Nowadays, firms must face extremely turbulent environments whose main characteristics are high levels of uncertainty, complexity and dynamism. If firms aim to survive in such volatile environments, they must develop capabilities to detect environmental changes early and to offer accurate responses to them, gaining new business opportunities and competitive advantages to exploit. In this context, the concept of organizational agility (OA) appears as one of the key issues that are attracting the attention of researchers and practitioners [1
OA has been defined as an organization’s capability to sense environmental changes and to respond efficiently and effectively to them [2
]. Assuming the dynamic capabilities view (DCV) as the theoretical framework [3
], OA is a critical dynamic capability that influences firms’ competitive actions and therefore it becomes a significant antecedent of their performance [4
]. In this vein, this paper approaches OA as a dynamic capability that organizations can deliberately use to reach and sustain competitive advantages [5
] and to survive crises and changing environments [6
Following Vinodh [7
] in the current business scenario, OA needs to be coupled with sustainability. OA is a paradigm that enables firms to survive within the current hypercompetitive and dynamic business environment. Simultaneously, companies are nowadays incrementally required to become more respectful towards the environment. Concretely, fostering sustainability implies seeking the minimization of the firm’s environmental impact. Thus, numerous firms have turned to the design and development of eco-friendly products and services and the deployment of more eco-efficient processes [8
]. Therefore, sustainability also stands out as a central concept for organizational survival. This implies that in the current scenario, OA and sustainability are both considered as performance indicators for modern firms [7
]. Moreover, several studies have recently posited that OA exerts a positive impact on corporate sustainability [9
OA has been approached from a wide variety of academic disciplines since the mid-1990s, the information systems (IS) field being the one that has been most developed. This field has mainly addressed the influence of IS and their related capabilities (ISC) in the achievement of high levels of OA in firms [4
The focus on the technological aspects that may affect the OA level in an organization has led to some relevant organizational and contextual factors [12
] and their influence on OA being forgotten. This fact has been identified as an important research gap: technology is only one piece of a complex puzzle, where other relevant aspects might play an important role in developing the mechanisms that allow firms to become agile through a more inclusive social-technical approach [13
]. One of the most commonly ignored variables that may affect OA is organizational culture (OC) [2
]. The previous literature has developed few attempts to study the effects of OC on OA, people and organizations’ characteristics are understudied dimensions if they are compared with technological and operational factors [12
The purpose of this paper is hence to go deeper into the study of the antecedents of OA by approaching another relevant gap, the influence that might be exerted by diverse cultural values in achieving a higher level of OA. Following Cameron and Quinn’s [14
] four major cultural typologies (Hierarchy, Market, Clan and Adhocracy Cultures), this paper builds up a model that posits these four cultural values as drivers of a firms’ OA levels. This theoretical model will not only serve for explanatory purposes but will also be a predictive model. This fact is a significant novelty in the OA literature.
Moreover, researchers tend to focus on internal organizational mechanisms to improve OA, while they ignore the external aspects of organizations [15
]. The impact of cultural values and principles in the OA level is influenced by a complex set of factors that includes not only internal but environmental factors [11
]. This paper proposes that the impact of the different types of OC values on OA may be moderated by one of these environmental variables, the technology intensity of the industry. This factor has traditionally been considered as one of the primary contingent variables in terms of organizational conditions [16
]. Technology intensity at industry level can moderate the impact that OC values have on different organizational attributes that are linked to OA, such as adaptability to change, knowledge-based work and decentralization of authority, among others.
This work means to answer the following research questions:
RQ1: Could the presence of certain OC values become an antecedent of OA?
RQ2: Are the aforementioned relationships contingent on the technology intensity level of the industry?
RQ3: Are the four OC values able to generate accurate predictions of OA?
This paper carries out an empirical study to test the research hypotheses and the predictive performance of the research model. Sectors classified as innovative are the population selected for this study, as these industries can be considered as the most suitable, due to their hypercompetitive markets that require a flexible and quick response from organizations. This selection represents a population of 2360 firms. An off-line survey is the data collection instrument, the outcome being 172 usable surveys (a 7.3% response rate). The sample is split into two different groups (the high-tech and the medium-tech companies) to assess the contingency effect of the technology intensity of the industry.
The study proceeds as follows. The next section presents the theoretical background together with the research model and hypotheses. The third section gives a description of the research methodology. The fourth section presents the results of the different data analyses carried out. Finally, the fifth section brings together the discussion and implications.
This paper will bring new contributions to prior literature, as the results will shed light on the question of how firms can gain agility. As this remains unclear, new insights and lines of research are brought to the academic community as well as important implications for practitioners and executives, enabling a more effective management of companies’ resources and capabilities, in order to prepare them to survive and succeed in such hypercompetitive environments.
Quick technological updates, increased risks and challenges due to globalization, environmental awareness and an amplified desire for customization, are some of the features intrinsic to the business setting that most companies have to face these days [90
]. To remain successful within such a context, OA may bring firms a competitive advantage that should be sustained through maintaining a good reputation for innovation, excellence and sustainability [12
]. In this way, agile organizations combine their business processes and human capital with advanced technology, to satisfy clients’ demands for customized, excellent and more sustainable products and services in a rather short time frame [91
It can therefore be assumed that OA facilitates the firm’s adaptation and quick response and is currently related to business success. In fact, OA has turned out to be more an imperative for organizational subsistence than a choice in itself [1
]. Nevertheless, the academic sphere is asking for a more exhaustive assessment of this phenomenon. According to Chan et al. [92
], due to the high complexity underlying the OA concept, its main drivers or antecedent variables require a much deeper research and supplementary empirical evidence. In this vein, our findings enable a richer understanding of the underlying effects that the distinct CVF OC typologies exert on OA.
An important finding deals with the positive effect found between adhocracy culture and OA. This is in line with prior related studies that have labelled agile organizations as highly adaptive and flexible. Actually, Sherehiy et al. [23
] describe OA as a firm’s ability to adjust and respond to changes in the environment, entailing a prevalence of external focus and change. This finding also fits with prior studies’ empirical support of the adhocracy culture being an important precondition for innovation success [28
]. The adhocracy culture, due to its lack of bureaucratization and complexity, enables the organization to be flexible and to rapidly reconfigure resources and processes. This fact provides a strong success basis for companies operating in dynamic environments.
This paper has also supported the clan culture’s positive relationship with OA, though it is not as strong as that of the adhocratic type. An explanation of this result can be found in the clan’s deep focus on internal aspects (loyalty, teamwork, shared goals and values) that would lead to relaxing the vigilance of environmental dynamics. However, this clan culture gathers together management practices and values that are intrinsically linked to what an agile organization must be: managers who enable self-organizing teams, different ways of coordinating work (dynamic linking), continuous improvement, radical transparency and communication awareness [93
On the other hand, contrary to expectations, this study did not find a negative link between hierarchy culture and OA but a positive significant effect. This finding was certainly unexpected and suggests that certain features inherent to hierarchy culture lead to more agile organizations. We believe that this is an interesting finding, since it denotes that although adaptability and flexibility are fundamental features that shape agile organizations, these firms may also benefit from a certain degree of stability, control and order, especially in a scenario of crisis and uncertainty, such as that in which the empirical study was conducted. Precisely, in a time of crisis, an upper-level decision provides a faster response to any threat or critical situation than a lower-level decision, which would require too much time [1
]. In this sense, some of the characteristic values that shape hierarchy culture are in line with some of the requirements that customers and stakeholders are demanding from firms within the environment described above. On occasions, in these circumstances, a company has performed better than its industry competitors over a sustained period of time on the basis of a strong culture focused on keeping their customers satisfied, while remaining efficient and controlling their costs [94
]. Consequently, the presence of a solid and developed array of formalized structures and procedures, along with precise coordination mechanisms, may also become critical aspects when attempting to boost OA in such circumstances. Accordingly, certain aspects inherent to the attainment of OA will benefit from a certain degree of formalization, standardization and stability, typical of this cultural typology. Nevertheless, it must not be forgotten that although hierarchy culture may lead to short-term success, it may also hinder an organization’s long-term capability to change, adapt, or innovate [94
No evidence was found for the positive effect of the market culture on OA, contrary to what had been hypothesized. A priori, its external focus on markets and customers’ needs could lead to improvement of the company’s capability to capture external information and leverage it in order to offer agile responses and seize emerging opportunities. Yet, its emphasis on control and stability rather than flexibility would limit this effect. This result is in line with previous studies that have empirically tested that market culture has no significant effect on innovation [95
Moreover, the results have confirmed none of the environmental contingency hypotheses related to the technology intensity of the industry, in the CVF typologies—OA relationship. Although there are slight differences between the two industries considered (high-tech and medium-tech), the effect is not statistically significant. This fact may indicate that the impact of the internal organizational factors regarding culture on OA is sound. Every effort that the organization makes to promote cultural values which enhance OA will be effective, regardless of the R&D intensity of the sector. To prepare the organization internally and the people who integrate it to better face environmental challenges, become key points in organizational strategy. It is clear that “change is much easier if a culture exists that embraces change” [31
] (p. 26). Another reason that could sustain this result is that, currently, differences between the two groups (high tech and medium tech industries) are not so significant, as new technology developments have narrowed the gap between them. As the ODCE’s scale shows four different groups (high, medium-high, medium-low and low), results could have differed if the sample had been selected according to more technologically separate groups (high and medium-high versus medium-low and low).
Finally, the model has shown a predictive power for the sample used in the study. In addition, enough evidence was found that supports the predictive validity (out-of-sample) of our model. The model of four cultural typologies is an adequate predictor of OA. This means that our model provides much more information than noise [89
]. Therefore, those four cultural types are able to accurately predict the OA variable in new interpretable observations, both in a temporal and cross-sectional manner. As a result, the satisfactory level of predictive power achieved helps to support the research model proposed [85
In brief, this work is among the scant empirical studies that aim to clarify the links between OC typologies and OA. Hence, a theoretical model was developed which combines Cameron and Quinn’s [14
] CVF of OC typologies with literature on OA. Our results stress the positive influence that adhocracy, clan and hierarchy culture exert on OA. These findings provide some support for the conceptual premise that the four cultural typologies are just ideal categories, meaning that a company is rather unlikely to, in isolation, reflect one single typology [96
]. Indeed, the CVF theorists suggest a reasonable equilibrium between reverse focuses, although certain cultural aspects may be predominant. Agile methods illustrate this need for a reasonable balance between different but complementary cultural approaches, successful firms usually concentrate on a diversified mix of values and cultures [19
These findings may help managers to understand the importance of adapting their firms’ corporate culture to the aspiration of becoming more effective and agile organizations. Therefore, although we are aware of the significance of contextual factors [98
] and accept that the promotion of an ideal culture typology that could be endorsed and effective in a particular context is certainly utopian, our findings advocate that certain foundations intrinsic to adhocracy and hierarchy culture are actual drivers of OA. Consequently, we praise those managers who aim to improve their companies’ level of agility to combine the empowerment and knowledge sharing inclination, intrinsic to adhocracy culture, with the rigorous formalization and coordination mechanisms that characterize hierarchy culture.
The generalizability of these results is subject to certain limitations. For instance, we acknowledge that we only relied on managers’ perceptions and failed to collect data from other groups within the company. Hence, we are unable to check the possible presence of different subcultures. Second, this paper only contemplates companies operating within a single geographical context (Spain). Therefore, extrapolating these results to different contexts must be approached with some caution. Third, this is a cross-sectional study that only analyzes the relationships at a static moment and fourth, the moderation effects of technology intensity need to be assessed from different industry groupings that will reflect more diverse technological contexts.
In conclusion, contemporary, non-peaceful and uncertain business contexts, are increasingly leading companies to face huge challenges, not only to remain successful but also to subsist. In these settings, scholars and managers are starting to internalize the central role of OA. Nevertheless, further research should be undertaken to investigate the main drivers or antecedents of OA and much needs to be explored with regard to the concrete actions and internal mechanisms underlying agility.