Flexibility in Management Theory: Towards Clarification of an Elusive Concept
25 Pages Posted: 26 Feb 2008
Date Written: 2000
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 object's 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. Finally, the paper discusses directions for future management research on flexibility. 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 organizational and management research.
Keywords: flexibility, concept and construct, management theory, strategy, organization theory, operations management
JEL Classification: D23, M10
Suggested Citation: Suggested Citation