Sub-theme 27: Dynamic Capabilities for Strategic Change in Practice

Wolfgang H. Güttel
Johannes Kepler University, Linz, Austria
Patrick Cohendet
HEC Montréal, Canada
Uta Wilkens
Ruhr University Bochum, Germany

Call for Papers


Dynamic capabilities as practices of change

Uncovering the sources of (sustained) competitive advantage can be regarded as the 'Holy Grail' of strategic management research (Helfat & Peteraf, 2009). In search of an explanation of adaptive firm behavior, researchers have developed the concept of dynamic capabilities as "the capacity of an organization to purposefully create, extend or modify its resource base" (Helfat et al., 2007: 4). Dynamic capabilities have taken center stage in explaining organizational change processes in certain dimensions including innovation, entrepreneurial behavior, organizational transformation or coping with crises (see e.g. Ambrosini & Bowman, 2009; Easterby-Smith et al., 2009, Vogel & Güttel 2013). The dynamic capabilities view (DCV) is designed to give a theoretical framework for specifying routinized adaptation processes as well as actors' influences on renewal (Eisenhardt & Martin, 2000; Teece et al., 1997; Zollo & Winter, 2002; Teece, 2007).

Firms can strive to gain or sustain competitive advantage by strategically altering their resource base by practices related to sensing, seizing and transformation (Teece, 2007), to develop practices for enabling a continuous change (e.g. Eisenhardt & Brown, 1999), to make use of the institutional embeddedness (Baum & Oliver, 1992) or to support actors with strategic impact (Gavetti, 2005; Augier & Teece, 2008; Salvato & Rerup, 2011). The individual's ability to create new solutions in ambiguous situations becomes also an important source to overcome inertia (Foss, 2011; Leonard-Barton, 1995). Issue-selling (Dutton et al., 2001) serve as a means for leaders to shape the firm's agenda towards the change of organizational routines, processes, and practices (Cohendet & Llerena, 2003). The manager's decisions are embedded in an organizational culture guiding behavior of organizational members and determine what is forbidden and what is allowed (Alvesson, 2002).


A look at the high failure-rate of organizational change (O'Reilly & Tushman, 2011; Sherman & Hart, 2006) reveals that coping with cultural elements seems to be a very difficult endeavor. Path-dependence research further emphasizes the firm's struggle of overcoming lock-in situations (Sydow et al., 2009). Within this corridor of opportunities and threats, it is the concrete configuration of organizational and individual activities that defines the organizational capability for renewal (Sprafke et al., 2012), and therefore the firm’s ability to respond to challenges as well as economic pressure.



Aim of the sub-theme

With respect to future research, it is an important question how exactly the organizational and the individual level interact and reflect the broader institutional environment in order to practice change. Further questions related to practices of change are the influencing factors of dynamic capabilities as well as their limitations and restrictions for dealing with unexpected situations (e.g. the financial meltdown in 2007). It is the aim of this sub-theme to bridge research from strategic management with organization studies and to give emphasize to practices of strategic change reflecting institutional, organizational and individual actors’ influences and interactions from a dynamic capability perspective.

We invite and encourage contributions on a theoretical-conceptual and an empirical basis that try to uncover dynamic capabilities for practicing change in general and/or that specify context factors in this regard, e.g. that refer to regional or organizational crises, challenges of innovation, globalization, etc. All kinds of empirical settings – e.g. longitudinal studies, process studies, secondary data analyses, case studies, actor-centered measurements, etc. – are more than appreciated. We want to provide a home for scholars who bridge organization and strategy research.

Thus, questions are as follows:

  • How strategic decisions constitute dynamic capabilities?
  • How dynamic capabilities actually lead to change in the organization?
  • How firms generate resilience and strategic flexibility to deal with external turbulences?
  • How different levels (regional-institutional, organizational team, individual) interact in facilitating change?
  • How individuals shape the firm's change agenda by issue-selling activities to overcome inertia?
  • How defensive routines or cultural elements restrict the individual's influence towards change?




  • Alvesson, M. (2002): Understanding Organizational Culture. London: SAGE Publications.
  • Ambrosini, V., & Bowman, C. (2009): "What are dynamic capabilities and are they a useful construct in strategic management?" International Journal of Management Reviews, 11 (1), 29–49.
  • Augier, M., & Teece, D.J. (2008): "Strategy as evolution with design: The foundations of dynamic capabilities and the role of managers in the economic system." Organization Studies, 29 (8/9), 1187–1208.
  • Baum, J.A.C., & Oliver, C. (1992): "Institutional rmbeddedness and the fynamics of organizational populations." American Sociological Review, 57 (4), 540–559.
  • Cohendet, P., & Llerena, P. (2003): "Routines and incentives: the role of communities in the firm." Industrial & Corporate Change, 12 (2), 271–297.
  • Dutton, J., Ashford, S., O'Neill, R., & Lawrence, K. (2001): "Moves that matter: Issue selling and organizational change." Academy of Management Journal, 44 (4), 716–737.
  • Easterby-Smith, M., Lyles, M.A., & Peteraf, M.A. (2009): "Dynamic capabilities: Current debates and future directions." British Journal of Management, 20, 1–8.
  • Eisenhardt, K.M., & Brown, S.L. (1999): "Patching: Restitching business portfolios in dynamic markets." Harvard Business Review, 77 (3), 72–82.
  • Eisenhardt, K.M., & Martin, J.A. (2000): "Dynamic capabilities: What are they?" Strategic Management Journal, 21 (10–11), 1105–1121.
  • Foss, N.J. (2011): "Why micro-foundations for resource-based theory are needed and what they may look like." Journal of Management, 37 (5), 1413–1428.
  • Gavetti, G. (2005): "Cognition and hierarchy: Rethinking the microfoundations of capabilities' development." Organization Science, 16 (6), 599–617.
  • Helfat, C.E., & Peteraf, M.A. (2009): "Understanding dynamic capabilities: Progress along a developmental path." Strategic Organization, 7 (1), 91–102.
  • Helfat, C.E., Finkelstein, S., Mitchell, W., Peteraf, M.A., Singh, H., Teece, D., & Winter, S.G. (2007): Dynamic Capabilities: Understanding Change in Organizations. Oxford: Blackwell.
  • Leonard-Barton, D.A. (1995): Wellsprings of Knowledge: Building and Sustaining the Sources of Innovation. Boston: Harvard Business School Press.
  • O'Reilly, C.A., & Tushman, M.L. (2011): "Organizational ambidexterity in action. How managers explore and exploit." California Management Review, 53 (4), 5–21.
  • Salvato, C., & Rerup, C. (2011): "Beyond collective entities: Multilevel research on organizational routines and capabilities." Journal of Management, 37 (2), 468–490.
  • Sherman, A.J., & Hart, M.A. (2006): Mergers & Acquisitions from A to Z. New York: AMACOM.
  • Sprafke, N., Externbrink, K., & Wilkens, U. (2012): "Exploring micro-foundations of dynamic capabilities: Insights from a case study in the engineering sector." In: R. Sanchez & A. Heene (eds.): A Focused Issue on Competence Perspectives on New Industry Dynamics. Research in Competence-Based Management, Vol. 6. Bingley: Emerald Group Publishing Limited, pp.117–152.
  • Sydow, J., Schreyögg, G., & Koch, J. (2009): "Organizational path dependence: Opening the black box." Academy of Management Review, 34 (4), 689–709.
  • Teece, D.J. (2007): "Explicating dynamic capabilities: the nature and microfoundations of (sustainable) enterprise performance." Strategic Management Journal, 28 (13), 1319– 1350.
  • Teece, D.J., Pisano, G., & Shuen, A. (1997): "Dynamic capabilities and strategic management." Strategic Management Journal, 18 (7), 509–533.
  • Vogel, R., & Güttel, W.H. (2013): "The dynamic capability view in strategic management: A bibliometric review." International Journal of Management Review, 15 (4), 426–446.
  • Zollo, M., & Winter, S.G. (2002): "Deliberate learning and the evolution of dynamic capabilities." Organization Science, 13 (3), 339–351.


Wolfgang H. Güttel is Professor of Human Resource and Change Management at the Johannes Kepler University Linz, Austria. Previously, he was Professor at the Universities of Kassel and Hamburg, Germany, and Research Fellow at the Universities of Liverpool, UK, and Padua, Italy. His main research interests are dynamic capabilities, ambidexterity (the relationship between exploratory and exploitative learning) and replication.
Patrick Cohendet is Professor of Economics at HEC Montréal Business School, Canada. Before, he was Professor at the University of Strasbourg, France. His research interests include economics of innovation, technology management, knowledge management, theory of the firm, and economics of creativity.
Uta Wilkens is Professor of Human Resources and Work Process Management at the University Bochum, Germany. Previously, she was Professor at the Graduate School of Business and Economics, Lahr, Germany, and Fellow at the Japan Advanced Institute of Science and Technology and at the MIT, USA. Her main research interest relies on the micro-foundation of the DCV, especially the interplay between the individual and the organizational level.