A strategic perspective on flexibility, agility and adaptability in the digital era

Open for submissions 15 April 2022


Companies today are facing the fourth Industrial Revolution, often named Industry 4.0, characterized by the emergence of transformational digital technologies and applications, such as Internet of Things, artificial intelligence (AI), automation, remote monitoring, predictive maintenance, additive manufacturing, big data, cloud computing, analytics, and smart products. These technologies are disrupting the traditional ways of management (Brynjolfsson and McAfee, 2017; Kolbjørnsrud et al. 2016; Venkatraman, 2017) and driving strategic change by reshaping companies’ strategy and organization, products and services, supply chains and operations.

Academic literature refers to these new technologies with the term of digital technologies (Parida et al, 2019; Warner and Wäger, 2019) which are defined as “combinations of information, computing, communication, and connectivity technologies” (Bharadwaj et al., 2013, p. 471). The rapid advancement of digital technologies poses important opportunities and challenges to companies because they have the potential to fundamentally transform companies’ business models, customer relationships, competences, products and services, and ecosystems (Barrett et al. 2015, Bharadwaj et al., 2013). In this context, digital transformation has been defined as the use of new digital technologies “to enable major business improvements to augment customer experience, streamline operations, or create new business models” (Warner and Wäger, 2019).

Due to the close connection between digital transformation and strategic change, the organizational literature has recently started to dedicate attention to the firms’ ability to respond to this new technological environment. Organizational agility (the company’s ability to adapt quickly to market changes), organizational adaptability (learning by an experimental approach), and organizational ambidexterity (combining exploration and exploitation) have been put forward as organizational mechanisms and capabilities through which companies can benefit from and respond to digital transformation (Del Giudice et al., 2021; Reeves et al., 2015).

The interplay between digital transformation and firm’s adaptive processes is intriguing in its complexity. On the one hand, digital technologies may serve as antecedents of strategic change and the firm’s adaptive processes (Ransbotham et al. 2017). For instance, digital technologies can provide managers with new opportunities to develop dynamic capabilities and ambidexterity, which support the firm’s adaptation to discontinuous change, through the self-tuning organizational design (Birkinshaw et al., 2016). Authors assuming this standpoint assert that a high level of digitization within and outside a firm’s supply chain is necessary for the firm to be agile and responsive to changes in customer demand in dynamic environments (Sony and Naik, 2019). For example, big data analytics have been related to increased agility, dynamic capabilities and market responsiveness (Rialti et al., 2020). On the other hand, harnessing digital technologies can be the outcome of strategic change and the firm’s adaptive processes. Adaptive capabilities, such as strategic flexibility and adaptability, facilitate the organization’s adoption of digital transformation and digital innovation (Del Giudice et al., 2021). For instance, digital servitization is supported by “an organizational structure with the capacity to constantly reconfigure the firm’s strategic capabilities to meet continuously evolving customer needs” (Bustinza et al., 2018). Following this line of reasoning, flexibility, agility, and adaptability can drive digital transformation (Fachrunnisa et al., 2020; Moi and Cabiddu, 2020).

Overall, digital technologies and digital transformation have important performance implications. They enable product modularity, operations optimization, better customer engagement and market estimates, thereby increasing strategic flexibility and the ability to respond to environmental changes better. At the same time, the higher the organization capacity to adapt, the better it can harness the power of digital innovation and digital transformation.

Contributions on this topic are positioned at the intersection of strategy, innovation, and organization literatures and require combining literatures on organizational agility/flexibility/adaptability with literature on digital technologies and transformation. This multidisciplinary perspective requires a joint effort by researchers with different backgrounds to bridge the gap among different disciplines and, thus, develop a more holistic understanding of the topic (Verhoef et al., 2021). Because of the novelty of the topic and the required multidisciplinary approach, the literature is still in its infancy, but the managerial and societal relevance of the topic is significant. Therefore, the aim of this special issue is to shed light on this topic.

The special issue welcomes both theoretical and empirical contributions within, but not limited to, the following areas:

Conceptual clarification

  • Overlapping of terminology as agility, flexibility, and adaptability
  • Digitalization, digitization, digital transformation: clarifying the meaning
  • Identifying the conceptual dimensions of digital transformation
  • Temporality and life cycles of digital technologies


Interplay between digital technologies and organizational agility/flexibility/adaptability: digital technologies as antecedents of organizational agility/flexibility/adaptability vs organizational agility/flexibility/adaptability required for the implementation of digital technologies

  • AI and organizational agility/flexibility/adaptability
  • Big data and organizational agility/flexibility/adaptability
  • Block chain and organizational agility/flexibility/adaptability
  • Digital tools and methods to enhance/trigger organizational agility/flexibility/adaptability
  • Agile/flexible/adaptable bundles of brains, minds, and machines in organizations
  • Improving the digital maturity of the workforce as a fundamental dynamic capability for ongoing digital transformations
  • AI applications in customer relationship management as a critical tool for agility and business model innovation


Role of organizational context

  • Digital technologies in inter-organizational contexts (e.g., mergers and acquisitions, strategic alliances, networks, ecosystems)
  • Overcoming organizational resistance to digital technologies
  • Digital technologies and organizational structure
  • Ethics, corporate social responsibility in the digital era
  • Organizational actors in digital transformation: adopting a micro level perspective


Interplay between digital transformation and organizational agility/flexibility

  • Digital business models and organizational agility/flexibility
  • Quantifiable benefits of digital transformation
  • HR flexibility and digital transformation



  • SMEs vs large firms
  • Digital start-ups vs digital incumbents
  • Industry-specific studies
  • Emerging markets vs. mature markets


Methodological issues

  • Measurement of agility, flexibility, and adaptability
  • Longitudinal cases or experimental design to discover temporal dynamics
  • Adopting a multilevel perspective in the investigation


Submission procedure and information

  • Submissions to the special issue should be sent electronically through the "Management Decision" ScholarOne System: https://mc.manuscriptcentral.com/md.
  • The manuscripts must be prepared in accordance with the guidelines for authors given in the website of the journal "Management Decision": https://www.emeraldgrouppublishing.com/journal/md#author-guidelines.
  • Authors need to clearly indicate in their submission information and letter that their manuscript is for the Special Issue on "A strategic perspective on flexibility, agility and adaptability in the digital era". All submissions will be subject to a double-blind review process followed by "Management Decision" Journal. All manuscripts must be original, unpublished works that are not concurrently under review for publication elsewhere. Questions about this special issue may be directed to the leading guest editors.


Submission Deadline:

  • Submissions for the special issue will be open between 15th April 2022 and 15th May 2022.
  • Provisional publication date: mid-2023.

For any queries, contact the leading guest editor (refer to the contact details below):



Barrett, M., Davidson, E., Prabhu, J., & Vargo, S.L. (2015). Service innovation in the digital age: Key contributions and future directions. MIS quarterly, 39(1), 135-154.

Bharadwaj, A., El Sawy, O. A., Pavlou, P. A., & Venkatraman, N. (2013). Digital business strategy: toward a next generation of insights. MIS quarterly, 471-482.

Birkinshaw, J., Zimmermann, A., & Raisch, S. (2016). How do firms adapt to discontinuous change? Bridging the dynamic capabilities and ambidexterity perspectives. California Management Review, 58(4), 36-58.

Brynjolfsson, E., & Mcafee, A. N. D. R. E. W. (2017). The business of artificial intelligence. Harvard Business Review, 7, 3-11.

Bustinza, O. F., Gomes, E., Vendrell‐Herrero, F., & Tarba, S. Y. (2018). An organizational change framework for digital servitization: evidence from the Veneto region. Strategic Change, 27(2), 111-119.

Correani, A., De Massis, A., Frattini, F., Petruzzelli, A. M., & Natalicchio, A. (2020). Implementing a digital strategy: Learning from the experience of three digital transformation projects. California Management Review, 62(4), 37-56.

Del Giudice, M., Scuotto, V., Papa, A., Tarba, S., Bresciani, S., & Warkentin, M. (2021). A self‐tuning model for smart manufacturing SMEs: Effects on digital innovation. Journal of Product Innovation Management, 38(1), 68–89.

Fachrunnisa, O., Adhiatma, A., Ab Majid, M. N., & Lukman, N. (2020). Towards SMEs’ digital transformation: The role of agile leadership and strategic flexibility. Journal of Small Business Strategy, 30(3), 65-85.

Kolbjørnsrud, V., Amico, R., & Thomas, R.J. (2016). How artificial intelligence will redefine management. Harvard Business Review, 1-6.

Moi, L., & Cabiddu, F. (2020). Leading digital transformation through an Agile Marketing Capability: the case of Spotahome. Journal of Management and Governance, 1-33.

Parida, V., Sjödin, D., & Reim, W. (2019). Reviewing literature on digitalization, business model innovation, and sustainable industry: Past achievements and future promises.

Ransbotham, S., Kiron, D., Gerbert, P., & Reeves, M. (2017). Reshaping business with artificial intelligence. MIT Sloan Management Review and The Boston Consulting Group, September.

Reeves, M., Zeng, M., & Venjara, A. (2015). The self-tuning enterprise. Harvard Business Review, 93(6), 77-83.

Rialti, R., Marzi, G., Caputo, A., & Mayah, K. A. (2020). Achieving strategic flexibility in the era of big data. Management Decision, 58(8), 1585-1600.

Sony, M., & Naik, S. (2019). Key ingredients for evaluating Industry 4.0 readiness for organizations: a literature review. Benchmarking: An International Journal, 27(7), 2213-2232.

Venkatraman, V. (2017). The digital matrix: new rules for business transformation through technology. LifeTree Media.

Verhoef, P. C., Broekhuizen, T., Bart, Y., Bhattacharya, A., Dong, J. Q., Fabian, N., & Haenlein, M. (2021). Digital transformation: A multidisciplinary reflection and research agenda. Journal of Business Research, 122, 889-901.

Warner, K. S., & Wäger, M. (2019). Building dynamic capabilities for digital transformation: An ongoing process of strategic renewal. Long Range Planning, 52(3), 326-349.


Other readings:

Gil-Gomez, H., Guerola-Navarro, V., Oltra-Badenes, R., & Lozano-Quilis, J. A. (2020). Customer relationship management: digital transformation and sustainable business model innovation. Economic Research-Ekonomska Istraživanja, 33(1), 2733-2750.

Herhausen, D., Morgan, R. E., Brozović, D., & Volberda, H. W. (2020). Re‐examining strategic flexibility: a meta‐analysis of its antecedents, consequences and contingencies. British Journal of Management.