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Examining Dimensions of Flexibility under Uncertainty.

Introduction

In today's dynamic business environment businesses must stay competitive by thinking tactically and strategically. In such dynamic environments--where competitive advantages can be abolished rapidly, organizations have to look for ways to differentiate themselves. Also, when the companies from around the world are competing in, organizations are challenged to look for ways to improve themselves. They need to develop various kinds of changes, which will help them to deal with demand volatility (Teece, Pisano et al. 1997). According to Volberda (1999), dynamics of adaptation and in particular firm's flexibility is a way of adjusting under conditions of uncertainty. Volberda (1996) have suggested that the organizational flexibility is an inclusive concept that encompasses the idea of innovation as well. The idea of flexibility is becoming vital in working life during the last few years. Increased flexibility will be conducive to the necessary compliance and dynamism of globalized culture and turbulent environments. Those who learn the art of operating in a dynamic and flexible way may succeed; those who do not will face a gloomy future.

Considering such environment, organizations need to proliferate the flexibility practices. But it is very important to understand what makes a firm more flexible and how flexibility affects working conditions, for better or for worse? Therefore there is a need to examine the dynamics of flexibility in organizational settings.

Present study is intending to explore the key factors, which influences the process of incorporation of flexibility or influenced by incorporated flexibility in organizational settings. In first part of the paper, rigorous literature review identifies the various elements or dimensions of flexibility. In the later part the most relevant flexibility dimensions are ranked in order to find out key dimensions influencing organizational flexibility.

Literature Review

According to Teece, Pisano, et al. (1997) organizational flexibility is a combination of organizational and managerial capabilities that allow organizations to adapt quickly to environmental changes.

Pugh, Hickson, et al. (1963) described an important dimension of organizational flexibility i.e. incorporating change in organizational structure, which can be named 'Structural flexibility'. Pugh and colleagues in their research also mentioned three main features of organizational structural flexibility i.e. amount, speed, and acceleration. Amount refers to nature of structural change; speed represents the amount of change in a specified time period, while acceleration refers to the inception of structural change. They also point out the organization's receptiveness for the environment changes, and its willingness and ability to absorb them as another important dimension of organizational flexibility.

In organizational studies, the concept of flexibility is connected to systems thinking as well, according to which, any kind of environmental change triggers system responsiveness, which requires the organizational ability to change system properties or behaviors (Fellenz, 2013).

Majority of contributions in organization theory treat flexibility as related to, or even synonymous with, the capacity for organizational change. Flexibility can also be viewed as "uncommitted potentiality for change" (Volberda, 1996).

Nevertheless studied also emphasize simultaneous needs for both abilities to adapt and innovate on one hand (i.e., organizational flexibility), and on the other the need for organization coordination, control, structure, stability, identity, continuity, predictability, etc. raises a dilemma of balance. This shows a hesitation in frequently incorporating organizational flexibility and striving stability. The organizations wherein flexibility and stability are in balance, can be described as 'dynamically stable' organizations.

Furthermore, according to Volberda (1996) the flexibility demands both managerial task and organizational design task, i.e. the interaction of managerial capabilities to respond to environmental change and organizational capabilities to implement timely change respectively.

More recently, different types of flexibility were introduced, each referring to unique organizational abilities. For example, 'Labour flexibility' refers to the ability of firms to swiftly vary the quantity and quality of labour inputs according to the fluctuations in demand for the product or service and according to the opportunities offered by the technological environment. Labour flexibility can be seen as "worker friendly" practices such as voluntary part-time work and job enrichment, job rotation, "employerfriendly" practices such as temporary employment or subcontracting.

'Numerical flexibility' refers to the firm's ability to vary the number of its workers contracts (Atkinson, 1984), whereas 'financial flexibility' is the company's ability to react to unexpected expenses and investment opportunities.

'Functional flexibility' refers to the firm's ability to change the content of labour inputs or the tasks of its core workforce according to the firm's changing needs, through the use of multi-tasking, continuous training, and team working (Atkinson, 1984). Moreover, such managerial discretions are affected by employment protection and labour participation related legislations.

'Tactical flexibility' is the ability of a single-product firm to adjust output to exogenous shocks at relatively low costs. "Operational" flexibility is the ability of a firm to switch quickly between products as per customer needs.

Another type of flexibility is "strategic flexibility", which is, the company's ability to restructure itself internally as well as restructure its relationship with the external environment (Roberts & Stockport, 2009). It can be considered as an organization's capability to recognize major changes in the external environment, develop plan of action in response to change and quickly commit resources for its implementation, and to recognize and act promptly when it is time to halt or reverse such resource commitments (Dunford, 2013).

A rigorous literature review on various aspects of organizational flexibility resulted in identification of the following dimensions of flexibility:

* Multifunctioning--Hill and Grzywacz, et al., 2008

* Job rotation--O'Reilly, 1992

* Job enrichment--O'Reilly, 1992

* Work sharing culture--Al-Alawi, Al-Marzooqi, et al. 2007

* Operability in multiple locations- Kogut and Kulatilaka, 1994

* Employees professional approach- Milgrom and Roberts, 1995

* Ability to manage employment demands--Atkinson's, 1984; Nutek, 1996; Houseman and Abraham, 1994

* Overtime--Atkinson's, 1984; Nutek, 1996; Houseman and Abraham, 1994

* Variable working hours--Cascio, 2000

* Contractual/casual employees--Lepak, Takeuchi, et al., 2003; Capelli and Neumark, 2001

* Cooperation or collaboration--Milgrom and Roberts, 1995

* Nature of employees- Sharpe, 1997

* Employee attitude towards authority delegated- Milgrom and Roberts, 1995

* Employees' attitude towards organization- Milgrom and Roberts, 1995

* Multitasking employees--Lepak, Takeuchi, et al., 2003

* Nature of leadership--Hermann, 1995

* Flexible management style--Schwartz and Davis, 1981

* Organizational culture--Bass and Avolio, 1993

* Level of trust--Costa, 2003

* Policy of adjusting cost--Atkinson's, 1984; Sharpe 1997

* Organizational financial capability--Pugh, Hickson, et al. 1963

* Employment/ labor market conditions--Sharpe, 1997

* Importance of a specific skill set--Wright and Snell, 1998

* Structural dimensions--Roberts & Stockport, 2009

* Nature of technology--CaritaLilian, 2014

* Degree of uncertainty--Hill and Grzywacz, et al., 2008

* Tolerance to ambiguity--Pugh, Hickson, et al. 1963

* Competitive forces--Arvanitis and Hollenstein, 1996

* Laws and regulations--Bettio and Rosenberg, 1999

* Flexibility for team--Capelli and Neumark, 2001

In summary, the term flexibility and related types are generally used to address organizational capacities to cope with environmental uncertainty and other contingencies.

Research Methodology

It can be observed from the literature analysis that researchers have addressed the multidimensional nature of organizational flexibility in a number of conceptual and empirical studies. Some of these studies identify variables and specify the relationships between some of them, yet comprehensive ranking of the variables based on their order of importance for organizational success is lacking. This is partly due to the absence of an empirically validated set of observables that allow objective observation and analysis of their importance.

Therefore the focus of present research work is to explore various dimensions of flexibility first, validate them empirically and then prioritize to identify the more important ones.

Construction of Instrument for Data Collection

In this research, survey methodology has been used to investigate the flexibility dimensions. Data were collected through a structured questionnaire with closed-ended questions. The questionnaire was split into two sections intended to know the demographic profile of the respondents and investigate the elements of organizational flexibility. The responses on each item of second section were measured on 5--point Likert's scale. Items in the questionnaire were framed based on the dimensions identified through review of literature. In all, there were total 37 items (7 in section A and 30 in B) in the questionnaire.

The questionnaire was discussed with experts in survey and questionnaire design before circulating it for data collection. They have tested it for various concerns like wording of items (uncommon word and technical jargon), ambiguity, leading question, intrusiveness, faking good etc. They have also checked whether the concepts and indicators, which are intended to seek through the questionnaire, are compatible with what the respondent could conceive. The questionnaire developed was finalized and circulated after incorporating their comments and suggestions.

Sampling and Sample Size Determination

The major focus of this study is to investigate the elements of organizational flexibility; the target population for this research consists of subjects who have rich experience in corporate management. Judgmental sampling is used to develop sampling frame, wherein corporate managers with more than 7 years of experience were considered.

As far as sample size is concerned, in case of factor analysis, the acceptable sample size should have a 10:1 ratio (Hair et al., 2006). In this study, there are 30 parameters, so sample size should be 300 respondents. Therefore, targeted sample size was 300 respondents. Moreover, 100 respondents were targeted for ranking the factors that were obtained after grouping the flexibility dimensions.

Data Collection

Sampling frame is chosen from multiple sources like directory of corporate firms in India, from website of firms, as well as through personal contacts. A pilot study was conducted to ascertain the suitability of the research instrument (n=60). Reliability check was performed to know the suitability of the construct. After ascertaining the suitability of construct, 350 questionnaires were distributed personally and through mails. A total of 312 responses were received. Out of these, incomplete questionnaires were kept out of study, and 300 were found usable. The pilot study responses were also included in the sample results as they were in the favor of the construct. Therefore total sample size for the study becomes 300. The names of the respondents are not mentioned in the study to maintain the confidentiality of the data.

Data Analysis and Presentation of Findings

Pilot Study

A pilot study was conducted to assess the psychometric properties of the measures and to detect any weakness in the design and survey instrument. In this research, 60 questionnaires (20 percent of the total sample) were sent to the respondents for pilot testing. Cronbach's alpha (internal consistency test) was used to test the reliability of the items in the questionnaire by assessing the consistency of the respondent's answers to all the items in the questionnaire. Cronbach's alpha estimate value above 0.70 is considered as acceptable. According to Hair et al. (2006), if the value of Cronbach's alpha reliabilities is less than 0.6, they are considered as poor, if the value is 0.7 they are acceptable, and the reliabilities value above 0.8 are considered good. Therefore, the closer the Cronbach's alpha gets to 1.0 the better is the reliability. In this study it is found to be 0.765, which is evidence of the reliability of the instrument.

Preliminary Data Analysis

Preliminary data analysis has been done using SPSS 16.0. It includes treatment of missing data and finding out the data normality (using kurtosis and skewness statistics).

Missing Data

Missing data pose a very common problem in all types of survey-based research, like, minimizing the ability of statistical test to imply a relationship in the data set, creating biased parameter estimates, etc. According to Kline (2005), 5 percent or even 10 percent of missing data on a particular variable is not considered large. In the present study, there is about 4 percent missing data with a random pattern. Considering the low percentage and randomness of missing values, they are replaced with the average values using SPSS 16.0 (Hair et al., 2006).

Normality

Violation of normality might affect the estimation process or the interpretation of results especially in factor analysis. Normality can be tested by two multivariate indexes i.e. skewness and kurtosis. However, according to Kline (2005), values of the skew index greater than three (3.0) are indicated as extremely skewed and score of the kurtosis index from about 8.0 to over 20.0 describe extreme kurtosis. In this study, the results of test of normality lie within the acceptable range i.e. [+ or -] 3 for the skewness and up to [+ or -] 10 for the kurtosis.

Factor Analysis

In this research study, factor analysis has been applied to examine the dimensions of each factor. It involves identifying underlying dimensions of the structure of the data and then determines the degree to which a test item (variable) is explained by each factor (Hair et al., 2006). Using SPSS version 16.0, Principal Component Analysis (PCA) is carried out to examine the underlying factors associated with the items.

Bartlett's Test of Sphericity has been applied to test the constructs validity and the Kaiser-Mayer-Olkin (KMO) measure of sampling adequacy analyzes the strength of association among variables. In this study computed KMO test value is 0.61, which shows that data are suitable to perform factor analysis. Result of the Bartlett's test of Sphericity at 95 percent level of Significance, * = 0.05; the p-value (Sig.) of .000 < 0.05, evidents that the factor Analysis is valid.

The exploratory factor analysis of the dimensions of organizational flexibility resulted into nine factors with Eigen values more than 1 which explains 76.06 percent variance. To determine the minimum loading necessary to include an item in its respective constructs, Hair et al., (2006) suggested that variables with loading greater than 0.30 are considered significant, loading greater than 0.40 more important, and loading 0.50 or greater are very significant. For this study, the general criteria were accepted for items with loading of 0.30 or greater. Moreover, the findings of this study indicate that most items are homogeneously loaded on nine different factors. Three items are found to be cross-loaded on two factors. But, such items are considered under the factor for which their loading is higher than others (refer Table I).

In this research study, first the factor analysis has been conducted to examine the underlying relationships between measured variables under each factor. Thereafter, Garrett Ranking test has been performed for prioritizing the factors in order of their importance.

Ranking Variables using Garrett Technique

This section of the paper is aimed to identify the relative importance of the flexibility factors. The outcome of factor analysis resulted in nine organizational flexibility factors obtained from 30 flexibility dimensions. It however does not quantify the relative importance of each factor in achieving organizational excellence.

For this, the respondents were asked to prioritize the nine flexibility factors by assigning first rank to the factor which according to them is most important in achieving organizational excellence and ninth to the least important one. The Garrett Ranking Technique was used to quantify these ranks by converting them into score value using the following formula:

Percent Position = [(Rij -0.5)/Nj] x 100

Where, Rij = Rank given for the ith variable by jth respondent, and Nj = Number of variables ranked by jth respondent.

The percent position estimated is converted into scores with the help of Garrett's Table. Table II shows the frequency of rank I to IX given by respondents to each factor. Thereafter, for each rank multiply the Garrett value with the given values of a factor. This step will be done for each factor.

Then for each factor (reasons are labeled as factors), the scores of each individual are added and then total value of scores and mean values of score is calculated. The last step involves dividing each total score by the total number of respondents i.e. 100. This will result in computation of final ranks. The factors having highest mean value is considered to be the most important factor.

Discussions

Organizational flexibility is an increasingly sought after competitive element in today's fast paced and changing world. Discussions on how to achieve flexibility include building dynamic capabilities, maintaining multiple options, and supporting horizontal communication and teamwork among employees. The findings of this study provide evidence that there are nine dimensions of flexibility, i.e. functional, strategic, numerical, human resource, structural, financial, team, turbulence and significant others. Incorporating these flexibility dimensions in practice can support achievement of organizational excellence. Analysis of opinion of management professionals collected through survey questionnaire shows that strategic, functional and structural flexibilities are the key dimensions in successfully shaping the organization in today's VUCA environment.

Moreover, there are people who are against the idea of incorporating flexibility. They claimed that it might lead to more intensified work, less control and more precarious working conditions (Burchell et al. 2002; Quinlan et al. 2001). So, the challenge here is to determine the right amount of flexibility to create a balance between flexibility and control. Furthermore, the degree of flexibility primarily depends on external environment and organizational capability. In order to be successful in incorporating right amount of flexibility, organizations should synchronize their capabilities with changing demands of external environment. This statement can be substantiated by the results of present study, which shows that strategic flexibility is the key in achievement of organizational excellence. Organizations should be able to recognize major changes in the external environment, develop plan of action in response to change and quickly commit resources for its implementation.

Conclusion

Given the need to examine the dynamics of flexibility, the findings of this study provide evidence that there are nine dimensions of flexibility, i.e. functional, strategic, numerical, human resource, structural, financial, team, turbulence and significant others. Incorporating these flexibility dimensions in practice can support achievement of organizational excellence. Analysis of opinion of management professionals collected through survey questionnaire shows that strategic, functional and structural flexibilities are the key dimensions in successfully shaping the organization in new and turbulent environment.

So the essential suggestions of this research are the dimensions for incorporation of organizational flexibility and the hierarchy of different types of organizational flexibility. It is expected that the outcomes of the present research will be insightful for the organizations while devising their flexibility plan. However, the present study is limited to only exploration and ranking of flexibility dimensions and various flexibility types respectively. Moreover, further research can be conducted to develop a framework for incorporating optimal degree of flexibility by benchmarking best flexibility practices.

References

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Alpana Agarwal

Assistant Professor, GL Bajaj Institute of Management & Research, Greater Noida

Prem Vrat

Pro-Chancellor, The NorthCap University, Gurugram.
Table--I
Factor Analysis Results for Organizational Flexibility Dimensions

S. No.  Name of Factor              Dimensions

                                    Multifunctioning
                                    Job rotation
1       Functional flexibility      Job enrichment
                                    Work sharing culture
                                    Operability in multiple locations
                                    Employees professional approach
                                    Multitasking employees
                                    Nature of leadership
2       Strategic flexibility       Flexible management style
                                    Organizational culture
                                    Level of trust
                                    Ability to manage employment demands
                                    Overtime
3       Numerical flexibility       Variable working hours
                                    Contractual/casual employees
                                    Cooperation or collaboration
                                    Nature of employees
4       Human Resource flexibility  Employee attitude towards authority
                                      delegated
                                    Employees*attitude towards
                                    organization
5       Significant others          Competitive forces
                                    Laws and regulations
6       Structural flexibility      Structural dimensions
                                    Nature of technology
7       Flexibility for turbulence  Degree of uncertainty
                                    Tolerance to ambiguity
                                    Policy of adjusting cost
8       Financial flexibility       Organizational financial capability
                                    Employment/ labor market conditions
                                    Importance of a specific skill set
9       Flexibility for team        Flexibility for team

S. No.   Factor Loadings

        0.654
        0.832
        0.7
1       0.726
        0.808
        0.807
        0.883
        -0.557
2       0.794
        0.701
        0.874
        0.654
3       0.841
        0.662
        0.671
        0.780
4       0.6
        0.801
        0.816
5       0.909
        0.909
6       0.891
        0.908
7       0.929
        0.946
        0.495
8       0.521
        0.784
9       0.547
        0.745

Source: Author's own

Table--II

Steps Involved in Computation of Ranks

Step 1: Computation of Garrett Value

  Rank          100(Rij-0.5)/Nj  Percent         Garret
                                 Position         Value

   1            100(1-0.5)/9      5.56             81
   2            100(2-0.5)/9     16.67             69
   3            100(3-0.5)/9     27.78             62
   4            100(4-0.5)/9     38.89             56
   5            100(5-0.5)/9       50              50
   6            100(6-0.5)/9     61.11             44
   7            100(7-0.5)/9     72.22             38
   8            100(8-0.5)/10    83.33             31
   9            100(9-0.5)/10    94.44             19

Step 2: Frequency of ranks assigned to each factor

      1st   2nd   3rd    4th    5th

F1     27    23    9      8     13
F2     22    46    4      1     10
F3     0     8     20    14      5
F4     1     4     20    10     11
F5     2     1     4     20     11
F6     20    6     11     7     30
F7     11    5     19     8      5
F8     17    4     8     15     11
F9     0     3     5     17      4

      6th   7th   8th    9th

F1     4     0     2     14
F2     1     0     11     5
F3     11    15    8     19
F4     26    18    2      8
F5     19    27    10     6
F6     6     0     10    10
F7     11    4     23    14
F8     3     23    13     6
F9     19    13    21    18

Step 3: Computation of Mean Score

       1st      2nd      3rd      4th      5th

F1    2187     1587      558      448      650
F2    1782     3174      248      56       500
F3      0       552     1240      784      250
F4     81       276     1240      560      550
F5     162      69       248     1120      550
F6    1620      414      682      392     1500
F7     891      345     1178      448      250
F8    1377      276      496      840      550
F9      0       207      310      952      200

       6th      7th      8th      9th    Total
                                          Score

F1     176       0       62       266     5934
F2     12        0       341      95      6208
F3     484      570      248      361     4489
F4    1144      684      62       152     4749
F5     836     1026      310      114     4435
F6     264       0       310      190     5372
F7     484      152      713      266     4727
F8     132      874      403      114     5062
F9     836      494      651      342     3992

Step 4: Garrett Ranking Technique Result

Factor  Flexibility                 Score

                                    Total  Mean      Rank
no.     Factors

F2      Strategic flexibility       6208   62.08      1
F1      Functional flexibility      5934   59.34      2
F6      Structural flexibility      5372   53.72      3
F8      Financial flexibility       5062   50.62      4
F3      Numerical flexibility       4489   44.89      5
F4      HR flexibility              4749   47.49      6
F7      Flexibility for turbulence  4727   47.27      7
F5      Significant others          4435   44.35      8
F9      Flexibility for team        3992   39.92      9

Source: Author's own
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Date:Apr 1, 2019
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