Featured Story January-February 2016
Competencies for Open Innovation

by Associate Professor Klas Eric Soderquist

From its particular focus on various forms of collaboration, mutual working relationships, and sharing of innovation opportunities and risks, Open Innovation brings new challenges at the level of the human side of innovation teams (du Chatenier et al, 2010), which, however, are difficult for managers both to define and to find in new recruits (Dabrowska & Podmetina, 2014).

Researchers have recently turned to the concept of competencies in order to identify the particular skills and behaviours that are essential to find, develop and cultivate in the work force in order to succeed in OI endeavours (du Chatenier et al, 2010; Dabrowska & Podmetina, 2014; Hafkesbrink & Schroll, 2014). Competence, in this perspective, is defined as an integrated set of knowledge, attitudes and skills of a person (Mulder, 2007), which results in effective and/or superior performance in a job (Boyatzis, 1982). Based on an extant literature review, Soderquist et al (2010) identified three analytical perspectives that help understand the meaning and applicability of different types of competencies for HRM:

     1. Generic vs. organization-specific competencies, which refer to competencies identified within the context of a specific job, either generically, i.e. common to all individuals occupying a specific job, or specific to the job in a particular organization,
    2. Managerial vs. operational competencies, which refer to competencies required for carrying out the functions of a specific role; managerial competencies relate to interpersonal interaction, such as action management, coordination, planning or motivation, while operational competencies refer to specific job positions and how to carry out successfully a specific job of operational nature,
    3. Competencies as skills vs. competencies as behaviors, which refer to characteristics of individuals that are either learned and describe what an individual does, or fundamentally inherent and describe how people do their job.

This typology, consisting of a combination of the three identified couples, has a general applicability for competency management as it suggests an analytical 'scale' of competencies, ranging from the most specific 'Organization-Specific Operational Skills', to the most general 'Generic Management Behaviors'. This facilitates the identification, classification, understanding and balancing of the complex pattern of competencies that in practice appear on a continuum between the more specific and the more general (Soderquist et al, 2010).

A central theoretical framework for further understanding and classifying the competency aspects of innovation management is the exploration / exploitation trade-off (March, 1991), which has evolved into the exploration / exploitation dichotomy affording co-existence (Benner & Tushman, 2003) and more recently into a focus on simultaneous integration through ambidexterity (Raish et al, 2009; Blindenbach-Driessen & van den Ende, 2014). "Exploration includes things captured by terms such as search, variation, risk taking, experimentation, play, flexibility, discovery, innovation. Exploitation includes such things as refinement, choice, production, efficiency, selection, implementation, execution" (March, 1991, p. 71). In innovation studies, exploration has become synonym with radical innovation, and exploitation with incremental innovation (Jansen et al, 2009). Ambidextrous organizations are "capable of simultaneously exploiting existing competencies and exploring new opportunities" (Raish et al, 2009, p. 685). This translates into examining how exploration and exploitation work together to simultaneously achieve incremental and radical innovation, what could be referred to as innovation ambidexterity (Li et al, 2008). Ambidexterity is central for innovation performance (Blindenbach-Driessen & van den Ende, 2014), especially in an Open Innovation context characterized by intensive inter-organizational collaboration, knowledge transfer and learning (Li et al, 2008). Thus, the individual competences associated with both exploration and exploitation are essential for succeeding in OI (Hafkesbrink & Schroll, 2014), and many researchers claim that ambidexterity is rooted in an individual's ability to explore and exploit (Raish et al, 2009). Leaning on the dimensions of exploration, exploitation and ambidexterity, Hafkesbrink & Schroll (2014) proposes a comprehensive catalogue of both organizational and individual competencies for Open Innovation:

  • Organizational competencies for the exploration phase of OI include: Ability to identify and assimilate knowledge, Ability for Outside-in Collaboration, Dynamic adaptability, Inventive capability, and Effectiveness,
  • Organizational competencies for the exploitation phase of OI include: Ability for transfer/valorization of knowledge, Ability for Inside-Out Collaboration, Routinization capability, Imitation/replication capability, and Efficiency.
  • Individual competencies that support exploration activities include: Combining and expanding knowledge (professional skills), Coping with complexity in the context of variety enhancement (methodical skills), Cooperation in the framework of interaction relationships (social skills), and Self-reflection in a personal action routines (personal skills).
  • Individual competencies that support exploitation activities include: Knowledge concentration (professional skills), Simplification and variety narrowing (methodical skills), Hierarchy for control of work processes (social skills), and Authority in the implementation of personal action (personal skills),
  • Individual ambidextrous competencies finally, include: knowledge brokerage, topsy-turvy-thinking, multi-tasking, dialectic thinking (methodical), diplomatic and rhetorical capabilities, tolerance to ambiguity, mediation, capabilities (social), and capability to combine alternative logics, emotional ambivalence, capability to think outside the box (personal).

Another attempt at classifying OI competencies comes from Du Chatenier et al (2010) who identified four clusters of OI competencies, based on a literature review and a qualitative validation through interviews and focus groups:

      1. Self Management, which is seen as the basis for achieving the central tasks related to OI,
      2. Interpersonal Management, which is essential in order to manage the inter-organizational collaboration process,
      3. Project Management, which is essential for managing the overall innovation process,
      4. Content management, which is essential for creating new knowledge collaboratively.

Particular OI challenges that need to be addressed through appropriate competencies were also identified, including: High diversity and cognitive distances, Low social cohesion, High level of uncertainty, Low reciprocal commitment, and Absence of traditional hierarchical lines.

Finally, with the objective of conducting a first larger-scale empirical research about competencies -knowledge, skills and attitudes- for Open Innovation across Europe, Dabrowska & Podmetina (2014) reviewed related literature and collected data on job titles, job functions, and job offers. Based on this, they elaborated sets of competency related variables in two categories: Individual skills and competencies useful for OI professionals, and OI-specific skills and knowledge.


Summing up on this brief literature review, starting from the general competency categories advanced in the literature, competencies in the OI context are concerned with generic competencies, which are of managerial rather than operational nature, but encompass both skills and abilities/behaviours.

Further, competencies for exploration on the one hand, and exploitation on the other is also of utmost interest to identify empirically. Ambidextrous competencies is still a hypothetic construct (Hafkesbrink & Schroll, 2014), which merits more investigation as a kind of 'combinatory' competencies.

Finally, as du Chatenier et al (2010) highlight, both self-management and interpersonal management competencies, the introspective and the extrospectic aspects of collaboration (Mortara et al, 2009), are essential for succeeding in Open Innovation.


Benner, M.J. & Tushman, M.L. (2003), "Exploitation, Exploration, and Process Management: The Productivity Dilemma Revisited", Academy of Management Review, 28(2): 238-256.

Blindenbach-Driessen, F. & van den Ende, J. (2014), "The Locus of Innovation: The Effect of a Separate Innovation Unit on Exploration, Exploitation, and Ambidexterity in Manufacturing and Service Firms", Journal of Product Innovation Management, 31(5):1089-1105.

Boyatzis, R.E. (1982), The Competent Manager: A Model of Effective Performance, John Wiley & Sons, New York, NY.

Dabrowska, J. & Potmetina, D. (2014), "Identification of Competences for Open Innovation", XXV ISPIM Conference - Innovation for Sustainable Economy & Society, Dublin, Ireland on 8-11 June.

du Chatenier, E., Verstegen, J. A., Biemans, H. J., Mulder, M., and Omta, O. S. (2010), "Identification of competencies for professionals in open innovation teams", R&D Management, 40(3): 271-280.

Hafkesbring, J. & Schroll, M. (2014), "Ambidextrous Organizational and Individual Competencies in Open Innovation: The Dawn of a New Research Agenda", Journal of Innovation Management, 2(1): 9-46.

Jansen, J. J. P., Tempelaar, M., Van den Bosch, F. A. J. & Volberda, H.W. (2009), "Structural differentiation and ambidexterity: The mediating role of integration mechanisms", Organization Science 20 (4): 797-811.

Li, Y., Vanhaverbeke, W. & Schoenmakers, W. (2008), "Exploration and Exploitation in Innovation: Reframing the Interpretation", Creativity and Innovation Management, 17(2): 107-126.

March, J. G. (1991), "Exploration and exploitation in organizational learning", Organization Science 2 (1): 71-87.

Mortara, L., Napp, JJ., Slacik, and Minshall, T. (2009), How to implement open innovation: Lessons from studying large multinational companies, University of Cambridge Institute for Manufacturing.

Mulder, M. (2007), "Competence: the essence and use of the concept in ICVT", European Journal of Vocational Training, 40: 5-22.

Raisch, S., Birkinshaw, J., Probst, G. & Tushman, M.L. (2009), "Organizational Ambidexterity: Balancing Exploitation and Exploration for Sustained Performance", Organization Science, 20(4): 685-695.

Soderquist, K.E., Papalexandris, A., Ioannou, G. & Prastacos, G. (2010),"From task-based to competency-based: A typology and process supporting a critical HRM transition", Personnel Review, 39(3): 325 - 346.

This literature review is an extract of the paper:
Petraite, M., Podmetina, D. & Soderquist, K.E. (2015), "Designing and Developing Organizational Competence Portfolio for Open Innovation", R&D Management Conference 2015 - RADMA, Pisa, 23-26/6, 2015.

Copyright 2013 Website Design by Pantelis Lappas. All rights reserved.
M A N A G E M E N T    S C I E N C E    L A B O R A T O R Y