Ambidexterity strategies in illegitimate institutional contexts: the role of informal institutions

Jacobo Ramirez, Claudia Vélez-Zapata, Sergio Madero

    Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

    2 Scopus citations


    Purpose: The purpose of this paper is to analyze firms and employees’ strategies in illegitimate institutional contexts in which non-governmental armed groups enforce illegitimate activities in firms and civil society. The aim is to recognize employees as key and effective players in implementing ambidextrous organizational and human resource management (HRM) strategies. We know little regarding employee norms and behaviors in complying with global market standards while surviving in environments characterized by high levels of civil violence and crime. Design/methodology/approach: This paper presents an explorative, qualitative study based on 65 semi-structured interviews and conversations with employees in Colombia and Mexico over four years. Findings: The findings of this paper indicate that the presence of non-governmental armed groups forces firms, HR departments and front-line managers to strategically exploit security measures inspired by employees’ informal institutions to protect firm assets while implementing innovative exploration strategies to improve employee work conditions, survive in unsafe environments and remain internationally competitive. Originality/value: The findings suggest that organization, HRM and employee ambidexterity are organizational advantages in illegitimate institutional contexts. This study contributes to the literature linking ambidexterity and institutional theory by emphasizing informal institutions when examining employment relationships in unsafe environments.

    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)197-218
    Number of pages22
    JournalManagement Research
    Issue number2
    StatePublished - 30 Oct 2018

    Bibliographical note

    Funding Information:
    © Jacobo Ramirez, Claudia Vélez-Zapata and Sergio Madero. Published by Emerald Publishing Limited. This article is published under the Creative Commons Attribution (CC BY 4.0) licence. Anyone may reproduce, distribute, translate and create derivative works of this article (for both commercial and non-commercial purposes), subject to full attribution to the original publication and authors. The full terms of this licence may be seen at legalcode This paper was the winner of the best paper award in the recent Iberoamerican Academy of Management conference (Management Research Editor’s Best Paper Award in the Xth International Conference of the Iberoamerican Academy of Management, held in New Orleans in December, 2017) This research was supported by a grant from MSC HoDD.

    Publisher Copyright:
    © 2018, Jacobo Ramirez, Claudia Vélez-Zapata and Sergio Madero.


    • Ambidexterity
    • Colombia
    • Illegitimate institutions
    • Informal institutions
    • Mexico
    • Non-governmental armed groups


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