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Mastering Digital Transformation: individual characteristics, skills and key capabilities

Guest Editors:

Stefano Bresciani, University of Turin, Italy (Email:

Alberto Ferraris, University of Turin & Ural Federal University (Email:

Kun-Huang Huarng, National Taipei University of Business (Email:

Amandeep Dhir, University of Adger (Email:

Article Type to select when submitting: Mastering Digital Transformation

Submission Window: 1st September 2021 - 30th January 2022

Digitalization is booming among businesses. Organizations of various type, size and industry, recognize the importance of starting a digital transformation journey to remain competitive in globalized arenas (e.g. Li, 2018). This paradigm shift is changing the way companies do business, how they organize processes and activities (e.g. Enkel et al., 2020) and how they create and capture value (Mithas et al., 2013; Hopp et al., 2018). As such, the literature on digital strategy, digitalization and digital transformation has grown exponentially in the last years (e.g. Hess et al., 2016; Scuotto et al., 2017; Bertello et al., 2020). On one side, studies have unveiled the various technologies that are revolutionizing the way companies do business, such as Artificial Intelligence, 4.0 machines, IoT, 3D printers, Big data, and Social media networks, among others (e.g. Bresciani et al., 2017). On the other side, studies have explored the impact of new technologies on business models (Alberti-Alhtaybat et al., 2019), business processes and activities (e.g. Wamba et al., 2018), internationalization (e.g. Bertello et al., 2020) and ultimately, firm performance (Gunasekaran et al., 2017).

With this regard, some studies explored specific internal capabilities needed to successfully exploit a digital transformation. For example, Ferraris et al. (2018) showed that firms that developed higher big data analytics capabilities increased their performance. Muninger et al. (2019) explored the specific organizational capabilities (top management understanding, knowledge management and networking) that allow firms to gain advantage from social media along the digital innovation process. El Sawy et al. (2016) highlighted the relevance of “digital leadership” as a critical factor to rethink differently the whole organization for the strategic success of digitalization in its business ecosystem. More recently, a special issue in the Journal of Business Research named “Digital transformation as a springboard for product, process and business model innovation” written by Bresciani et al. (forthcoming) explores specific digital skills and capabilities required for the success of the digital transformation journey.

Despite this, while practitioners and global consulting firms heavily emphasize the importance of the human component as the soft side of digital transformation processes, we still know very little about the role of people in the digital transformation journey in terms of how should be managed properly by the organization as well as their expected and differentiators characteristics and psychological foundations (Picone et al., 2021) or interplay (Zimmerman et al., 2020). In this regard, it is crucial to understand how and if conditions of individual actions (microfoundations) contribute or support the routines that lead to MNEs' effective management (Barney and Felin, 2013). As already argued in the past, microfoundations represent the individual-level actions that shape strategy, [and] organization’ (Eisenhardt et al., 2010, p. 1263). Further, Barney and Felin (2013, p. 145) emphasized its importance and appropriateness in this contemporary time: ‘…organization analysis should be fundamentally concerned with how individual-level factors aggregate to the collective level’. Also, social interactional microfoundations may be fundamental when people need to co-develop and co-create in the digital environment (e.g. Storbacka et al., 2016).

Accordingly, the scientific literature seems to lag behind the practical world. For example, it is necessary to evaluate innovation response behaviour's antecedents (e.g. Goepel et al., 2012; Dhir et al., 2016) to digital transformation. In this respect, studies might focus on emerging managerial roles and positions (chief digital officer, digital innovation officer, head of digital strategy, etc.) as well as their expected key personal characteristics and capabilities (e.g. Mansfeld et al., 2010; Singh and Hess, 2017; Singh et al., 2020) and on what role they play in stimulating a digital culture that is crucial in digital environments. It is thus clear that this “digital transformation” requires superior change management capabilities and the development of concrete human resource management (HRM) practices (Benson et al., 2002, Sousa et al., 2019). This is why digitalization is not just a matter of technology but rather a matter of strategy in which the human dimension plays a key role (Tabrizi et al., 2019). In this regard, empirical evidence suggests that employees can reject new digital strategies when they lead to extra workload, especially in unknown fields (Yeow et al., 2018) or in the light of the actual changes of work (e.g. Van Steenbergen et al., 2018).

Thus, this special issue aims to explore the role of micro-foundations (and people) in digital strategies and digital transformation processes. We welcome qualitative, quantitative and mixed-method approaches and, overall, research articles bridging the gap between theoretical conceptions and practical insights.

Such studies might be focused on, but not limited to, the following areas of research and related topics, within the topics of digital strategies, digitalization and digital transformation processes:

New emerging managerial roles for digital transformationThe role of the top management team in stimulating a digital cultureIndividual versus organizational capabilitiesAge, experience, gender and other socio-demographic variables and their impact on digital transformationNew skills and competences development for digital strategiesPsychological aspects of digital transformationIndividual managerial characteristics that affect digital transformationHuman characteristics and capabilities that nurture or prevent digital transformation


Alberti-Alhtaybat, L. V., Al-Htaybat, K., & Hutaibat, K. (2019). A knowledge management and sharing business model for dealing with disruption: The case of Aramex. Journal of Business Research, 94, 400-407.

Barney, J. A. Y., & Felin, T. (2013). What are microfoundations?. Academy of Management Perspectives, 27(2), 138-155.

Benson, A. D., Johnson, S. D., & Kuchinke, K. P. (2002). The use of technology in the digital workplace: A framework for human resource development. Advances in Developing Human Resources, 4(4), 392-404.

Bertello, A., Ferraris, A., Bresciani, S., & De Bernardi, P. (2020). Big data analytics (BDA) and degree of internationalization: the interplay between governance of BDA infrastructure and BDA capabilities. Journal of Management and Governance, 1-21.

Bresciani, S., Ferraris, A., & Del Giudice, M. (2018). The management of organizational ambidexterity through alliances in a new context of analysis: Internet of Things (IoT) smart city projects. Technological Forecasting and Social Change, 136, 331-338.

Bresciani, S., Huarng, K.H., Malhotra, A., Ferraris, A. (forthcoming) “Digital transformation as a springboard for product, process and business model innovation”, Journal of Business Research.

Dhir, A., Pallesen, S., Torsheim, T., & Andreassen, C. S. (2016). Do age and gender differences exist in selfie-related behaviours?. Computers in Human Behavior, 63, 549-555.

Eisenhardt, K. M., Furr, N. R., & Bingham, C. B. (2010). CROSSROADS-Microfoundations of performance: Balancing efficiency and flexibility in dynamic environments. Organization Science, 21(6), 1263-1273.

El Sawy, O. A., Kræmmergaard, P., Amsinck, H., & Vinther, A. L. (2016). How LEGO built the foundations and enterprise capabilities for digital leadership. MIS Quarterly Executive, 15(2).

Enkel, E., Bogers, M., & Chesbrough, H. (2020). Exploring open innovation in the digital age: A maturity model and future research directions. R&D Management, 50(1), 161-168.

Erevelles, S., Fukawa, N., & Swayne, L. (2016). Big Data consumer analytics and the transformation of marketing. Journal of Business Research, 69(2), 897-904.

Felin, T., Foss, N.J., Heimeriks, K.H., and Madsen, T.L. (2012). Micro-foundations of routines and capabilities: Individuals, processes, and structure. Journal of Management Studies, 49(8), 1351-1374.

Ferraris, A., Mazzoleni, A., Devalle, A., & Couturier, J. (2018). Big data analytics capabilities and knowledge management: impact on firm performance. Management Decision, 57(8), 1923-1936.

Goepel, M., Hölzle, K., & zu Knyphausen?Aufseß, D. (2012). Individuals’ innovation response behaviour: A framework of antecedents and opportunities for future research. Creativity and Innovation Management, 21(4), 412-426.

Gunasekaran, A., Papadopoulos, T., Dubey, R., Wamba, S. F., Childe, S. J., Hazen, B., & Akter, S. (2017). Big data and predictive analytics for supply chain and organizational performance. Journal of Business Research, 70, 308-317.

Hess, T., Matt, C., Benlian, A., & Wiesböck, F. (2016). Options for formulating a digital transformation strategy. MIS Quarterly Executive, 15(2).

Hopp, C., Antons, D., Kaminski, J., & Oliver Salge, T. (2018). Disruptive innovation: Conceptual foundations, empirical evidence, and research opportunities in the digital age. Journal of Product Innovation Management, 35(3), 446-457.

Li, F. (2018). The digital transformation of business models in the creative industries: A holistic framework and emerging trends. Technovation, 102012.

Mansfeld, M. N., Hölzle, K., & Gemünden, H. G. (2010). Personal characteristics of innovators—an empirical study of roles in innovation management. International Journal of Innovation Management, 14(06), 1129-1147.

Mithas, S., Tafti, A., & Mitchell, W. (2013). How a firm's competitive environment and digital strategic posture influence digital business strategy. MIS quarterly, 511-536.

Muninger, M. I., Hammedi, W., & Mahr, D. (2019). The value of social media for innovation: A capability perspective. Journal of Business Research, 95, 116-127.

Picone P.M., De Massis A., Tang Y., Piccolo R.F. (2021). The psychological foundations of management in family firms: Values, biases, and heuristics. Family Business Review,

Scuotto, V., Santoro, G., Bresciani, S., & Del Giudice, M. (2017). Shifting intra?and inter?organizational innovation processes towards digital business: an empirical analysis of SMEs. Creativity and Innovation Management, 26(3), 247-255.

Singh, A., & Hess, T. (2017). How Chief Digital Officers promote the digital transformation of their companies. MIS Quarterly Executive, 16(1).

Singh, A., Klarner, P., & Hess, T. (2020). How do chief digital officers pursue digital transformation activities? The role of organization design parameters. Long Range Planning, 53(3), 101890.

Sousa, M. J., & Rocha, Á. (2019). Skills for disruptive digital business. Journal of Business Research, 94, 257-263.

Storbacka, K., Brodie, R. J., Böhmann, T., Maglio, P. P., & Nenonen, S. (2016). Actor engagement as a microfoundation for value co-creation. Journal of Business Research, 69(8), 3008-3017.

Tabrizi, B., Lam, E., Girard, K., & Irvin, V. (2019). Digital transformation is not about technology. Harvard Business Review, 13.

Van Steenbergen, E. F., van der Ven, C., Peeters, M. C., & Taris, T. W. (2018). Transitioning towards new ways of working: do job demands, job resources, burnout, and engagement change?. Psychological reports, 121(4), 736-766.

Wamba, S. F., Gunasekaran, A., Dubey, R., & Ngai, E. W. (2018). Big data analytics in operations and supply chain management. Annals of Operations Research, 270(1-2), 1-4.

Yeow, A., Soh, C., & Hansen, R. (2018). Aligning with new digital strategy: A dynamic capabilities approach. The Journal of Strategic Information Systems, 27(1), 43-58.

Zimmermann, A., Hill, S. A., Birkinshaw, J., & Jaeckel, M. (2020). Complements or substitutes? A microfoundations perspective on the interplay between drivers of ambidexterity in SMEs. Long Range Planning, 53(6), 101927.