Health care administrators' perspectives on the role of absorptive capacity for strategic change initiatives: A qualitative study

Bita A. Kash, Aaron Spaulding, Larry Gamm, Christopher E. Johnson

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

16 Scopus citations


BACKGROUND:: The dimensions of absorptive capacity (ACAP) are defined, and the importance of ACAP is established in the management literature, but the concept has not been applied to health care organizations attempting to implement multiple strategic initiatives. PURPOSE:: The aim of this study was to test the utility of ACAP by analyzing health care administrators' experiences with multiple strategic initiatives within two health systems. METHODOLOGY:: Results are drawn from administrators' assessments of multiple initiatives within two health systems using in-depth personal interviews with a total of 61 health care administrators. Data analysis was performed following deductive qualitative analysis guidelines. Interview transcripts were coded based on the four dimensions of ACAP: acquiring, assimilating, internalizing/transforming, and exploiting knowledge. Furthermore, we link results related to utilization of management resources, including number of key personnel involved and time consumption, to dimensions of ACAP. FINDINGS:: Participants' description of multiple strategic change initiatives confirmed the importance of the four ACAP dimensions. ACAP can be a useful framework to assess organizational capacity with respect to the organization's ability to concurrently implement multiple strategic initiatives. This capacity specifically revolves around human capital requirements from upper management based on the initiatives' location or stage within the ACAP framework. PRACTICE IMPLICATIONS:: Strategic change initiatives in health care can be usefully viewed from an ACAP perspective. There is a tendency for those strategic initiatives ranking higher in priority and time consumption to reflect more advanced dimensions of ACAP (assimilate and transform), whereas few initiatives were identified in the ACAP "exploit" dimension. This may suggest that health care leaders tend to no longer identify as strategic initiatives those innovations that have moved to the exploitation stage or that less attention is given to the exploitation elements of a strategic initiative than to the earlier stages.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)339-348
Number of pages10
JournalHealth Care Management Review
Issue number4
StatePublished - Oct 2013


  • Absorptive capacity
  • innovation
  • knowledge capacity
  • organizational change
  • strategic planning

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Leadership and Management
  • Health Policy
  • Strategy and Management


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