Crisis Response via Dynamic Capabilities: A Necessity in NPOs’ Capability Building
Crisis Response via Dynamic Capabilities: A Necessity in NPOs' Capability Building
Insights from a Study in the European Refugee Aid 0 1 2 3
Katharina Kaltenbrunner 0 1 2 3
. Astrid Reichel 0 1 2 3
0 Strategic Management and Organization, Paris Lodron University of Salzburg , Salzburg , Austria
1 Astrid Reichel
2 & Katharina Kaltenbrunner
3 Human Resource Management Group, Paris Lodron University of Salzburg , Salzburg , Austria
Dynamic capability research increasingly seeks to identify mechanisms founding dynamic capabilities because this microfoundation provides options for influencing the application of dynamic capabilities. Dynamic capabilities in turn support organizations to achieve continuous organizational change. We pursue deeper insight into the microfounding mechanisms of dynamic capabilities with regard to management-related variables. Survey data from hot spots of refugee crisis 2016 all across Austria allow us to examine how managerial mechanisms on microlevel and dynamic capabilities on macro-level are linked and particularly how managers can influence the application of dynamic capabilities. Data evaluation is based on mediation analysis. Study reveals that participative leadership fosters dynamic capabilities of NPOs active in refugee aid. Further, we provide evidence that the manager´s perception, how self-determined he/she is and how impactful his/her actions are, enhances the application of dynamic capabilities.
Times of crisis and political upheavals reinforce NPOs’
roles as advocates, service providers as well as place for
social engagement and thus highlights NPOs’ position as
central hub between government, affected individuals and
other civil society actors
(Simsa and Zimmer 2014; Meyer
et al. 2010; Anheier 2005)
. The significance of NPOs’ as
civil society actor became especially evident in the
‘refugee crisis’ of 2015/16. Due to Austria´s geographic
position and particularly its closeness to the ‘welcome-nation’
Germany, the country with a population of 8.7 million was
confronted with more than one million refugees from Syria,
Iraq and Afghanistan mostly transiting, but with over
100.000 also seeking asylum in Austria.1 This huge amount
of refugees by far exceeded Austria’s governmental
structures and its capacity in crisis and emergency
(Roth 2017, 6; Maduz and Roth 2017; 2
ff.; Gratz 2016, 167 ff.)
. Particularly, Austria lacked an
appropriate national CEM strategy, which regulates CEM
across federal states. Hence, coordination of refugee aid
across federal states was mainly informal
(Gratz 2016, 91;
Roth 2017, 7)
1 There were about 900.000 arrivals of refugees
(Roth 2017, 6)
about 88.000 applications for asylum in 2015 (BMI Austria 2017a)
and 135.000 arrivals of refugees during the first half of 2016 (Die
Presse 2016) and 42.073 applications for asylum in 2016 (BMI
2 This may be rooted in the nature of the Austrian CEM, which is
very military. It is based on centralized decision-making processes,
strict command and control structures including clearly defined
processes and standards. It is definitely not characterized by
decentralized decisions and flexible and open
governance/coordination structures allowing improvisation
(Gratz, 2016, 92 c.f. Dynes,
, which would have been necessary, though, to handle the
complexity and dynamics of the refugee crisis (Gratz, 2016, 92).
NPOs, particularly established rescue and aid
organizations, strived to close this gap together with other civil
society actors, such as grass-roots initiatives,
(Simsa 2017, 79)
organizations, mainly infrastructure organizations and security
(Gratz 2016, 142 ff.)
. In this context, NPOs were
active in strategic political as well as in operative CEM.
They substituted governmental deficiencies concerning
strategic leadership and coordination of refugee aid as well
as operative CEM issues, such as public security at national
boarders (registration, transport, etc.) and primary care for
refugees and asylum seekers (food supply, medication,
etc.). NPOs also compensated privatized public duties,
such as providing accommodation for asylum seekers
(Maduz and Roth 2017; Fru¨hwirth and Lachmayer 2015)
In sum, the ‘Austrian refugee crisis’ centered on coping
with transit refugees and it was handled by a multiplicity of
(Simsa 2017; Roth 2017; Maier and Ortner 2017)
NPOs and other civil society actors predominantly fulfilled
tasks, which exceeded governmental capacity in CEM or
tasks, which have not been legally determined and
were left to informality
(Roth 2017, 7; Gratz 2016, 91)
NPOs success in coping with the refugee crisis,
particularly its capacity to handle the dynamics during these
times, was substantially based on their experiences in
international disaster relief and on their huge pool of
human resources, especially volunteers
(Simsa 2017; Gratz
. In addition to resources, NPOs displayed
organizational capabilities, which were substantial to handle
refuge crisis. NPOs were able to provide time-critical status
reports including the identification of opportunities and
threats, even though there was a lack of official
communication structures. They managed to set up coordination
and cooperation structures between diverse actors, and they
were able to combine different logics such as spontaneous
activism of volunteers and planning approach of rescue
units in decision-making processes
(Gratz 2016, 29 u. 63
. NPOs also succeeded in (re-)combining resource pools
innovatively to set up critical infrastructure
Being able to cope successfully with the situation
described strongly suggests the presence of specific
organizational capabilities—dynamic capabilities (DCs). This
is because DCs are, firstly, capabilities which enable an
organization to sense changes—opportunities and threats—
and define possible resource actions
(Teece 2007, 2014)
Secondly, DCs help an organization seizing opportunities
by selecting the appropriate resource actions and then
implementing these decisions. Thirdly, DCs transform or
rather align resources to the environmental dynamics (e.g.,
clients’, government’s, other partners’ needs)
Jantunen et al. 2012)
. In short, DCs support organizations
to adapt to changing conditions by contributing to an
environment-organization fit and hence support
organizations to compete in dynamic environments
et al. 2014, 315)
. Correspondingly, DCs are prevalently
related to positive performance effects
(Teece et al. 1997,
Teece 2007; Wang and Ahmed 2007)
While there is (some) research regarding performance
effects of DCs in NPOs
(Piening 2013; Kaltenbrunner
, it remains largely unclear, which
intra-organizational mechanisms foster the application of DCs
and El Sawy 2011; Sprafke et al. 2013)
. Particularly, the
link between organizations as agents on a macro-level and
managers as agents on a microlevel needs to be explored in
(Di Stefano et al. 2014)
. Gaining insights into
this link—the microfoundation of DCs—is crucial because
it provides options for influencing the application of
(Felin et al. 2015)
Hence, we aim to explore the link between mechanisms
on microlevel and DCs by answering the research question
of how management affects the application of dynamic
capabilities in NPOs active in refugee aid. A quantitative
study among managers deployed in refugee camps all over
Austria was conducted to answer this question. Based on
the dynamic capability approach, we expect that NPOs
coping successfully with the dynamics of refugee crisis
applied dynamic capabilities and that managers’ behavior
affected their application.
Our paper makes the following contributions: Firstly, it
provides evidence on how management and dynamic
capabilities are linked, and thus adds to the highly claimed
microfoundation of DCs in general
(Sprafke et al. 2013;
Teece 2007, 2014)
and in the context of NPOs in particular.
We examine the microfoundation of DCs in NPOs, where
research regarding the microfoundation of DCs is even
scarcer. Secondly, we provide an integrative illustration of
management-related microfounding mechanisms and
introduce participative leadership as a hardly researched
leadership style potentially enhancing DCs. Thirdly, the
illustration of microfounding managerial mechanisms
provides opportunities for influencing or rather managing
the application of DCs. This is particularly important
because DCs enable continuous organizational change,
which in turn supports NPOs to meet civil society´s
changing needs. Fourthly, referring to NPO practice, we
point out how managers can govern DCs.
The remainder of this paper is structured as follows; we
first discuss the nature of dynamic capabilities and
elaborate what these DCs could look like in refugee aid. We then
illustrate the microfoundation of DCs as our theoretical
background and explain how management can orchestrate
the application of DCs in refugee aid. In the third section,
we present the empirical results of our survey using a
mediation analysis. The final section contains a brief
Framing Dynamic Capabilities in Theory and Practice
Nature and Relevance of Dynamic Capabilities
Despite difference in understandings of dynamic
(Hsu and Wang 2010; Wang et al. 2015)
, there is
consensus in the literature that the purpose of DCs is
balancing the organization’s, the employees’ and the
customers’ needs as well as other ‘business opportunities’
(Baretto 2010; Eisenhardt and Martin 2000) in order to
‘maintain leadership in continually shifting business
(Teece 2014, 329 f.)
. Scholars also agree that
dynamic capabilities represent ‘higher-level activities’
Teece 2014; Gu¨ttel and Konlechner 2009)
(Baretto 2010; Eisenhardt and Martin 2000)
because they can govern other capabilities. DCs ‘enable the
firm to integrate, build, and reconfigure internal and
(Teece 2014, 335)
activities’ or ‘meta-capabilities’ also refer to the fact that
DCs are not directly observable or visible. DCs become
visible as soon as ‘ordinary’ capabilities3 and activities,
such as knowledge or information processing, learning,
coordination and reconfiguring activities ‘operationalize’
them. ‘Dynamic’ refers to how the resource base is changed
(Ambrosini and Bowman 2009)
. A capability is dynamic,
provided the velocity of capability (re-)configuration
corresponds to the velocity of environmental dynamics
2007; Eisenhardt and Martin 2000)
DCs are relevant because they provide two ‘added
values’ in relation to ordinary capabilities
. The first ‘value added’ of DCs is that DCs facilitate
organizations’ adaptation to changing environmental
(Teece 2007, 2014)
and over time (Hsu & Wang 2010). This is what
defines as ‘dynamic fit.’ In the case of NPOs active
during the refugee crisis, this fit consisted in ‘translating’
the needs of refugees into services such as providing food,
setting up camps or lobbying as fast as needs were
changing. The second ‘added value’ of DCs emanates from
their potential to generate a ‘multi-perspective fit’, not only
a ‘strategic fit’ in terms of
. This implies
that DCs can cope with dilemmas4 in terms of
multi-dimensional, partly conflicting interests, such as discrepant
dominant logics of diverse internal and external
stakeholders. During the refuge crisis, NPOs were, e.g.,
challenged to combine standard procedures of CEM disaster
3 Ordinary capabilities involve the performance of administrative,
operational, and governance-related functions that are (technically)
necessary to accomplish tasks
(Teece 2014, 328)
4 Such dilemmas are particularly characteristic for NPOs, due to its
(Lichtsteiner et al. 2015; Meyer and Simsa 2013)
management (logic one) and activism, experimental search
logics, such as intuition (logic two). By enhancing dynamic
as well as multi-perspective fit, DCs support the
organizational capacity to adapt and hence to compete in dynamic
environments over time (Di Stefano et al. 2014, 315) and is
reflected in strong evidence for a DC performance link
(Teece et al. 1997, Teece 2007; Wang and Ahmed 2007)
Conceptualization of Dynamic Capabilities and Refugee Aid
Following Teece’s et al. (1997, 2007, 2014) understanding,
DCs consist of three clusters of higher-level activities.
These are sensing, seizing and transforming activities. As
previously mentioned, sensing refers to identifying,
scanning and monitoring environmental
changes—opportunities and threats—and defining possible resource actions.
This includes, e.g., having a good observation and
judgment ability, a profound understanding of the impact of
internal and external environments, a sense for major
opportunities and threats and a sound information
(Li and Liu 2014)
. Transferred to refugee crisis,
sensing could manifest in the ability to estimate the
direction and quantity of arriving refugees and to provide
status reports, to detect the refugees’ needs and to
anticipate their impact on infrastructure and resources. Seizing
opportunities as the second cluster of activities mean
choosing among possible resource actions and
implementing the selected decision(s). Thus, seizing refers to the
ability of absorbing and assimilating information in order
to make (timely) client-oriented decisions, to design
systems and structures and to mobilize the necessary resources
for addressing the needs and opportunities for
(Teece 2014; Li and Liu 2014; Jantunen et al.
. Seizing in the crisis situation could be found in
defining appropriate decision-making and coordination
structures; in activating and mobilizing (existent) (slack)
resources, particularly volunteers and partners on a local
level; and in delineating a kind of ‘business model’ in order
to guarantee food supply and medical care. Thirdly, the
transforming cluster encompasses the ability of aligning
tangible and intangible resources to the environmental
dynamics. This is mainly done by reconfiguring or
recombining different resources
(Teece 2014; Jantunen
et al. 2012)
. There are various forms of reconfiguration, i.
e., bundling existent resources and capabilities in new ways
(Den Hertog et al. 2010). Resource bundling could become
evident in the NPOs’ ability to bundle their capabilities for
setting up camps in a new way in order to build temporary
homes. Reconfiguring also includes enriching existing
resources and capabilities with new resources and
capabilities. Transferred to the refugee crisis, this would be the
NPOs’ ability to enrich emergency supply of clients with
new resources and capabilities for providing continuous
care. Furthermore, it refers to replication of resources and
capabilities in new organizational and market domains, e.
g., NPOs active in (international) tracing services could
stretch these capabilities in order to provide migration
Theoretical Framework of Dynamic Capabilities
As illustrated above, DCs—particularly in the notion of
Teece (2007, 2014)—are based on resources or bundles of
resources. These bundles of resources determine
essentially, if an organization can compete over time or not. This
view goes in line with the resource-based approach of
, which correspondingly represents one
dominant theoretical foundation of the dynamic capability
(Di Stefano et al. 2014)
. Complementarily a
‘dynamic dimension’ is added to enrich the dynamic
capabilities approach because scholars regard bundles of
resources as important, but not sufficient for gaining
competitive advantage in dynamic environments. The
‘dynamic dimension’ refers to the organization’s capability
to adapt to environmental changes
(Teece et al. 1997)
perspective roots in evolutionary economics
. Evolutionary economics becomes
particularly apparent in the dynamic capabilities approach via
routines as fundament or building blocks of DCs. Thus,
regards the dynamic capabilities approach as
‘capabilities enriched economic theory.’
While the understanding of routines and capabilities is
relatively elaborated, there is a lack of research regarding
the microfoundation, the microlevel origins of routines and
(Felin et al. 2012, p. 1351)
movement in the field of strategy and organization theory
deals with the definition of underlying elements and
mechanisms, which shape dynamic capabilities
encompassing processes, activities, structures, rules as well as
conditions of individual behavior, such as cognitions and
affects and individual-level or group-level actions
Teece 2007; Eisenhardt et al. 2010)
. Felin et al. (2012)
cluster microfoundation of routines and capabilities into
three categories, which are individuals, processes/
5 Based on bibliometric methods, Di Stefano et al. (2014) identified
seven theoretical foundations of dynamic capabilities approach. These
are the resource-based view
, the knowledge-based
(Kogut and Zander 1992)
, behavioral theory
(Cyert and March
, evolutionary economics
(Nelson and Winter 1982)
, transaction cost economics
and the positioning view
. In line with the two
seminal dynamic capabilities, conceptualizations of
Teece et al. (1997)
two perspectives dominate.
These are behavioral theory promoted by
Eisenhardt and Martin
and resourced-based view in combination with evolutionary
economics endorsed by Teece and colleagues.
interactions and structure. The first category individuals as
micromechanisms can be deconstructed in a cognitive and
(Nelson and Winter 1982; Becker
et al. 2005; Ma¨kela¨ et al. 2012)
Eisenhardt et al. (2010)
highlight the significance of managers, particularly their
cognitions, for balancing efficiency and flexibility.
Zahra et al. (2006
, p. 9) stress the key role of
managers as decision-makers in applying dynamic capabilities.
The second category, interactions and processes, relates to
formal (e.g., procedures, rules) and informal forms of
coordination (e.g., norms, experience) and illustrates how
they shape routines and capabilities
(Felin et al. 2012)
Organizational routines as building blocks of capabilities
are established with an increased level of interactions
(Nelson and Winter 1982)
micromechanisms serve two different roles. Firstly, they
can illustrate how DCs are applied (‘operationalized’), e.g.,
knowledge and information processes constituting
sensing.6 Secondly, processes as micromechanisms can
describe how to govern or orchestrate DCs
. In contrast to his earlier work, also
attributes managers an important role as micro-origin of
dynamic capabilities. He emphasizes the role of managers
in asset orchestration and leadership.
Microfoundation of Dynamic Capabilities in NPOs:
Research Model and Hypotheses
Even if DCs are scarcely discussed in nonprofit research,
scholars provide evidence that DCs are appropriate for
Pablo et al. (2007
, 691) state that DCs are
‘providing synergistic benefits through internal processes
irrespective of market structures, a condition that could
apply to either private or public organizations’.
et al. (2007)
note that DCs particularly enable NPOs to
meet their stakeholders’ needs.
Garrido and Camarero
claim that NPOs’ organizational existence—similar
to FPO—depends on sustainable competitive advantages,
which in turn are influenced by DCs.
However, there is hardly research, which provides
evidence regarding the microfoundation of DCs in NPOs
(Piening 2013; Kaltenbrunner 2018)
. As previously
mentioned, micromechanisms can refer to individuals, processes
and interactions as well as structures (Felin et al. 2012).
Process-related micromechanisms can either illustrate how
DCs are applied (‘operationalized’), e.g., knowledge and
information processes constituting sensing,7 or they
6 See illustration of DCs constituting processes and activities in
7 Compare for the illustration of DCs constituting processes,
activities in chapter 2.
describe how they orchestrate or govern DCs
. In this context,
states that especially
‘the role of individual action by […] managers, the role of
resources, strategy, and […] have been omitted or poorly
integrated into the dynamic capabilities literature (p. 328)’.
Similarly, Di Stefano et al. (2014) mention that research still
lacks empirical evidence regarding the linkage between
leadership as microlevel phenomenon and dynamic
capabilities as macro-level phenomena; the scholars recommend
focusing on managerial cognitions.
In light of these observations, this paper seeks to explore
how management affects the application of dynamic
capabilities in NPOs active in refugee aid. As illustrated in
Fig. 1, we assume that managerial behavior (participative
leadership) and managerial characteristics (psychological
empowerment) affect DCs. The illustration of
microfounding managerial mechanisms is highly relevant
because it provides opportunities for influencing and
managing the application of DCs
Participative Leadership and Dynamic Capabilities
We consider participative leadership as joint
decisionmaking process, or at a minimum as shared influence of a
manager and his or her employees in decision-making
(Somech 2006; Koopman and Wierdsma 1998)
Participative leadership describes managerial behaviors that ‘use
attentive listening and careful observation of nonverbal
cues of member needs, feelings, etc.; serve as a consultant,
advisor, teacher, and facilitator, model, and encourage
appropriate leader behaviors; establish a climate that is
conducive to expression of both feelings and ideas;
encourage the group to address its maintenance needs and
process problems in its regular group meetings; and
relinquish control, allowing the group to make final decisions
on appropriate issues’ (Yukl 1981, 246 f.).
We regard participative leadership as a pivotal informal
coordination mechanism between the manager and his/her
team substituting missing formal structures and
coordination mechanisms in the context of refugee crisis.
In contrast to transactional and transformational
leadership, there is hardly research dealing with the effects of
participative leadership on dynamic capabilities;
exceptions are i.a. Fillipini et al. (2012) or
Saunila et al. (2014)
Fillipini et al. (2012) provide evidence that i.a participative
leadership promotes ambidextrous initiatives.
Saunila et al.
found that participative leadership, especially in
small enterprises, has positive effects on dynamic
capabilities in terms of innovation capability. Similarly,
Leskovar-Spacapan and Bastic (2007)
participative leadership promotes creativity, which in turn
Scholars state that participative leadership opens
communication channels, enhances interactions and thus
increases the flow and use of information and knowledge
(Schreiber and Carley 2006, 69)
. Individuals can gather
information relevant for fulfilling their tasks and turn their
ideas and individual knowledge into innovative services,
products or procedures
(Somech 2006, 152)
. In other terms,
participative leadership provides conditions like enhanced
interactions, which can facilitate the evolvement of human
capital, such as cognitions (e.g., expertise) as well as the
evolvement of social capital
(Schreiber and Carley 2006,
. The enhanced human (and social) capital in turn can
result in enhanced learning and adaptive outcomes
(Schreiber and Carley 2006, 69, 72)
, which are strongly
related to DCs. Increased levels of interactions enhance
organizational routines which are essential building blocks
of (dynamic) capabilities
(Nelson and Winter 1982)
propose that participative leadership affects DCs via
enhanced outcomes and increased levels.
H1(+) Participative leadership relates positively to
Psychological Empowerment and Dynamic
It is well established that individual cognitions affect the
application of dynamic capabilities
(Helfat and Peteraf
2015; Adner and Helfat 2003)
empowerment represents a set of cognitions. Following Thomas and
Velthouse (1990), Spreitzer (1995, 1443) defines
psychological empowerment as ‘intrinsic task motivation
manifested in a set of four cognitions reflecting an
individual to his or her work role’. Empowerment fosters
individuals to launch initiatives and to handle uncertainty
. These effects are fundamental
for coping with dynamic environments. Moreover,
psychological empowerment relates positively to learning and
(Sears and Baba 2011)
as well as to creativity
(Deci et al. 1989)
. Learning, innovation and creativity are
capabilities, which in turn are positively associated with
dynamic capabilities. With regard to dynamic capabilities,
Sprafke et al. (2013)
provide evidence that psychological
empowerment positively affects dynamic capabilities. This
is due to the fact that psychological empowerment
improves individual-level competences and perceived
empowering working conditions enhance organizational
capabilities. Psychological empowerment also increases
self-efficacy of individual actors because highly competent
individuals enjoy increased autonomy and
self-determination and less competent individuals are provided with
confidence in acting
provides evidence that psychological empowerment
enhances the relationship between team learning behavior
and the dynamic capability ‘absorptive capacity’. Further,
Hopkins et al. (2013)
discuss the relationship between
psychological empowerment, commitment and strategic
renewal and prove that empowerment positively effects
strategic renewal. Hence, we propose that managers active
in refugee aid, who feel self-empowered foster the
application of dynamic capabilities because they feel more
competent to handle risks and uncertainties in refugee aid
and they perceive the working conditions as appropriate to
do their jobs. We therefore hypothesize that
H2(+) The manager’s psychological empowerment is
linked positively to dynamic capabilities.
Participative Leadership, Psychological
Empowerment and Dynamic Capabilities
Following the discussion above, we propose that the direct
relationship between participative leadership and dynamic
capabilities is mediated by psychological empowerment,
which is illustrated by the manager´s perception of his
competence, impact and self-determination. We assume
that the participation and integration of team members in
decision-making processes allow the manager to benefit
from the team´s knowledge, creativity, ideas in terms of
expanding knowledge and acquiring new skills
et al. 2006)
. This in turn enhances the manager´s perceived
empowerment, especially his/her self-efficacy and impact
of his/her actions.
Thus, we assume a positive relationship between
participative leadership, psychological empowerment and
dynamic capabilities which results in the following
H3a(+) The positive effect of participative leadership on
DC is mediated by self-determination.
H3b(+) The positive effect of participative leadership on
DC is mediated by the leader’s self-perception of his/her
H3c(+) The positive effect of participative leadership on
DC is mediated by the leader’s self-perception of his/her
For gathering information on participative leadership,
empowerment and dynamic capabilities during the refugee
crisis in 2016 we used a survey instrument developed in
close cooperation with a variety of experts. In a first step,
interviews of two NPO managers plus two scientists in the
fields of strategic management and human resource
management, respectively, were conducted about the
instrument itself and the most appropriate group of respondents
for the information needed. In a second step, four NPO
practitioners pretested the instrument resulting in small
adaptions of the questionnaire. The experts consulted
shared a strong opinion on people holding management
functions as the only eligible respondents being able to
assess dynamic capabilities. Also, this very dynamic
situation differed significantly from a standard way of
organizing that would allow for a clear and stable allocation of
employees to managers. Instead, during the peak of the
refugee crises the majority of people not holding
management positions were volunteers with partly very short
lived commitment leading to enormous turnover rates that
made the subordinate level very hard to grasp. We thus
approached people holding management positions via an
online platform connecting NPOs active in refugee aid.
In total, 340 respondents started the survey of which 90
held management functions and could thus continue with
the survey. Out of these 90, 16 showed more than 30%
(cf. Cohen et al. 2003)
and were thus
excluded. Our final sample consists of 74 managers active
in refugee aid.
Table 1 describes the sample. In general, managers
active in refugee aid were mostly male (79%). On average,
the managers were about 40 years old and more than
twothird were married or live in a relationship. 45% of the
managers had a university degree. On average they spent
39 h per month in refugee aid. A little more than half of the
respondents were paid staff (55%). The managers were
working or volunteering for two well-established Austrian
NPOs active in civil aid and rescue services. Organization
A was founded in 1880 and currently has about 8.200 paid
employees plus 73.000 volunteers and 4.300 civil servants.
Organization B was founded in 1938 and has 14.000 paid
and 40.000 voluntary employees.
For measuring dynamic capabilities as dependent variable,
we draw on the scale of
Li and Liu (2014)
. We use this DC
scale because in contrast to most other DC scales, it has
already been used in a setting other than competitive
market structures (e.g., no complete market conditions and
much political influence) which best approximate the
conditions of refugee crisis.
Li and Liu (2014)
as constructs of three dimensions. These are ‘sense-making
capacity’ (six items, e.g., ‘we can fully understand the
impact of internal and external environments’; ‘we have
good observation and judgment abilities’), ‘timely
decision-making capacity’ (four items, e.g., ‘under many
circumstances we can make timely decisions to deal with
strategic problems’; ‘we can quickly deal with conflicts in
the strategic decision-making process’) and ‘change
implementation capacity’ (five items, e.g., ‘our strategic
changes can be carried out efficiently’; ‘we help each other
in strategic change implementation’).
For capturing the predictor variable participative
leadership, we draw on the scale from
Hoch et al. (2013)
scholars applied the scale in an innovation context, which
is similar to a DC context. This scale encompasses four
items (e.g., ‘I decide, together with my team, which tasks
have to be done’; ‘my team and I sit down together and
reach agreements on the tasks to do’) measuring
participative goal setting leadership.
Following previous DC research
(cf. Sprafke et al.,
, we chose psychological empowerment according to
as mediator variable. This scale measures
empowerment by drawing on four dimensions with three
items each. These are ‘competence’ (e.g., ‘I am confident
about my ability to do my job’), ‘self-determination’ (e.g.,
‘I can decide on my own how to go about doing my job’),
‘impact’ (e.g., ‘I have significant influence over what
happens in my department’) and ‘meaning’ (e.g., ‘The
work I do is meaningful’). Due to the fact that refugee
crisis represents an emergency situation, where reflections
about the meaning in terms of the ‘fit between the needs of
one´s work role and one´s beliefs, values and behavior’
(Spreitzer 1995, 603)
are hardly possible, we decided to
exclude ‘meaning’ as empowerment dimension. The study
includes ‘environmental dynamics’ and ‘task complexity’
as control variables, which might affect the relation
between participative leadership and DCs, particularly
because these variables are context dependent. We
measured ‘environmental dynamics’ using the item ‘our clients
regularly ask for new products and services’ suggested by
Jansen et al. (2006)
Gaitanides and Stock
, ‘task complexity’ was assessed through the item
‘the tasks of our team mainly involve solving complex
Factor Analysis, Reliability and Validity
Due to the explorative character of DCs, we did a factor
analysis of the DC scale as well as on empowerment. For
DCs, the three factor structure proposed by
Li and Liu
could not be confirmed. The ‘capacity for timely
decision-making’ did not show. Two of the items neither
showed high enough loadings on the two factors identified
nor formed their own factor. The remaining two items
‘under many circumstances we can make timely decisions
to deal with strategic problems’ and ‘We can remedy
quickly to unsatisfactory customers’ had high factor
loadings on the other two dimensions. The factor ‘change
implementation’ could be reproduced. KMO values for
these two dimensions exceed the recommended value of
(Weiber and Mu¨hlhaus 2014, 133; Backhaus et al.
2016, 398 f.)
. Reliability analysis produced Cronbach’s α
values ranging from .659 to .808. Thus, scales are above
the minimum level of 0.6 (Bagozzi and Yi 1988), which
indicates internal consistency. The factor analysis of the
items used for psychological empowerment neither showed
the suggested three factor structure
While the dimension ‘competence’ could be replicated
‘impact’ and ‘self-determination’ merged into one factor
that we name ‘impact_self-determination.’ Again, KMO
values of the scales exceed the recommended value of 0.6.
Reliability analysis produced Cronbach’s α values ranging
from .838 to .877. Finally, reliability analysis of the
fouritem participative leadership scale confirms one factor with
Cronbach’s α = .829. Also, AVE, examining validity,
exceeds the cutoff value of 0.5
(Weiber and Mu¨hlhaus
In order to test for linear direct and mediated effects, we
employed ordinary least square regression combined with
bootstrapping. We tested for model assumptions using
scatterplots, VIF and a Kolmogorov–Smirnov test for
normal distribution and did not find hints pointing to
multicollinearity, heteroscedasticity or nonnormal
Table 2 contains means, standard deviations and
correlations between the variables used. DCs significantly
correlate with participative leadership and with one dimension
Descriptive statistics and correlations
(1) Environmental dynamics
(2) Task complexity
(5) Participative leadership
(6) Dynamic capabilities
N = 74
* p \ .05; **p \ .01; p*** \ .001
of psychological empowerment, i.e., ‘impact_autonomy’.
The relationship with the competence dimension is strong,
but not significant (p = .06). The control variable
environmental dynamics are significantly associated with DCs,
while task complexity does not show any effect.
Participative leadership is significantly correlated with
‘impact_autonomy’, but not with ‘competence’ dimension of
empowerment. Table 3 shows the results of the ordinary
least square regression for the hypothesized direct effects.
This includes the effects of participative leadership and
psychological empowerment on dynamic capabilities
(model 3) as well as their effects on the specific DC
‘sensemaking’ (model 1) and the DC ‘change implementation
capacity’ (model 2). The illustration of these effects
corresponds to H1 and H2.
The results in model 3 indicate that participative
leadership has a significantly positive effect (ß = .355*;
SE = .137; p ≤ .05) on dynamic capabilities, thus
supporting H1. Differentiating between the two dimensions of
empowerment identified in the factor analysis shows that
‘impact_autonomy’ is significant (ß = .211*; SE = .098;
p ≤ .05), whereas the effect of the empowerment dimension
‘competence’ is nonsignificant (ß = .103*; SE = .125;
p = n.s.), thus finding only partial support for H2.
In order to substantiate the effects of participative
leadership on dynamic capabilities, we added an analysis of
the direct effects separating DCs into the two dimensions
‘change implementation capacity’ and ‘sense-making
capacity’ identified in the factor analysis.
Model 2 illustrates the effects on the DC ‘change
implementation capacity’. The effect of participative
leadership on this DC is positive and significant
(ß = .369*; SE = .161; p ≤ .05), thus supporting H1.
Further, the direct effect of the empowerment dimension
‘impact_autonomy’ on this DC is significant (ß = .268*;
SE = .115; p ≤ .05), whereas the direct effect of the
empowerment dimension ‘competence’ is nonsignificant
OLS with robust standard errors; unstandardized coefficients and standard errors (in parentheses), *p \ .05; **p \ .01; ***p \ .001
Model 2 implementation
Model 3 DCs (combined)
(ß = .112; SE = .148; p = n.s.), again finding only
partial support for H2.
Model 1 shows the effects on the DC ‘sense-making
capacity’. Again, participative leadership affects this DC
positively and significantly (ß = .345*; SE = .143;
p ≤ .05), thus supporting H1. The effects of both
empowerment dimensions on this DC, though, are
nonsignificant; ‘impact_autonomy’ shows ß = .190;
SE = .102; p = n.s and ‘competence’ shows ß = .098;
SE = .132; p = n.s. With regard to the DC
‘sensemaking capacity’, we have to reject H2.
In sum, models 1–3 consistently support H1. Concerning
the effects of psychological empowerment, the findings
vary depending on which dimension of psychological
empowerment and which DC is analyzed. Thus, the
reported direct effects of empowerment are less appropriate
In order to test mediated effects as proposed by H3, we
started with the procedure described by
Baron and Kenny
. This stepwise path procedure starts with a
regression of the dependent variable (Y), dynamic capabilities,
on the independent variable (X), participative leadership
[c-path]. To continue mediation, the independent variable
has to affect the dependent variable significantly. In a next
step, the mediators (M), dimensions of psychological
empowerment, are regressed on the independent variable,
participative leadership [a-path]. Again, the relationships
should be significant. Third, we deployed a regression of
the dependent variable, DCs, on both: on participative
leadership as independent variable [c-path] and on the
dimensions of psychological empowerment as mediators
[b-bath]. Here the mediators’ effects on the dependent
variable should be significant, while the independent
variable should not be affected (nonsignificance for full
mediation, less significance than in c-path for partial
Table 4 shows the mediated effects of the independent
variable participative leadership via the proposed
mediators ‘impact_autonomy’ (H3ab)8 and ‘competence’ (H3c) on
dynamic capabilities as dependent variable.
In the a-path, participative leadership influences
‘impact_autonomy’ significantly (ß = .517**; SE = .161;
p ≤ .01), but doesn’t influence ‘competence’ (ß = .138;
SE = .132; p = n.s.). Hence, the empowerment
dimension ‘competence’ does not meet the
requirements for continuing mediation analysis.
The b-path for ‘impact_autonomy’ on DCs is also
significant (ß = .211*; SE = .098; p ≤ .05), but again
not for ‘competence’ (ß = .103; SE = .125; p = n.s.).
The total effect of participative leadership (c-path) is
significant (ß = .489**; SE = .131; p ≤ .01) and so is
the c-path (ß = .355*; SE = .137; p ≤ .05).
Accordingly, based on a positive and significant a-path
and b-path, findings imply partial mediation for
participative leadership through ‘impact_autonomy’; this supports
H3ab. Due to the lack of significance in a-path and b-path,
H3c is rejected.
As Table 5 shows, the bootstrapped results support these
findings because the confidence intervals for
‘impact_autonomy’ is above zero (.0170 to .2746), whereas the
8 As mentioned in chapter 4.2 due to results of factor analysis
composition of scales changed. This in turn modified the design of
proposed hypotheses. Due to the fact that ‘impact’ and
‘selfdetermination’ do not represent separate scales, but one, hypotheses
H3a und H3b are merged into H3ab.
OLS with robust standard errors; unstandardized coefficients and standard errors (in parentheses), * p \ .05; **p \ .01; ***p \ .001
intervals for ‘competence’ include zero (− .0158 to .1799);
similarly, the simultaneous mediation of both
psychological empowerment dimensions also includes zero (− .0059
Discussion and Conclusions
The Refugee crisis of 2016 with its ambiguous,
multi-dimensional and dynamically changing environmental
conditions made evident that dynamic capabilities represent a
crucial asset for NPOs because they facilitated NPOs to
achieve the required continuous organization-environment
fit. In other terms, DCs enabled NPOs to meet continuously
changing civil society´s needs. In the case of NPOs active
in refugee aid, this fit consisted in translating the needs of
refugees into services, such as providing food, setting up
camps or lobbying as fast as needs were changing.
Dynamic capabilities are said to accomplish such a fit due
to their property as meta-capabilities and thus governing
other capabilities systematically and over time
Wang 2010; Teece 2014)
In order to better understand the nature of DCs and
particularly to provide options for influencing the
application of dynamic capabilities in refugee aid, we aim to
explore mechanisms on microlevel, which found DCs. This
is what research defines as microfoundation of DCs
2007; Felin et al. 2015)
. Following Di Stefano et al. (2014)
and Teece (2014), research particularly lacks of an
integrated consideration of management-related aspects, e.g.,
managerial behavior and cognitions. Hence, we analyzed
the link between micromechanisms and DCs on
macrolevel by examining how management affects the
application of dynamic capabilities in NPOs. In this context, we
include managerial behavior—by drawing on participative
leadership–as well as managerial characteristics–by
integrating psychological empowerment–into our research
Concerning the relationship between participative
leadership and dynamic capabilities, we assume that
participative leadership positively influences managers’
application of dynamic capabilities. This is because team
members’ knowledge, ideas, and creativity–gained through
participative leadership–are enablers for DCs. We provide
evidence for direct effects between participative leadership
and dynamic capabilities, illustrated via H1. This is in line
with previous research in the field of dynamic capabilities
(cf. Saunila et al. 2014; Filippini et al. 2012)
as well as with
strategic management research in general
LeskovarSpacapan and Bastic 2007; Gottschalg and Zollo 2007;
Lindenberg and Foss 2011)
We suppose that NPOs active in refugee aid (or under
comparable ambiguous, dynamically changing and
multidimensional emergency situations) use participative
leadership in terms of interactive decision patterns as substitute
for nonexisting organizational structures, respectively,
The positive effect of participative leadership on DCs is mediated by the manager’s self-perception of his/her
The positive effect of participative leadership on DCs is mediated by the manager’s self-perception of his/her
✓ Hypotheses supported-, 9 hypotheses not supported;
coordinative mechanisms. For instance, participative
leadership can serve as substitutive for routines, e.g.,
standard operation procedures, which do not or rather only
partly exist in such emergency situations. In this context,
participative leadership is comparable to task forces or staff
Further, we deployed a differentiated analysis and
explored the effects of participative leadership on the DC
dimensions ‘sense-making capacity’ and ‘change
implementation capacity’ separately. Whereas the findings
indicate a significant and positive effect regarding ‘change
implementation capacity’, it was nonsignificant concerning
‘sense-making capacity’. This could be due to the fact that
team members can only restrictively serve as
‘sense-makers’ because they are not primarily cognizant of the overall
political, economic or humanitarian situation and its
dependences; they are experts, though, in delivering
services which makes team members predestinated to provide
information regarding ‘changes in implementation’.
In order to explore managerial influence on dynamic
capabilities profoundly, we also explored the effect of
psychological empowerment. Findings show that the
empowerment dimension ‘impact_self-determination’
affects dynamic capabilities significantly. Thus, the
managers’ perceptions, how self-determined (s)he is and how
impactful his/her actions are, foster dynamic capabilities.
This is because managers perceiving such cognitions are
more motivated to take initiatives, to innovate as well as to
(Sprafke et al. 2013)
empowerment shows that cognitions are strongly linked
psychological empowerment as intrinsic task motivation. It is
particularly important for NPOs to consider psychological
empowerment in their capacity building because mainly
intrinsic motivated volunteers constitute their work force.
The effect of the second dimension ‘competence’ was not
Our research focus was to explore the linkage between
participative leadership, psychological empowerment and
dynamic capabilities. In this relationship, psychological
empowerment is considered to mediate the effects of
participative leadership on dynamic capabilities. Comparable
to findings mentioned above, we could not find evidence
for the effect of ‘competence’ (H3c(+)) on DCs, but for the
effect of ‘impact_self-determination’, supporting H3ab.
‘Impact_self-determination’ mediates participative
leadership partially. This implies that this empowerment
dimension enhances the effect of participative leadership
Table 6 provides an overview regarding the tested
Finally, we also provide evidence that DCs have a
highly significant effect on organizational performance (cf.
Table 2). Applying DCs increases NPOs performance in
refugee aid or rather supports them to positively impact
civil society´s needs.
The profound empirical evidence provided by our paper
contributes significantly to the understanding of
interdependences of DCs, management behavior and managerial
cognitions. We examine this microfoundation in NPOs,
where DC research is even more underrepresented. Hence,
our study enlarges the research context of DCs. We found
that managers represent a meaningful agent of DCs on
microlevel and thus contribute to the behavioral foundation
of organizations, which is an essential research stream of
microfoundation to further explore
(Felin et al. 2015)
analyzing managerial behavior (participative leadership) as
well as managerial cognitions (psychological
empowerment), we even provide an integrative illustration of
management-related microfounding mechanisms. In
contrast to previous research, which particularly focused on
transactional and transformational leadership, we
introduced and empirically proved participative leadership as a
‘new’ DC enhancing leadership style. Our study shows that
participative leadership represents a crucial, foremost
informal coordination mechanism that can serve as
substitute for barely existing formal coordination mechanisms
in highly dynamic and even crisis situations. We show
strong associations between participative leadership and
DC, mediated by psychological empowerment. This
suggests that actively stimulating a certain leadership style can
have an impact on DCs and thus on organizational survival.
Acknowledgements Open access funding provided by Paris Lodron
University of Salzburg.
Compliance with Ethical Standards
Conflict of interest The authors declare that they have no conflict of
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