The purpose of this paper is to study the potential interest in and the possible limits of the concept of organizational ambidexterity (Duncan, 1976; Tushman and O’Reilly, 1996) in the context of public non-profit organizations (PNPOs), a concept that is frequently studied in the private sector.
From an inductive and qualitative approach, this research is based on observations of ambidextrous innovation processes implemented in a French PNPO in charge of job search and unemployment compensation operations.
This research shows that the concept of organizational ambidexterity might provide some strategic leads for balancing the possible paradoxes within different kinds of expectations of the stakeholders of PNPOs. It might also facilitate the combination of the stability of public service deliverance and organizational transformation. Beyond its interest, this study identifies the limits of the concept in the context of PNPOs. For overcoming its limits, the study suggests a renewed understanding of organizational ambidexterity by taking account of PNPOs’ specificities, especially in terms of the regulation of the different tensions generated by ambidextrous organizational change.
This research proposes a conceptual framework built with the integration of sectorial and organizational characteristics of the public non-profit sector for understanding the organizational ambidexterity and its possible strategic, organizational and management implications in this sector. The results are limited to the context the author studied because of several sectorial, national, organizational and cultural specificities.
The results might inspire management practices in PNPOs and potentially in private non-profit organizations or in voluntary organizations, since these three types of organizations could have certain similar organizational characteristics and might encounter similar questions in terms of strategy and innovation management.
This research suggests a renewed understanding of the concept of organizational ambidexterity in a sector in which the complexities, tensions and paradoxes generated by different stakeholders’ expectations are probably more present but less explicit than other organizations.
The author would like to thank several executives and staff members of the PNPO that was observed in this research for their helpful support during our observation work. Nevertheless, the author is solely responsible for all affirmations or interpretations presented in this paper.
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