SME ambidexterity during economic recessions: the role of managerial external capabilities

Henar Alcalde-Heras (Orkestra-Basque Institute of Competitiveness and Deusto Business School, San Sebastian, Spain)
Cristina Iturrioz-Landart (Deusto Business School, University of Deusto, San Sebastian, Spain)
Cristina Aragon-Amonarriz (Deusto Business School, University of Deusto, San Sebastian, Spain)

Management Decision

ISSN: 0025-1747

Publication date: 14 January 2019



Most literature on ambidexterity has focused on large firms and on the influence of internal issues in this strategy, that is, organizational structures, top management integration, or internal knowledge management processes (Lutbatkin et al., 2006; Chang et al., 2011; Lee and Huang, 2012). The purpose of this paper is to assess small- to medium-sized enterprises (SMEs)’ ambidexterity strategies during economic recession periods in comparison with those of large firms and identify the managerial external capabilities which are associated with the development of SMEs’ ambidexterity.


A multinomial logit model and a probit model are proposed and tested using data collected from 2,150 Spanish firms during the period of 2009-2013.


The data analysis reveals that SMEs develop more ambidextrous innovation strategies in recession periods than larger firms do. Moreover, two managerial external capabilities have been identified as drivers of SMEs’ ambidextrous behavior in crisis periods: first, the capability of top management to anticipate scenarios; and second, the capacity to acquire adequate external resources through co-operation.

Practical implications

The results show that SME managers wanting to develop ambidextrous strategies in recession periods have to forecast scenarios in terms of innovation difficulties and strengthen their resources through co-operation. Implementation of public policy is encouraged to support these capabilities, thus enhancing SME sustainability in uncertain contexts.


Prior studies have paid little attention to the role of external capabilities. Although their role was revealed as a relevant dimension in the study of SME ambidexterity in adverse contexts by Cao et al. (2010), it remained underexplored. This paper aims to fill this gap.



Alcalde-Heras, H., Iturrioz-Landart, C. and Aragon-Amonarriz, C. (2019), "SME ambidexterity during economic recessions: the role of managerial external capabilities", Management Decision, Vol. 57 No. 1, pp. 21-40.

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