efficiency issues; functional structures characterized by extensive division of labor; centralized control; and formal hierarchical communication channels.

Research limitations/implications

Managers find it difficult to put into practice new initiatives, particularly when the proposed initiatives counter the underlying cultural world of the organization. The authors suggest that this dark side of culture can pose tough barriers for ambidextrous action.

Practical implications

There is an urgent need for organizations to be aware of the possible misalignments between ambidextrous pursuits and the cultural forces that actually drive action. A deep understanding of their organization’s cultural universe is a crucial first step for managers aspiring to better engage with ambidexterity and outwit and outperform competitors.


Different strategic approaches need not be viewed as irreconcilable. If cultural elements do not block it, managerial ambidexterity can showcase innovative approaches to reconciling trade-offs in strategic decision-making.



Hodgkinson, I.R., Ravishankar, M.N. and Fischer, M. (2017), "The ambidextrous manager: what role does culture play?", Journal of Business Strategy, Vol. 38 No. 3, pp. 3-9.



Emerald Publishing Limited

Copyright © 2017, Emerald Publishing Limited

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