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|کد مقاله||سال انتشار||تعداد صفحات مقاله انگلیسی||ترجمه فارسی|
|4089||2012||11 صفحه PDF||سفارش دهید|
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Publisher : Elsevier - Science Direct (الزویر - ساینس دایرکت)
Journal : Journal of Business Research, Volume 65, Issue 8, August 2012, Pages 1079–1089
An organization's ability to learn is a key strategic capability to compete in modern markets. This research seeks to achieve an in-depth understanding of learning's contribution to a firm's competitiveness by analyzing how organizational learning (OL), understood as a dynamic capability, shapes firms' strategic flexibility and competitive strategy implementation to ultimately improve customer, financial, and market-related performance. This article proposes that OL acts as a forerunner of a firm's ability to adapt to evolving market conditions (strategic flexibility), and that OL and flexibility simultaneously foster the implementation of differentiation and cost-leadership strategies. This strategic behavior allows firms to reduce costs without damaging differentiation levels, and to improve customer and business performance. The study employs structural equation modeling (SEM) to evaluate the causal links that the research model depicts. Data analysis follows from a sample of 181 medium-sized Spanish manufacturing firms. The results confirm the expected relationships and reveal OL to be an important instrument in modern markets to provide customer value and to improve organizational performance by means of efficient competitive strategy design and flexible adaptation to rapid market evolution.
In today's turbulent and unpredictable environments the achievement of competitive advantage (CA) depends increasingly on firms' ability to provide greater long-term customer value. The resource-based view (RBV) states that a company's unique assortment of valuable, rare, inimitable, and non-substitutable resources and capabilities constitutes the basis of difficult to duplicate value-creating strategies which can provide a firm with CA or above-average returns (Barney, 1991, Grant, 1991, Mahoney and Pandian, 1992 and Wu, 2010). The RBV has gradually evolved, acknowledging that under fast changing and unpredictable competitive environments CA may rapidly shift, and that the existence at a particular moment of time of an appropriate set of resources and capabilities may not be sufficient to sustain a firm's above-average performance in the long-term (Helfat & Peteraf, 2003). Thus, firms need to permanently renew their skills and resources to maintain CA (Wu, 2010). Consequently, Teece, Pisano, and Shuen (1997, p. 516) define a dynamic capability as “the firm's ability to integrate, build, and reconfigure internal and external competencies to address rapidly changing environments”. Dynamic capabilities represent a complex set of abilities through which organizations systematically modify their operating routines and reconfigure their resources and skills to achieve an adequate adaptation to changing market requirements (Zollo & Winter, 2002). The concept of dynamic capability introduces a dynamic aspect into RBV, and is a reminder that maintaining a CA requires constant improvement and adaptation, especially under environmental volatility. Since the publication of Cyert and March's (1963) seminal work, the relevant literature regards organizational learning (OL) as a key strategic capability for explaining why successful firms surpass competitors (Bapuji & Crossan, 2004; Kao & Lee, 1996). Kandemir and Hult (2005) state that OL may be the only organizational ability capable of generating superior customer value in the long-term, since learning allows a continuous adaptation to rapidly changing market requirements as a true dynamic capability. Recent research addresses the benefits of OL, for example, in organizational performance (Azadegan and Dooley, 2010 and Bell et al., 2010), market orientation and relationship marketing (Santos et al., 2005 and Stein and Smith, 2009), the strategic supply process (Hult, Ketchen, & Slater, 2002), service quality (Tucker, Nembhard, & Edmonson, 2007), innovation (Akgün et al., 2006 and Weerawardena et al., 2006), alliance outcomes (Liu, Ghauri, & Sinkovics, 2010), and human resource performance (Bhatnagar, 2007). However, the interrelationships between OL and firms' strategy implementation have attracted remarkably little attention (Paisittanand, Digman, & Lee, 2007). The present study considers OL to contribute not only to strategy design, as a key organizational capability, but also to the effective implementation of competitive strategies (Dawson, 2000), since the ability to provide a rapid and effective response to a highly competitive and constantly changing business environment in itself involves strategy implementation (Beer, Voelpel, Leibold, & Tekie, 2005). Thus, this research proposes that OL, as a dynamic capability, constitutes one of the key bases firms have to consistently implement strategies leading to their taking advantage of environmental opportunities and avoiding threats (Barney, 1991). Accordingly, the first objective of this research is to provide evidence for the potential of a firm's learning capability to improve its competitiveness through strategy implementation. The study contributes to the sparse extant literature on OL-strategy interface (Fang and Wang, 2006, Kaleka and Berthon, 2006 and McGuinness and Morgan, 2005) by analyzing the competitive strategies supported by OL: specifically, whether OL simultaneously fosters Porter's (1980) competitive strategies, and the suitability of the latter for achieving superior customer-related and organizational performance. A basic premise in this research is that key positional advantages of superior customer value and lower costs relative to competitors can both help compete in modern markets and provide greater performance to firms than single strategies of cost leadership or differentiation (Acquaah and Yasai-Ardekani, 2008 and Li and Li, 2008). Turbulent business environments also require increasing organizational flexibility, i.e., the firms' ability to keep pace with market evolution as well as to respond rapidly to unpredictable and unexpected market conditions. Some researchers argue that OL can strengthen a firm's ability to recognize opportunities, to pursue new ventures effectively, and to achieve continuous alignment with its environment (Beer et al., 2005 and Lumpkin and Lichtenstein, 2005). This reasoning reinforces the consideration of OL as a dynamic capability which can, in rapidly changing environments, “enable the firm to modify itself so as to continue to produce, efficiently and/or effectively, market offerings for some market segment(s)” (Madhavaram & Hunt, 2008, p. 69). However, empirical evidence on the OL-strategic flexibility interface is again sparse. Thus, the second objective of the present study is to extend this line of research by analyzing OL's impact on firms' actual flexibility, together with the partial mediatory role of the latter on the OL–competitive strategy relationship. The article has the following structure. Section 2 presents the theoretical background of a model that connects OL, flexibility, competitive strategy, and performance, as shown in Fig. 1. The definition of the dimensions of OL seeks to incorporate the most recent literature on this issue. The contribution of OL to competitive strategy includes the evaluation of its properties as a valuable, rare, inimitable, and non-substitutable (VRIN) resource, and reinforces the notion of OL as a dynamic capability. The performance analysis uses market and financial indicators (sales, market share, and profits) and customer-related outcomes (customer satisfaction, loyalty, and value added perceptions). The customer-related outcomes construct acts as a partial mediatory variable between competitive strategy and business performance in order to study the mechanisms whereby competitive strategies help to achieve CA. Section 3 outlines the study's methodological approach based on a sample of 181 Spanish manufacturing firms. Section 4 discusses the empirical results. Finally, Section 5 presents some conclusions and managerial implications.
نتیجه گیری انگلیسی
The primary aim of this study is to test hypotheses and provide evidence on OL's role in the implementation of firms' competitive strategies, their development of strategic flexibility, and the improvement of their competitiveness. A basic proposition in this research is that continuous learning constitutes a key dynamic capability to favor firms' adaptation to turbulent and dynamic markets; hence OL facilitates organizations' strategic flexibility, allows the implementation of efficiency-based operations and quality-based innovation through a continuous flow of cumulative experience and new knowledge that inspires creativity and, ultimately, allows the achievement of CA. The study demonstrates that learning organizations can implement a double strategy, that is, that OL simultaneously supports the implementation of differentiation and cost leadership strategies. From this perspective, learning organizations have the ability to focus either on a pure cost leadership strategy or on a pure differentiation strategy. This is a relevant issue since, although the literature has broadly discussed the potential benefits of a dual strategy, that is, a competitive strategy involving high levels of emphasis on both cost leadership and differentiation strategies simultaneously (Acquaah and Yasai-Ardekani, 2008 and Li and Li, 2008), previous work does not explain how a firm can focus on both strategies at the same time since each strategy requires different resources and organizational arrangements (Porter, 1980). In this sense, one of the major risks that firms face is that of developing a stuck-in-the-middle strategy in which a firm fails to successfully pursue either a cost leadership or a differentiation strategy. However, today's ever-changing environment challenges firms to simultaneously perform exploitative and explorative activities, that is, to be highly efficient in resource exploitation and to provide a broader market offering (Tang & Wang, 2010). In this regard, Porter (1996) acknowledges that unique product advantages to meet customer requirements and lower prices for the customer than the competition are determinants for firms' competitiveness in modern markets. This research confirms that OL helps firms to implement each of Porter's basic competitive strategies, and therefore constitutes a suitable basis from which to approach a dual strategy implementation which has also proven to produce above average results in previous research (Li and Li, 2008 and Spanos et al., 2004). These results reinforce the role of OL as an organizational capability that sustains competitive strategy, and contribute to better understanding OL's role in strategy implementation. The study also shows that OL enhances the firm's ability to respond rapidly to environmental contingencies, that is, strategic flexibility. Empirical evidence on the antecedents of firms' strategic flexibility is scarce. Only Rudd et al. (2008) consider the mediating role of firms' flexibility in the strategic planning–performance relationship and prove that flexibility is a consequence of strategic planning. Those authors also acknowledge that flexibility requires the managerial ability to generate appropriate alternative decision options and to consider unfamiliar decisions and risk, aspects in which OL may play a relevant role in fostering strategic flexibility. Learning organizations capture the relevant information at any time on current and future market trends, which they can then use to anticipate adaptation. Also, as OL involves questioning the prevailing mental models and organizational routines, learning organizations have an enhanced ability to reconfigure their operations. This finding is consistent with the work of Eisenhardt and Santos, 2002 and Hitt et al., 1998, who indicate that successful firms need to learn quickly to be flexible in order to face unstable and unpredictable business conditions. OL proves to be a solid forerunner of the firm's greater capability, relative to its main competitors, to face the challenges of the 21st century markets which require quick reaction and adaptation. In this sense, the findings reinforce the consideration of OL as a true dynamic capability. As in the case of OL, the results of this investigation show that organizations which possess strategic flexibility are in a better position to implement both cost leadership and differentiation strategies. This evidence supports the importance of strategic flexibility in avoiding the trade-off between differentiation and cost leadership strategies, that is, in implementing a dual strategy if required. As an organizational capability, strategic flexibility merits the consideration of forming a relevant basis for competitive strategy design and implementation (Dreyer & Grønhaug, 2004), but the precise mechanisms through which strategic flexibility leads to lower costs or greater differentiation have remained obscure. Indeed, Rudd et al., 2008 and Dreyer and Grønhaug, 2004 warn about the fuzziness of the term flexibility, and that different types of flexibility are identified in the literature. In this study, flexibility refers to the ability to promptly react to changes in the market (consumers and competitors), in technology, and in the economy. This use of the term is close to the operational and technological flexibilities identified in the study of Rudd et al. (2008). As these authors state, “flexibility is the extent to which new and alternative decisions are generated and considered in strategic planning, allowing positive organizational change and adaptation to environmental turbulence” (Rudd et al., 2008, p. 100). Therefore, in the present study, organizations that possess strategic flexibility can anticipate future changes in customer preferences, competitor movements, technology evolution, and economic tendencies, and reposition themselves in a timely fashion by reconfiguring their competences. Strategic flexibility therefore increases the likelihood that a firm will be capable of successfully adjusting its marketing offerings, mix of products and/or services, and production capacity, and hence increases its potential to implement both cost leadership and differentiation strategies. The results also indicate that strategic flexibility partially mediates the relationship between OL and a competitive strategy. One reason for testing mediation is to try to understand the mechanism through which OL affects strategy implementation. Mediation indicates that, together with the knowledge and experience provided by OL, the implementation of competitive strategies also benefits from the firm's ability to commit resources in anticipation of change. In addition, the study provides empirical evidence that both cost leadership and differentiation strategies have a positive and significant impact on customer performance, which in turn mediates the impact of those competitive strategies on business performance. Although the results show that a cost leadership strategy has less impact on customer performance than a differentiation strategy, the former is still positive. Therefore, in modern competitive markets where specialized customers rapidly change their preferences, cost control also proves to have a positive impact on competitiveness through customer performance. The findings of this research also reveal that the differentiation strategy exerts a positive, direct influence on business performance, unlike the cost leadership strategy which does not influence business performance, even though prior studies describe support for a positive link between the cost leadership strategy and various measures of business performance in different environments (Spanos et al., 2004). A possible explanation for this apparent discrepancy could be that different performance measures may apply better to different business strategy types (Matsuno and Mentzer, 2000 and Walker and Ruekert, 1987). Acquaah and Yasai-Ardekani (2008), for example, prove that implementing a cost leadership strategy positively influences firm performance in terms of return on sales (ROS) and return on assets (ROA) in a transition economy. Similarly, Li and Li (2008) find that the cost leadership strategy has a positive effect on ROA in an emerging economy such as China. However Menguc, Auh, and Shih (2007) prove that, while cost leadership contributes to firm efficiency as measured in terms of profitability, return on investments, ROS, and ROA, this strategy does not relate significantly to firm effectiveness, a parameter which refers to the same business performance measures used in the present study: growth in market share, in profits, and in sales. In addition to this argument, Li and Li (2008) claim that the effect of competitive strategies on performance also depends on the alignment of the strategy with contextual factors. In this regard, Murray (1988) suggests that a cost-leadership strategy does not work in mature industries, whereas Miller, 1988 and Ward et al., 1996 report that this type of strategy works best in conditions of environmental stability. More specifically, Li and Li (2008) find that, when market concentration is low (i.e., markets characterized by many smaller competitors and widespread opportunistic behavior), the positive effect of cost leadership on ROA weakens. Therefore, the absence of a positive direct relationship between the low cost strategy and business performance may be due to the type of business performance measures used or to the contextual factors that prevail in the sectors analyzed. This issue merits further research since the empirical evidence available is not always conclusive. The overall conclusion deriving from these results is that OL allows, with the collaboration of strategic flexibility, the simultaneous implementation of cost leadership and differentiation strategies, which ultimately yields above average customer and business performance relative to the competition. These results have several implications for managers that may be especially valuable under the severe economic and industrial crisis that the Spanish economy is suffering. Research on economic crises shows that surviving firms, in comparison with failing firms, focus on both external and internal environments, which is a critical feature of OL, and on the attainment of a balance between the two environments, which is an important aspect of strategic flexibility (Grewal & Tansuhaj, 2001). The results of this study indicate that by focusing on OL managers can improve their understanding of the external market, take advantage of the firm's accumulated internal knowledge and experience, and develop the ability to react more rapidly to new market requirements by flexibly reconfiguring their resources in advance. During late 2009 and 2010 the Spanish economy has been grazing the edge of the specter of deflation; falling prices require firms to improve their efficiency and, in this way, cost leadership strategies become highly valuable. The empirical evidence provided in this research suggests that managers need to appreciate the combined effect of OL and strategic flexibility since both contribute to the implementation of cost leadership strategies. Recent research also highlights the continuing importance of product innovation during an economic downturn since consumer habits with respect to everyday goods are slow to change: consumers' purchase intent and value perceptions for new products remain stable over time, regardless of macroeconomic conditions (Nielsen Company, 2009). Previous research also notes the relevance of innovation for organizational growth and renewal in times of environmental turbulence such as an economic crisis (Danneels, 2002). In this sense, in order to compete firms cannot afford to abandon differentiation strategies, and here again managers can find in OL and strategic flexibility key instruments for the implementation of those strategies. Both of Porter's two strategies provide better results among customers and contribute to CA at the organizational level, which strengthens the basic premise initially adopted in this research: that superior customer value and lower costs relative to competitors can both be key positional advantages with which to compete in modern markets. Any generalization of the results of this research requires caution since, like in many empirical studies, they are subject to limitations. One limitation is that the study employs cross-sectional data. Thus a possibility exists that the causal relationships may vary or even lose their meaning over the long term. A longitudinal study would overcome this limitation and strengthen the results. Another limitation is that the study relies on the perceptions of General Managers as key informants operating in a specific national and industrial context. Further research examining complementary and competing models may provide additional insights into the causal relationships that the study explores. In this regard, the replication of this research to learn whether or not the aforementioned causal relationships are contingent on different environmental features, such as competitive intensity and technological uncertainty, and using different performance indicators could be interesting. Similarly, the OL scale merits testing in other competitive environments. Also, although the study measured some latent variables by means of established scales, the AVEs in two of these cases (differentiation strategy and customer performance) fell below 0.5. Hence, in accordance with Slater et al. (2010, p. 556): “these measures should be revisited if they are used in future studies”. Finally, one needs to gain a more detailed understanding of how flexibility facilitates strategy implementation. In this task, the consideration of the different types of flexibility identified in the literature ( Dreyer and Grønhaug, 2004 and Rudd et al., 2008) together with their potential interactions may be of help.