Learning and knowledge absorption is an important mediating variable in the relationship between boundary spanning and innovation (e.
g. Gao et al, 2008; Goodyear and Casey, 2015; Ben-Mehahem et al, 2013; Elbers and Maurer, 2014). Boundary spanners make it possible that (tacit) knowledge is expressed and communicated and lead to new insights and learning, which in turn foster innovative capacity. Gao et al (2008) for example indicate that external ties with the organizational environment (noted as “business ties”) play an important role in innovation for shared learning, knowledge transfer, and information exchange.
Regarding absorptive capacity, that is, the ability to acquire and assimilate externally generated knowledge, Ben-Menahem et al (2013) regard how top managers of multinational corporations manage to align internal organization with external and environmental rates of change, so as to achieve a dynamic firm-environment fit over time. This study shows that aligning internal and external rates of change over time is a key managerial challenge that is significantly related to performance. The empirical analysis shows that this challenge requires a focus on developing the firm’s potential absorptive capacity of which boundary spanning is an important element. An important implication for managers is therefore to monitor external rates of change through environmental scanning and boundary spanning to assess the volatility in the business environment.
The internal organizational involvement and support is considered not enough to launch an innovation; the external pressure is needed to boost innovations. Gumusluoglu and Ilsev (2009) provide the insight that the support received from outside the organization serves as leverage to the effect of transformational leadership on organizational innovation. Therefore, to boost the level of company innovation, managers, especially of micro- and small-sized entrepreneurial companies, should play external roles such as boundary spanning and entrepreneurial/championing and should build relationships with external institutions that provide technical and financial support to initiate innovations within organizations.Most literature on the relation between boundary spanners and innovation can be found in the business management and administration literature. Goodyear and Casey’s study (2015) is an exception, examining innovation in the field of pedagogy. They show that pedagogical innovation is made possible through the sustained support from a boundary spanner who facilitates teacher learning, encourages open dialogues between members of a department, students and colleagues within the school.
These three levels of social interaction encouraged teachers not only to develop new ideas in the field, but also to consolidate and upscale innovation, where the innovation was becoming a sustainable part of their ongoing and future practice. When boundary spanning and social interaction also involved members of the department the innovation was likely to become durable for the longer term. This indicates that balancing internal and external orientation in boundary work is important for the effectiveness of boundary spanners: on the one hand being in touch with stakeholders in the organizational environment (clients, students) and, on the other hand, with key persons in the internal organization (colleagues, top management). For innovation, walking this tightrope becomes important in developing and sustaining innovation within the organization (cf. Sleep et al.
, 2015). Comprehensive approach of organizational performance Some studies pay attention to different types of organizational performance at the same time and therefore have a more comprehensive approach to organizational performance. Arnett and Wittman (2014) discuss multiple subcategories of organizational performance. They speak of successful organizations that are able to adapt their marketing strategies to marketplace changes. In their study salespeople are defined as boundary spanner, as they are embedded in social networks inside and outside the organization and are therefore likely to play a key role in developing marketplace knowledge. This knowledge of salespeople have to be unlocked and connected before it can be used effectively to improve firm performance. This study investigates tacit knowledge exchange between sales and marketing and its ability to enhance marketing program innovativeness, relative efficiency, and relative effectiveness. Arnett and Wittman (2014) concluded that especially the tacit knowledge and the expression and diffusion of this knowledge is important to enable firms to apply important knowledge in reaching organizational performance.
Arnett and Wittman (2014) test and confirm theoretical claims that the exchange of tacit knowledge between sales and marketing work as a catalyst for marketing innovation. It contributes to creativity by bringing together actor perspectives and problem solving capacities (Levin & Cross, 2004). By expressing and sharing tacit knowledge, salespeople provide personnel in other functional areas a deeper understanding of the operating environment and the customers’ demands and needs (Andrews ; Smith, 1996). This knowledge facilitates an external and marketplace orientation, which encourages firm innovation (Han, Kim, ; Srivastava, 1998). Moreover, boundary spanners by sharing their knowledge improve the efficiency and effectiveness, as they enable organizations to occupy positions of competitive advantage (Hunt, 2000). They accommodate relative efficiency as they enable the firm’s ability to use resources better than competitors.
It also enhances relative effectiveness as the sharing of knowledge and information also increases the organization’s ability to deliver more value than its competitors.7.4 Relational qualityThe next category of boundary spanning impact is about relational quality. This is the largest category that came out the systematic review, and includes different subsets. More specifically these studies go into subjects as (1) trust, (2) collaboration and partnerships, (3) dialogue among members of different organizations, and (4) establishing (number of and high quality) relationships. Establishing relationshipsIn the first place boundary spanning agents help to develop relationships within and among organizations (Miller, 2008; Harvey et al, 2014). As elaborated in chapter 3 and 4, building and maintaining relationships is one of the core activities of a boundary spanner (especially elaborated in inter-organizational and governance studies).
Many studies devote attention to the ability of boundary spanners to connect people and organizations and to create new relationships among organizations that can evolve into collaborative engagements (Wilson ; Johnson, 2015; Smink et al, 2015; Steadman, 1992; Edelenbos and van Meerkerk, 2015; Luo, 2001). Lundberg (2013) stresses that new interfaces and inter-personal relations are created by boundary spanning actions. Boundary spanners have the ability to surpass structural holes and connecting people and organizations that were not related yet. Jain and Ramesh (2015) underline this impact of boundary spanners as they show that boundary spanners enhance the willingness of actors to engage in inter-organizational negotiations. Through their study of a post-merger common platform development initiative, Jain and Ramesh (2015) developed a framework that highlights how environmental and organizational contexts shape the process of common platform development. Their study provides an account of how the focal organization transitioned to a platform-based approach by achieving a balance between stable and flexible aspects of the common platform through negotiations among the divisions acquired through mergers and acquisitions. These negotiations were enabled through various boundary-spanning activities and the guided successive enrichment of boundary objects used in processes of common platform development. Also Smink et al (2015) show that boundary spanners are necessary in overcoming institutional logics (different perspectives, interests and rules between organizations) and forging productive working relationships and in this way open up the way to increase mutual understanding.
Whereas these studies focus on developing linkages, others studies focus on maintaining those relationships. Lian and Laing (2007) argue that boundary spanners also play an important role in, once a relation is created, cultivating and strengthening relations for the longer term. The relationships are made more sustainable by active communication lines between partners. Competent boundary spanners are important in developing satisfaction with the quality of relations, which make the relations more robust and lasting (Faems et al, 2015; Bullinger et al, 2010; Sharma et al, 1999). Also, Sharma et al (1999) showed in their research on relationships between suppliers and buyers that salespeople are crucial in affecting buyer-supplier relationships. Once these salespeople were engaged in specific customer oriented boundary spanning activities (see also chapter 4, section 2), these relationships were enhanced as customers had a positive attitude toward the salesperson and common goals were established.
Furthermore, Faems et al (2015) indicated by their research into setting R;D alliances that competent boundary spanners were crucial in developing solid relationships that can absorb some drawbacks. They found that boundary-spanners were only able to create a solid relational foundation with engineers from the other partner by applying high moral standards in using knowledge that was acquired from the other partner and by making suggestions and remarks in a very diplomatic and gradual manner.