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Strategic Processes

Strategy is often closely associated with formal planning processes, which were widely used by organisations in the 1960s and 1970s. Currently, there is greater recognition that strategy does not necessarily result from such deliberate plans or intentions, and that in many organisations effective strategy emerges from more informal processes. This view sees strategy as a coherent pattern of actions with a consistent strategic purpose.

Mintzberg and Waters have drawn a distinction between deliberate strategies and emergent strategies. In practice, strategies are partly deliberate and partly emergent, in a mix determined by:
  • how precise, concrete and explicit the intentions of the organisation's leadership and other groups are, and how widely they are shared
  • how pervasive and firm central control over organisational actions is
  • how benign, controllable and predictable the organisation's external environment is.
These factors affect both strategy formation and implementation. Minzberg and Waters describe eight types of strategies with different origins, lying on a continuum from most deliberate to most emergent. They are:
  1. planned - precise intentions backed by formal implementation controls
  2. entrepreneurial - originating in the personal vision of a single leader
  3. ideological - originating in shared beliefs and collective vision
  4. umbrella - leadership defines strategic boundaries or targets within which others respond
  5. process - leadership controls process aspects of strategy leaving content to others
  6. unconnected - strategies originate in enclaves
  7. consensus - mutual adjustment produces converging patterns that become pervasive
  8. imposed - strategies originate in the environment, producing limited organisational choice, possibly becoming internalised
This view of strategic processes, rather than content, helps redress the balance between strategy formation through analysis and the practical constraints and behaviour that exist in all organisations. It also helps us to understand some of the ways in which the formation and implementation of strategy are linked, and the contribution that organisational learning makes to strategy.
Reference source: Mintzberg, H. and Waters, J. A. (1985) "Of Strategies, Deliberate and Emergent", Strategic Management Journal, Vol. 6, p. 257-72

Evolution provides a good example of emergent strategy. There is no active design process or designer, yet evolution has bee an extraordinarily effective strategy for those species that have survived.

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