Balancing Control and Breakthrough in Public Management
Previous research shows that a good balance between focus on development of existing processes with development of new and innovative products, processes or services has a positive effect on organizational excellence. However, the relationship between these two quality perspectives is not easy to maintain and it is a challenge for every organization to find an appropriate balance between them. Previous research shows also that there is often a striking overemphasis on continuous improvement and stepwise refinement at the expense of working with innovations. Consequently, it has become necessary to find forms for development of the balance between improvement of existing processes and innovations. It is a question of how to manage both exploitation (improvement of existing processes) and exploration (innovations). Being able to manage both exploitation and exploration and maintain a good balance is known as organizational ambidexterity.
The purpose of this thesis is to develop existing knowledge of how organisational ambidexterity and innovation can be understood and developed as an approach to increasing customer value in the context of the public sector. In order to meet the purpose, the research behind this thesis was conducted through six studies. The results have been presented in six scientific articles. The analytical focus in the research has been on management of public organization. Thus, the unit of analysis has been public sector management both at national, regional and municipal level. The studies have been conducted with a qualitative approach and data collection has primarily been done through semi- structured interviews. Most of the data has been collected in Sweden.
Through the studies, it appears that the current quality practice in the Swedish public sector to a large extent relates to and supports exploitation, but not exploration. The empirical findings give examples of organizations that have a large focus on systematic measurement and control of the work process. An inhibition of increased customer value is indicated in the studied organizations’ current emphasis on exploitation at the expense of exploration. The research also shows that there are a number of impediments for the public organizations studied to combine their current quality practice with an improved ability to explore. It appears that there is a need for development of the leeway for exploration in order to increase the ability to be ambidextrous.
The research behind this thesis empirically identifies a number of enablers the public organization may need to work actively with in order to develop organizational ambidexterity. Some of these enabling factors harmonize with quality movement core values. This applies to core values like committed leadership, focus on customers and a holistic system perspective. In addition, the following factors are perceived to be enabling factors for organizational ambidexterity: specific budgets for both exploration and exploitation; development of a culture in which employees feel that they are allowed to make mistakes; a good dialogue both internally and with external stake holders; focusing on the implementation of innovations and clear incentives for work on exploration as well as for work on exploitation. Finally, the empirical data also shows that an enabling factor is to get different professions involved in explorative processes. This can be achieved by working through ambassadors who can promote the explorative processes.
The enablers, which have been empirically identified in this research as important for organizational ambidexterity, have also previously been identified by scholars as enablers for innovations. The research behind this thesis contributes to the empirical sorting out which – out of a wide range of factors – may be the most important factors for organizational ambidexterity.