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Human resource management and contextual ambidexterity: an individual level analysis
thesisposted on 16.02.2017, 03:06 by Branton, Kevin David
In a dynamic business environment, organisations are faced with the requirement to not only prosper today, but also to have an eye to the future. Ambidexterity is a construct that captures an organisation’s ability to focus on this duality. While a body of research has concentrated on the issue of ambidexterity, the dominant focus of analysis has been at the business unit or firm level, and has tended to adopt a structural perspective via the separation and reintegration of the two tasks of exploitation and exploration. By contrast, contextual ambidexterity addresses the need to incorporate exploitation and exploration simultaneously, and is manifested through individual behaviours. Human resource management (HRM) practices are one mechanism whereby an organisation can signal to employees those behaviours that are encouraged and those that are not. In previous research, HRM practices have not been examined as potentially antecedent to ambidexterity. The overall aim of this study is to investigate the relationship between flexibility inducing human resource practices (FIHRPs), and contextual ambidexterity among employees. In addition, the importance of organisational context variables and resultant affective commitment is also investigated within the framework of the FIHRPs – contextual ambidexterity association. Using signalling theory and social exchange theory the argument is made that the desire from management for ambidextrous behaviours can be signalled through HRM practices. In recognition that FIHRP aimed at inducing ambidextrous behaviours are potentially influenced by organisational context factors, signalling theory is used in conjunction with social exchange theory to develop arguments for the moderating role of organisational context. It is further hypothesised that FIHRPs, as an example of high commitment work practices, will be positively associated with employees’ affective commitment; and that contextual ambidexterity will mediate that relationship. Data were collected from an online survey of 136 employees in three organisations. Using multiple regression, evidence was found that FIHRPs were positively associated with contextual ambidexterity. The organisational context variables of trust, support, stretch, and connectedness were each found to moderate the relationship between FIHRPs and contextual ambidexterity, though that of discipline was not. An overarching ‘scaffolding’ factor that comprised the trust, support and stretch scales was also found to moderate the relationship between FIHRPs and contextual ambidexterity. In addition, evidence was found of a strong positive association between FIHRPs and affective commitment, though mediation by contextual ambidexterity of that relationship was not found. This research makes three major contributions. First, this study found support for the notion that contextual ambidexterity is an important variable in HRM research at the individual level of analysis. Second, the ideas that signalling theory and social exchange theory constitute relevant theoretical explanations for the communication of HRM practices are supported. Third, the study recognises the importance of organisational context, as well as the scaffolding effect of some of its components on the impact of HRM practices on contextual ambidexterity.