Senate Hall Academic Publishing

Journal of Strategic Management

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ISSN: 1649-3877

Listed by: Cabells and EBSCO

Frequency: 1 online Volume per year


Flexibility in Management Theory: Towards Clarification of an Elusive Concept

JSME Vol 4: 2008

Author(s): Martin Fellenz (Trinity College Dublin, Ireland)

The notion of flexibility is frequently used throughout the academic and applied
management literature. However, specific flexibility constructs are often ill-defined, and the
frequent use of such constructs has propagated conceptual confusion rather than leading to
clarification of the meaning of the underlying concept. This paper reviews and discusses the use of
flexibility in three areas of the management literature (organization theory, strategic management,
and operations management) and establishes that the underlying conceptions of flexibility used in
these areas are remarkably similar. Based on this review, the paper presents a general definition of
the concept of flexibility as an objectís capacity for variability of one or more of its characteristics.
After concluding that much of the conceptual confusion originates not in the concept itself, but in
its use in specific flexibility constructs, it proposes a set of steps aimed at clarifying the nature of
flexibility constructs in management theory and research. The paper briefly discusses directions for
future management research on flexibility and explores implications for the teaching of the
important strategic concept of flexibility in management education. The paper distinguishes
between the general concept of flexibility and specific flexibility constructs. Thus, the presented
argument serves also as an example, a reminder, and a call for definitional discipline and conceptual
explicitness in management research and education.

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