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Strategic knowledge, social structure, and middle management activities: A study of strategic renewal

James Milton Pappas, University of Massachusetts Amherst


This study sought to explain how both middle managers' strategic knowledge and the prevailing social structure of the organization interact to help bring about strategic renewal. Accepting the notion that middle managers play a vital role in the strategy making process (Wooldridge and Floyd, 1992), this study focused on how middle managers help develop new capabilities, initiate and implement key strategic initiatives, and shape long-term performance of the firm. In essence, this study was designed to empirically “unbundle” the socially complex nature of organizational change. ^ This dissertation explored the following three research questions: (1) How does the strategic knowledge of middle managers lead to the accumulation of new capabilities in organizations? (2) How does social structure affect the activities of managers in the renewal process? (3) How do strategic knowledge and social structure interact to effect organizational change? ^ To test the proposed hypotheses, an empirical analysis was conducted. After interviewing top managers of a medium-sized hospital, a quantitative survey instrument was developed and administered to 97 middle managers. Extraordinary measures were taken to garner data from the entire population of middle managers in the organization and 95 managers completed the survey. Results indicated that strategic knowledge was significantly related to middle management renewal activities. Also, analysis of the prevailing social structure of the organization found that all elements of social structure were highly related to these activities. ^ In subsequent empirical tests, the evidence for an interaction effect was clearly found. In both formal and informal networks, the importance of strategic knowledge vanished when the model was analyzed in conjunction with measures of social structure. In short, knowledge is a necessary, but not sufficient variable in the capability development process. ^ These findings have important implications for the field of strategic management and, in particular, the capability accumulation process. First, it provided an empirical test of how strategic knowledge affects renewal efforts. To date, research concerning knowledge-based assets has been largely conceptual and not subjected to statistical tests of proof. Second, while a middle management perspective has experienced significant growth in recent years, it has not been fully explored in the context of renewal. Thus, the study offered more depth to the importance of middle management layers within this process. Finally, adopting a social network perspective is more consistent with the notion of socially constructed organizational knowledge. Rather than viewing change as an outcome of individual champions and “intrapreneurs,” the research accepted change as a deeply embedded, socially constructed process. Taken together, the results of the current investigation provide a strong rationale for the integration of social network analysis and the strategic knowledge of mid-level actors in the capability accumulation process. (Abstract shortened by UMI.) ^

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Recommended Citation

Pappas, James Milton, "Strategic knowledge, social structure, and middle management activities: A study of strategic renewal" (2001). Doctoral Dissertations Available from Proquest. AAI3027240.