Middle managers’ construing of exploitative and exploratory innovation projects in two large high-tech corporations
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This research examines middle-managers’ construing of exploratory and exploitative innovation projects in two large US high-tech companies. The theoretical basis for this research is that of organizational ambidexterity and agency theory. Answering a call from multiple researchers, this research focuses on ambidexterity at the individual level. The research follows a phenomenological paradigm with its focus on individual experiences as evidence, and constructivism as epistemological stance. It is based on a case study design, with data collection completed in two stages, using Repertory Grid Technique in stage 1 and Key Informant Interviews in stage 2. Emergent findings indicate that a) prior experience type (exploitative/exploratory) and function (Engineering / Product management) are the key leading indicators of differences in the construing of project success; b) there is mostly alignment in how managers from different levels construe what is important for exploratory and exploitative innovation projects; c) there is a difference in the extent to which managers apply approaches to these two types of project; and d) managers rarely apply exploratory-innovation specific approaches even when merited. The emergent root cause for lack of exploratory innovation specific approaches appears to be a result of inertia, and of the expectations of the extant corporate culture. A model is developed to indicate how a change can be introduced in an organization to address this finding. This research contributes to study of ambidexterity, managerial sensemaking, and project management by offering an insight into how managers from the Product Management and Engineering functions think about project success. It offers possible explanations for the lack of distinction between exploration and exploitation when it comes to selection of approaches and metrics; it presents implications to practice and makes recommendations for improving chances of success of exploratory innovation projects.