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Developing absorptive capacity in mature organizations : the change agent’s role

Jones, Oswald (2006) Developing absorptive capacity in mature organizations : the change agent’s role. Management learning, 37 (3). pp. 355-376. ISSN 1350-5076

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considerable amount of research into how organizations absorb new knowledge was prompted by the work of Cohen and Levinthal. In a recent literature review Zahra and George identify two distinct elements of absorptive capacity (potential and realized). This article contributes to the study of managerial agency in the absorption of new knowledge and skills. Zahra and George’s model is extended to incorporate key roles associated with knowledge transfer, including gatekeepers, boundary spanners and change agents. Empirical data are drawn from a longitudinal study of a mature manufacturing firm based in North Wales. Change was initiated by the owner in response to the loss of the company’s major customer—the Ministry of Defence. The main change agent was a recently recruited middle manager who used his mass production experience to improve managerial communications and introduce more efficient working practices to the shopfloor.

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