This article seeks to extend research on small to medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) and ambidexterity by investigating contingency factors that influence the relationship between contextual ambidexterity and SME performance. Acknowledging the importance of internal knowledge flows in leveraging ambidexterity, it offers unique insights into how internal and external rivalry conditions influence performance outcomes related to an ambidextrous posture. Using a sample of Canadian-based SMEs, the study shows that the contextual ambidexterity–performance relationship is suppressed at higher levels of internal rivalry and amplified at higher levels of external rivalry. The findings suggest that developing an ambidextrous posture should not be an end by itself, and they point to the need for SMEs to understand how the features of their internal and external environments affect the performance consequences of such posture.
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Previous research uses different terms to label the dimensions underlying ambidexterity, but they essentially capture the same phenomena and can be used interchangeably (Raisch and Birkinshaw 2008). For parsimony, we use the terms “alignment” and “adaptability” hereafter.
A follow-up analysis showed that our reported results were robust when applied to the complete sample of 232 firms, indicating their applicability across a wide spectrum of firms. A comparison of the SME and non-SME participating firms did not reveal any significant differences in terms of the focal constructs either. Finally, we did not find any significant differences between responding and nonresponding firms (regardless of size) in terms of their industry and location (province) distribution.
To ensure that the responses would cover organization-wide phenomena rather than idiosyncratic issues that have to do with specific departments, in the cover letter and survey instrument, we referred to the firm’s functional areas broadly. For the measure of internal rivalry, we clarified that we were not interested in investigating resource competition between specific departments but rather between “the managers who typically are most preoccupied with technological (or technical) issues such as operations, engineering, or research and development on one hand, and those who are typically most preoccupied with commercial activities such as marketing or sales on the other.”
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De Clercq, D., Thongpapanl, N. & Dimov, D. Contextual ambidexterity in SMEs: the roles of internal and external rivalry. Small Bus Econ 42, 191–205 (2014). https://doi.org/10.1007/s11187-013-9471-2