Strategic Management

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Mintzberg’s Strategy Continuum: Philosophic and Theoretical Underpinnings

Naveed Yazdani
Chair
Department of Business Administration
School of Business & Economics
University of Management & Technology
Yazdani@umt.edu.pk & naveedyazdani@hotmail.co.uk

Abstract

This theoretical paper views Henry Mintzberg’s ‘Strategy Safari’ as representing a strategy continuum along which different styles/modes of strategy making and implementing are spread, with Prescriptive/Planning style of strategizing at one end and the Descriptive/Learning mode of strategizing at the other end. The paper attempts to highlight some of the reasons behind the traditional ‘hype’ created for the Prescriptive/Planning mode, its impact on the teaching behavior of the teachers of strategic management and, the underlying philosophical and theoretical assumptions behind the two extreme end of the strategy continuum. Based on these underpinnings, the paper presents some propositions and calls for launching research efforts to test and verify these propositions. The paper proposes to include the strategy continuum view for the teaching of Strategic Management courses at graduate and under-graduate levels in the business schools.

Key Words: Strategy, Prescriptive Schools of Strategy, Descriptive Schools of Strategy, Strategic Management, Strategy-Continuum

The first chapter of Henry Mintzberg et al. (1998) work, Strategy Safari: A Guided Tour through the Wilds of Strategic Management, starts with the ancient Sufi tale ‘The blind men and the elephant’, and the writers, after quoting the poem by John Godfrey Saxe (1816 – 1887), write:

“We (the strategy makers) are the blind people and strategy formation is our elephant. Since no one has had the vision to see the entire beast, everyone has grabbed hold of some part or the other and ‘railed on in utter ignorance’ about the rest. We certainly do not get an elephant by adding its parts. An elephant is more than that. Yet to comprehend the whole we also need to understand the parts” (Mintzberg et al., 1998, p. 3).

They then present ten distinct points of view as they emerge from their study of the large body of literature of the strategic management field. They group these ten distinct points – as ten distinct ‘schools’ of strategic management, which they divide in three groupings: prescriptive (three schools); concerned with how strategies should be formulated, descriptive (six schools); concerned less with prescribing ideal strategies but with describing how strategies get made and, finally a combination of the first two groups, namely, the configuration school, which seeks to integrate the strategy-making process, their contents, organizational structures and their related contexts.

A brief description of the two sets of strategy schools, based on their premises as presented by Mintzberg et al., is given below:

Preamble of Mintzberg’s Strategy Schools’ Premises

Prescriptive Schools

Strategy maker(s) have acquired/learned formally the act of strategy making; they are the only strategy maker(s) in the organization, strategy is made without the help of any non conscious intuition; while making strategy, focus is more on the process of strategy making rather than the contents of the strategy; strategies are implemented only after they are fully formed; the strategies are clear and can be articulated easily to other members of the organization; the strategy is put to action only after it’s fully formed; formal planning techniques like preparing detailed checklists, plans and programs are used while making strategy; chief executive makes the strategy and the employees implement it; the fully formed strategies are then implemented according to the goals, budgets and, programs outlined in the them; the strategies may not be unique but selected from a limited number of broad market positions; strategy making depends too much on calculations and analysis; formal analysis of the market...
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