Mid-Range Management Theory: Competence Perspectives on Modularity and Dynamic Capabilities: Volume 8

Cover of Mid-Range Management Theory: Competence Perspectives on Modularity and Dynamic Capabilities

Table of contents

(7 chapters)

In this paper we examine some fundamental epistemological issues in building theory for applied management science, by which we mean theory that can be usefully applied in a scientific approach to management research and practice. We first define and distinguish “grand theory” from “mid-range theory” in the social and management sciences. We then elaborate and contrast epistemologies for (i) building “grand theory” intended to be applicable to all cases and contexts, and (ii) building “mid-range theory” intended to apply to specific kinds of contexts. We illustrate the epistemological challenges in building grand theory in management science by considering important differences in the abilities of two “grand theories” in strategic management – industry structure theory and firm resources theory – to support development of conceptually consistent models and propositions for empirical testing, theoretical refinement, and application in management practice. We then suggest how a mid-range theory building approach can help to achieve integration of the two grand strategic management theories and improve their ability to support empirical testing, theory refinement, and application of theory in practice. Finally, we suggest how the competence-based management (CBM) perspective provides the foundational concepts needed to build both mid-range theory and (potentially) grand theory in strategic management that can be usefully applied in management science.


Competence-Based Management (CBM) theory and research suggest that a firm’s competence building and leveraging processes are key factors influencing its competitive success. To achieve sustained competitive success, a firm’s competence building processes must continuously renew and extend the competences a firm has and can leverage. However, the ability of a firm to sustain strategically adequate levels of competence building – while also maintaining strategically successful competence leveraging – may be limited by various self-reinforcing managerial and organizational mechanisms that can arise from competence leveraging processes. In this paper we focus on certain managerial behaviors that may create path dependencies that lead an organization to become “locked-in” to its current competence leveraging processes and to neglect essential competence building, resulting in an inability to renew competences at a strategically adequate level and eventually in competitive failure.

In order to avoid such consequences, the management literature suggests that organizations must cultivate dynamic capabilities to overcome tendencies toward lock-in and to sustain ongoing competence building. This study investigates ways in which firms can maintain healthy competence building processes by avoiding lock-ins, especially those resulting from self-reinforcing managerial behaviors. A case study of successful competence-renewing processes in a home improvement retailing company helps to amplify the components of dynamic capabilities and to illustrate the insights that emerge from our study.


Effective competence-based management (CBM) requires in the first instance an ability to identify an organization’s competences and the sources of those competences. Identifying competences can be especially challenging in the context of not-for-profit organizations, which have often been characterized as being “different” from for-profit organizations. In this paper we argue that not-for-profit organizations have fundamentally the same systemic requirements for survival and success as for-profit organizations – and therefore that not-for-profits ought to be amenable to competence identification and analysis through use of CBM concepts and theory in essentially the same way as for-profit organizations. We support this basic proposition through a case study of competence identification and analysis in a humanitarian relief organization (HRO), an increasingly important kind of not-for-profit organization.


In this paper we develop a model for researching the influence that a board of directors can have on improving an organization’s sustainability performance. Our model explores sources of cognitive flexibility of boards needed to recognize and respond to the need for improved sustainability performance. We first define concepts of sustainability, sustainability competence, and sustainability performance. We then analyze two forms of board capital (a board’s human capital and its social capital) and three aspects of a board’s information processing (its patterns of information search, discussion and debate, and information absorption) that we suggest affect a board’s cognitive flexibility and thereby influence whether a board decides to adopt sustainability performance goals. Our model also suggests that an organization’s strategic flexibility – as represented by its current endowments of resource flexibilities and coordination flexibilities – will moderate the relationship between a board’s decision to adopt sustainability performance goals and an organization’s subsequent achievement of those goals. We also suggest that our model is generally relevant to any research seeking to predict the influence of boards on strategic change in many forms, not just to research focused on sustainability issues.


Organizational competences are essential sources of competitive advantage and thus are key drivers of competitive strategies for knowledge-intensive companies like automotive manufacturers. In order to cope with increasing market complexity and dynamism, reduced development times, and relentless cost pressures in a highly competitive environment, knowledge-driven companies need to understand how to be proactive in building and leveraging the competences they will need to be successful in the future, especially within their product development activities.

To help managers become proactive in identifying and building useful future competences, the dynamic and systemic perspectives of competence-based strategic management provide a framework for analysis that can help managers to look beyond their organization’s current competences and identify organizational competences that will be needed in the future. Competence theory emphasizes that an organization’s competences are dynamic and constantly need to be updated and reconfigured to adjust to the competitive dynamics of an industry. Any methodology for identifying future competence needs must begin with some means for identifying strategic gaps between the competences a firm has now and the competences it will need in the future. This paper describes a technology and market roadmap-based methodology for forecasting a firm’s future competence needs – the competences a firm will need to start developing now in order to meet expected market demands in the future. The methodology proposed here is applied and, we believe, validated through application to a competence planning process in a German luxury car manufacturer.


In this paper we appraise the ways in which use of closed-system proprietary product architectures versus open-system modular product architectures is likely to influence the dynamics and trajectory of new product market formation. We compare the evolutions of new markets in China for gas-powered two-wheeled vehicles (G2WVs) based (initially) on closed-system proprietary architectures and for electric-powered two-wheeled vehicles (E2WVs) based on open-system modular architectures. We draw on this comparison to suggest ways in which the use of the two different kinds of architectures as the basis for new kinds of products may result in very different patterns and speeds of new market formation. We then suggest some key implications of the different dynamics of market formation associated with open-system modular architectures for both the competence-based strategic management (CBSM) of firms and for technology and economic development policies of governments.

Specifically, we suggest how the use of open-system modular product architectures as the basis for new products is likely to result in dynamics of new market formation that call for new approaches to the strategic management of innovation and product creation. We also suggest technology and economic development policies favoring use of open-system modular architectures may stimulate new market formation and related economic development by providing platforms for accelerating technology development and dissemination, facilitating the formation of an industrial base of assemblers and component suppliers, assisting new firms in building customer relationships, enabling more geographically diffused economic development within countries, and facilitating development of export markets. We also suggest directions for further research into the potential for open-system modular product architectures to enable bottom-of-the-pyramid innovation processes, frugal engineering in developing economies, and development of low-cost product variations more generally.

Cover of Mid-Range Management Theory: Competence Perspectives on Modularity and Dynamic Capabilities
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Research in Competence-Based Management
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Emerald Publishing Limited
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