Provide a foundation to the rest of the book.
Assist readers to locate the strategy-as-practice within the debates in the strategic
Present the key concepts that will form the backbone of the textbook (notably, the practitioners,
practices, and praxis framework).
1.1 The purpose of this chapter is to introduce the reader in the field of practice-based
approaches to the study of strategy and organization, including its rationale and emer-
gence. These will provide a basis for a clear identification of the key topics covered in the practice
approach and a review of the main concepts involved in a key perspective to understand the
practice of strategy: the strategy-as-practice perspective. By decoding the key concepts around
the strategy-as-practice approach we encourage an appreciation of the micro-level aspects of
strategy making and execution. Such micro-level aspects are not only of interest from a schol-
arly perspective, but also critical in any strategic review and can help practitioners develop a
more nuanced understanding of the strengths and weaknesses of their strategy-making and
execution processes. Overall, the key objective of this introductory chapter is to help the reader
appreciate the micro-level foundations of strategy making and execution.
practicing strategy: foundations and importance
STRATEGY-MAKING PROCESSES: THE SEARCH
1.2 The field of strategic management is often divided into different schools of thought.
The planning and emergent schools are two fundamental schools that have shaped,
and still influence, many debates in academia and practice. Based on the work of Chandler
(1962), the planning (or rational) school considers strategy as the outcome of the sequential
activities of strategic analysis, development, and implementation. The emergent school, on the
other hand, led by Henry Mintzberg, considers strategy as not simply a plan but also a pattern
that emerges over time based on experimentation and discussion (Mintzberg, 1973, 1978,
1987; Mintzberg and Waters, 1985). Mintzberg notes that “organizations develop plans for
the future and they also evolve patterns out of their past” (1994: 24). Accordingly, strategy
is perceived as more than just an intended outcome based on a top-down procedure and as
a more complex, emergent, bottom-up process developed throughout the organization with
the participation of multiple organizational members. Based on the foundations of these two
schools, a number of frameworks have been developed concerned with the strategy-making
processes that firms follow. Combining the learning around strategy-making processes, Hart
(1992) developed an integrative framework consisting of five models (see Table 1.1). The main
advantage of this model is that it integrates many of the insights from pre-existing strategy
models by contrasting the roles of different management actors. In that way, strategy making
is viewed as an organization-wide phenomenon.
Alongside Hart, the Bower–Burgelman (BB) process model of strategy making (Burgelman,
1983, 2002) has been a milestone in strategy process research. Bower (1970) developed a
resource allocation process (RAP) model which was later modified and extended by Burgelman
in the early 1980s using rich empirical insights. The result was the BB process model (Bower
and Doz, 1979; Burgelman, 1983). The foundation of this process model was an evolutionary
framework of the strategy-making process in established firms (see Figure 1.1). Burgelman’s
primary goal was to show the interactions between strategic behavior, corporate context,
and the concept of corporate strategy. According to this model the strategy-making process is
determined through strategic behavior that either is induced by top management or develops
Autonomous strategic behavior introduces new categories for the definition of product or
market opportunities. It develops from the bottom up within a company and covers project-
championing efforts to mobilize corporate resources. Induced behavior on the other hand
represents the guiding character of strategy. “The induced process concerns initiatives that are
within the scope of the organization’s current strategy and build on existing organizational
learning” (Burgelman, 1991: 241).
Structural context determination means the top-down introduction of formal organizational
structures (information, evaluation, reward systems, etc.) to shape the selection of strategic
investments. Strategic context determination covers political activities of middle management that
aim at combining autonomous strategic behavior on the product-market level with the current
practicing strategy: foundations and importance 3 3
What is interesting about Burgelman’s approach is that this autonomous process is perceived
as an integral part of the strategy-making process:
strategy making…involves keeping both processes (induced-autonomous) in play simultaneously at all times,
even though one process or the other may be more prominent at different times in a company’s evolution… A
company rationally tolerates autonomous strategic initiatives because such initiatives explore and potentially
extend the boundaries of the company’s competencies and opportunities. (Burgelman, 2002: 14–15)
A deeper appreciation of the behavioral aspects shaping the strategy-making process comes from
studies of managerial decision making. Miller and Friesen (1978) identified 11 strategy-making
process dimensions including, for example, adaptiveness, analysis, expertise, integration, innova-
tion, and risk taking. In his study, Fredrickson (1986) proposed dimensions such as proactiveness,
TABLE 1.1 Hart’s integrative framework
Factors Command Symbolic Rational Transactive Generative
Environment Simple; Low-
Firm Size Small Medium-Large Medium-Large Large No relation
Stage of Firm
No relation Rapid growth;
Steady growth Mature No relation
No relation Proactive
Descriptors Command Symbolic Rational Transactive Generative
leader or small
by mission and
a vision of the
strategy driven by
Role of Top
and take risks
Source: Hart (1992).
practicing strategy: foundations and importance
rationality, comprehensiveness, risk taking, and assertiveness. Despite such developments most
of our understanding of strategy making and execution has been mainly static, focusing on the
macro, organizational level. As a result, a new approach, focusing on the micro-aspects of strategy
or “strategizing,” has emerged.
FROM STRATEGY TO STRATEGIZING
1.3 As indicated previously, in the present strategic management literature there is a lim-
ited analytical vocabulary to describe how managers practice strategy; as well as limited
research attention to this topic as compared to the body of strategy scholarship, despite the emer-
gence of the strategy-as-practice approach. Traditionally, conceptual and theoretical dichotomies
within the strategy process area (think vs. act, content vs. process, micro vs. macro, rational
process vs. political process) have bounded our understanding with respect to the day-to-day
activities of strategy managers. Further, most process research has been fragmented, character-
ized by limited cumulative theory building and empirical testing (Rajagopalan et al., 1993).
Figure 1.2 summarizes the key areas in strategic content and process research presented
across the macro and micro levels. Most research has been carried out at the macro-content
level and to a lesser extent at the macro-process level. Accordingly, strategy academics realized
that there was a need for an area of research that deals specifically with the actions and interac-
tions of managers within and around the strategy process. The focus of such research is firmly
at the “micro” level of Figure 1.2. This theoretical and empirical challenge has been pursued by
researchers examining “strategizing” or “strategy-as-practice.”
Strategizing refers to the strategy work (Vaara and Whittington, 2012) and encompasses
all the continuous practices and processes through which strategy is conceived, maintained,
renewed, and executed. An explicit and widely agreed definition of strategizing does not exist in
the literature, however (the principal definitions are presented in Table 1.2). Strategizing focuses
FIGURE 1.1 An evolutionary framework of the strategy-making process in established firms
Source: Adapted from Burgelman, 2002. Used with permission of Robert A. Burgelman.
practicing strategy: foundations and importance 5 5
on the what, when, how, and why of making and executing strategy and demonstrates “the way
strategies unfold over time, that is the way strategies are developed, realized, reproduced and
transformed in an ongoing process” (Melin et al., 1999). Further, strategizing encapsulates the
micro-level activities through which organizational members construct and enact strategies by
utilizing both informal and formal means (Whittington, 1996). This approach also echoes the
argument by Balogun et al. that “most strategy research has been about know what, whereas
strategizing research looks for know how, know when and know where” (2003: 199).
e.g. away-days Activities/
FIGURE 1.2 The micro and macro levels in strategic management research.
Adapted from: Whittington, Johnson and Melin (2004) Used with permission.
TABLE 1.2 Definitions of the term strategizing
“the detailed processes and practices which constitute the day-to-day activities
of organizational life and which relate to strategic outcomes” (2003:3).
Johnson, Melin and
“the meeting, the talking, the form-filling and the number-crunching by
which strategy actually gets formulated and implemented” (1996:732).
“The concept of strategizing emphasizes the micro-level processes and
practices involved as organizational members work to construct and enact
organizational strategies, through both formal and informal means” (2003:111).
Maitlis and Lawrence (2003)
“an organizational learning process…new strategies evolve over time, not
from discrete decisions but from indeterminate managerial behaviours
embedded in a complex social setting” (2000:87).
Floyd and Wooldridge (2000)
Source: Paroutis (2006).
practicing strategy: foundations and importance
FINDING MISALIGNMENTS ACROSS LEVELS:
THE ESCO FRAMEWORK
1.4 Before we investigate in more detail the strategy-as-practice perspective, it is important
at this point to show how these macro and micro levels can be linked and what kind of
insights can be generated for managers. There have been a number of frameworks that link the
micro and macro levels. The model we present here is the ESCO model developed by Heracleous
et al. (2009) in their investigation of Singapore Airlines. We will examine this framework in great
detail in Chapter 9, but for the purposes of this introduction, we briefly outline the particular
model. As shown in Figure 1.3, it stands for: Environment (at various levels such as the competi-
tive, macroeconomic, and institutional), Strategy (at the business or corporate levels based on
the kind of analysis to be conducted), Competencies (the core competencies of the organization
that support the strategy), and Organization (the kinds of process, culture, structure, and people
that operate in an integrated way to deliver the firm’s core competencies). This model is scalable,
and could be applied at the corporate, divisional, business, or functional levels as appropriate.
Heracleous and his colleagues note that: “Competencies must be aligned with the strategy and
the organizational configuration must be aligned to deliver the desired competencies, all of this
must support the strategy, which must be right for the competitive environment” (2009: 172).
FIGURE 1.3 The ESCO model
Source: Heracleous, Wirtz, Pangarkar (2009).
Furthermore, according to Heracleous et al. (2009: 178–85) there can be a number of misalign-
ments based on analysis through the ESCO model, namely:
Strategy is out of line with external competitive environment.
Organization and competencies fail to support strategy.
Incompatibilities and tensions exist within the organization level.
practicing strategy: foundations and importance 7 7
Reward misalignments, i.e., rewarding one thing but expecting another.
Failure to realign strategy and organization with environmental changes.
Misguided strategic actions leading to even greater misalignments.
The key message from this framework is that micro and macro levels are interrelated and man-
agers need to be aware of these links. The classic problem of the separation between strategy
formulation and strategy execution can be put in context when viewed from the perspective
of the ESCO framework. The framework confirms that unless the strategy is translated into
necessary competencies and appropriate organizational configuration, it will remain simply a
plan. Secondly, a strategy plan is incomplete and most probably ineffectual unless it contains
clear accountabilities and timeframes for the areas of competencies and organization. Finally,
the framework suggests that identifying and dealing with misalignments represents a key task
for the strategist.
THE STRATEGY-AS-PRACTICE PERSPECTIVE
1.5 Strategy-as-practice has been developed as an alternative perspective within the strategic
management domain. Taking a leaf from a classic paper on the study of organizational
culture (Smircich, 1983), this perspective recognizes that the traditional approach of the strategy
discipline has been to treat strategy as a property of organizations – something an organization
has. This has ignored that strategy is also something that executives do (Jarzabkowski, 2004).
In this way, the type of research conducted in the “Mintzberg studies” on the nature of mana-
gerial work that we touched upon at the start of this chapter becomes once more the focus of
the strategy field. According to strategy-as-practice scholars, there is a need to approach holisti-
cally “how managers and consultants act and interact in the whole strategy-making sequence”
(Whittington, 1996: 732) and develop studies that focus more solidly on the practitioners of
strategy (Angwin et al., 2009). As Johnson et al. stress: “In good part, the agenda for the micro-
strategy and strategizing perspective is set by the limitations against which the process tradition
has run” (2003: 13).
The strategy-as-practice perspective views strategizing “as a socially accomplished, situated
activity arising from the actions and interactions of multiple level actors” (Jarzabkowski,
2005: 6). Practice researchers try to uncover the detailed actions and interactions that, taken
together, over time constitute a strategy process (Paroutis and Pettigrew, 2007). Hence, the
strategy-as-practice approach favors managerial agency, situated action, and both strategy
stability and strategic change rather than focusing on a set of change events from a firm level
of analysis, as most process studies tend to do. In addition to this anthropological orienta-
tion, where scholars are invited to delve deep into organizations to engage with executives’
strategy activity in its intimate detail – sometimes described as “micro-strategy” (Johnson
et al., 2003) – this perspective is also mindful of the aggregations of strategic activity into a
Johnson et al. (2003) argued in favor of activity theory for studies investigating strategizing
practice, but as yet empirical investigations utilizing activity theory have not been widespread.
practicing strategy: foundations and importance
According to activity theory, an organization can be regarded as an activity system comprising
three main constituents: actors, collective social structures, and the practical activities in which
One of the first multi-level strategy-as-practice studies has been Jarzabkowski’s research of
three UK universities, which looked at the interaction between individual actions of top man-
agement team (TMT) actors and formal structures (Jarzabkowski, 2003; Jarzabkowski and
Wilson, 2002). Regnér (2003) also investigated managers representing multiple levels across
firms. His study of managerial actions at the center and the periphery of four multinational
organizations suggests “a twofold character of strategy creation, including fundamentally dif-
ferent strategy activities in the periphery and centre, reflecting their diverse location and social
embeddedness” (Regnér, 2003: 57). Further, Regnér’s study focuses on the distinctiveness
between central and peripheral managers and demonstrates “the great divide between periphery
and centre” (2003: 77).
There have also been a number of other studies focusing on the micro-level aspects of strate-
gizing. Oakes et al. (1998) studied the practices around a new business planning model in
Canadian museums. Maitlis and Lawrence (2003) analyzed the failure of members of a UK sym-
phony orchestra to construct an artistic strategy for their organization. These authors argue that
failure in organizational strategizing can be understood as resulting from the interplay of cer-
tain elements of organizational discourse and specific kinds of political behavior. As indicated
earlier, these empirical research efforts are attributed to the perceived failure of the traditional
strategy process research to study the micro-level characteristics of how strategists actually think
and act strategically in the whole strategy process of the firm. Alongside the growth in atten-
tion on this perspective, there have been calls for more critically oriented studies that focus
on the fundamental issues of identity and power (Carter et al., 2008; Clegg, 2011). More
recently, strategy-as-practice empirical studies have paid attention to topics such as: the role
of discourse and rhetoric (Abdallah et al., 2011; Balogun et al., 2014; Bednarek et al., 2014;
Dameron and Torset, 2014; Paroutis and Heracleous, 2013), and the role of materials, artefacts
and tools (Dameron et al., 2015; Jarzabkowski et al., 2015a; Paroutis et al., 2015; Thomas and
Ambrosini, 2015; Werle and Seidl, 2015; Wright et al., 2013).
Vaara and Whittington (2012) offer a comprehensive review of 57 strategy-as-practice
empirical studies published since 2003 (24 studies relating to practices, 18 to praxis, and
15 to practitioners) and develop a set of five research directions for the strategy-as-practice
perspective (placing agency in a web of practices, recognizing the macro-institutional nature
of practices, focusing attention on emergence in strategy making, exploring how the material
matters, and promoting critical analysis). Importantly, the authors note the distinctiveness of
the “strategy-as-practice” label that:
[it] carries with it a double meaning: “practice” signals both an attempt to be close to the world of practitioners
and a commitment to sociological theories of practice … its focus on the ways in which actors are enabled by
organizational and wider social practices in their decisions and actions provides a distinctive contribution to
research on strategic management. (2012: 2)
Overall, strategy-as-practice scholars examine the way in which actors interact with the social and
physical features of context in the everyday activities that constitute practice. They investigate how
practicing strategy: foundations and importance 9 9
managerial actors perform the work of strategy, both through their social interactions with other
actors and through practices present within a context, as well as habits, tools, events, artifacts,
and socially defined modes of acting through which the stream of strategic activity is constructed.
Through their studies strategy-as-practice scholars aim to develop, “more precise and contextually
sensitive theories about the enactment and impact of practices as well as about critical factors
shaping differences in practice outcomes” (Jarzabkowski et al., 2015b).
PRACTITIONERS, PRACTICES, AND PRAXIS:
THE 3P FRAMEWORK
1.6 Three key concepts have been used to encapsulate the strategy-as-practice approach:
practitioners, practices, and praxis. This 3P framework helps reveal the micro-level
aspects of strategizing by focusing on the “who,” “how,” “where,” and “when” of strategic actions
Practitioners are the actors of strategizing, including managers, consultants, and specialized
internal change agents. Overall, as Vaara and Whittington note:
Practices refer to the various tools, norms, and procedures of strategy work, from analytical frameworks such
as Porter’s Five Forces to strategic planning routines such as strategy workshops. Praxis refers to the activity
involved in strategy-making, for example, in strategic planning processes or meetings. Practitioners are all those
involved in, or seeking to influence, strategy-making. (2012: 6)
and its relationship
(CEO, TMT, MDs,
Methods, tools, and
FIGURE 1.4 The praxis, practitioners and practices framework
Adapted from Whittington, 2006. Used with permission.
practicing strategy: foundations and importance
The concept of practices refers to the various methods, tools, and techniques that practition-
ers utilize when they strategize. These methods, in many organizations over long periods of
time, tend to become standardized and routinized ways of analyzing strategic issues. In other
words, practices are “the shared routines of behaviour, including traditions, norms and pro-
cedures for thinking, acting and using ‘things’, this last in the broadest sense” (Whittington,
Praxis refers to the activity comprising the work of strategizing. This work encompasses all
the meeting, consulting, writing, presenting, communicating, and so on that are required in
order to make and execute strategy. In other words, “all the various activities involved in the
deliberate formulation and implementation of strategy” (Whittington, 2006: 619). Activities
are defined as “the day to day stuff of management. It is what managers do and what they
manage” (Johnson et al., 2003: 15).
Importantly, across these three concepts there are areas of overlap, as indicated in Figure 1.4.
Each area of overlap raises a number of interesting questions about the conduct of strategy. For
instance, in the area where the concepts of “Practices” and “Practitioners” meet we could raise
a number of related questions, for instance “what kinds of methods do CEOs use to help them
strategize?” or “how are particular planning techniques/tools/SWOT used in action by consult-
ants?”. Similarly, in the “Praxis” and “Practices” area of overlap we could raise questions such
as “what kinds of actions do away-days encourage?” and “do particular strategy tools actually
help us think in more innovative terms about our strategy?”.
1.7 In this introductory chapter we have examined the move to study the micro lev-
els of strategy paying particular attention to the strategy-as-practice perspective.
We showed that this approach fundamentally moves away from modernist and positivist
views of strategy that focus on the macro scale of organizational activity toward a more
micro-level, humanistic, behavioral, interpretive approach to strategy making and execu-
tion. Integrating these insights with the ESCO model that we saw earlier, we arrive at the
summary shown in Figure 1.5.
At the macro level, the more traditional approach to strategy, attention is on the environment
and the key question is where to locate the organization among its competitors. At the level
of the environment, the classic considerations of industrial organization (Porter, 1980, 1985)
are relevant, but at the strategy level, the assumption is that managers and organizations have
a choice on which environmental domains to compete in and how to position the organization
At the micro level, strategy is conceptualized as a situated and socially constructed
activity involving multiple actors. The key question here is how to practice strategy and
organize the culture, process, and structure in a way that supports the core competencies
of the firm. At this level, considerations of the resource-based view (Barney, 1991) are
relevant. The particular strategy actors, their tools, and their activities will be the focus of
the following chapters.
practicing strategy: foundations and importance 11 11
ROUTE-MAP TO THIS TEXTBOOK
The purpose of this book is to deal with a number of topics that contribute to our understanding
of strategy-as-practice. These topics are divided into two parts and four sections. The first part
(sections A to C) aims to contribute to our understanding of the actors, methods and activities in
and around the practice of strategy (Figure 1.6), and the second part (Section D) provides a num-
ber of case studies to illustrate the concepts presented in the first part. Section A deals with
particular kinds of strategy practitioners, both internal and external to the organization (Chapters
2 to 6). The aim here is to highlight the importance of the individual strategists in making and
FIGURE 1.5 The ESCO model through the macro and micro lenses
Topics: Alignment, M&As,
Meaning in Action
Topics: CEOs, CSOs,
FIGURE 1.6 The chapters and key themes in the first part of the textbook
practicing strategy: foundations and importance
executing strategy. Section B focuses on the strategic artifacts and discursive practices employed
by these practitioners to alter their organization’s strategy (Chapters 7 and 8). Section C deals
with the ways strategic activities are employed within and across organizations (Chapters 9 to 11).
The objective of this part is to demonstrate the importance of the specific context within strategy
that practitioners are called upon to formulate and implement.
In this chapter we have highlighted the importance of micro-level aspects of strategy making
and execution. Based on what you just read in the current chapter and your own experience,
what kinds of questions would you be asking at the micro level as a student and researcher of
Select an organization that you are familiar with. Conduct an analysis of that organization’s
micro-level strategy using the ESCO and 3P models. What kinds of insights do you gain?
GUIDELINES FOR THE REVISION ACTIVITIES
Strategy at the micro level is a situated and socially constructed activity involving multiple
actors. As such, the kinds of questions that we could raise relate to the kinds of actions, tools,
and methods used to practice strategy and the ways to shape culture, processes, and structure to
develop the core competencies of the firm.
Whittington (2003) provides the following questions related to the strategy-as-practice per-
spective at the micro level:
How and where is strategizing and organizing work actually done?
Who does the formal work of strategizing and organizing and how do they get to do it?
What are the skills required for strategizing and organizing work and how are they
What are the common tools and techniques of strategizing and organizing and how are
these used in practice?
How is the work of strategizing and organizing itself organized?
How are the products of strategizing and organizing communicated and consumed?
Under each question Whittington provides a brief commentary (and references) that you can
Using the ESCO and 3P frameworks you can gain at least two key types of insights: (a) about the
way strategy is conducted at the micro level; and (b) about the kinds of potential misalignments
that exist/have existed in the particular organization. In order to provide such analysis at the micro
level you will appreciate that you need good-quality information from the particular organization
(e.g., based on your own experience of that firm). Accordingly, micro-level analysis is demanding
and should only be conducted if there is enough and good-quality information available.
practicing strategy: foundations and importance 13 13
Book: Heracleous, L., Wirtz, J., and Pangarkar, N. (2009) Flying High in a Competitive Industry. Singapore:
McGraw-Hill. An insightful investigation of one of the world’s leading airlines, Singapore Airlines, and a
number of strategy frameworks, including the ESCO model which we examined in Section 1.4.
Papers: For four encompassing sets of theoretical and empirical papers on the strategy-as-practice
perspective you can look at the following special issues: Journal of Management Studies, 40(1), 2003;
Human Relations, 60(1), 2007; Journal of Management Studies, 51(2), 2014; and British Journal of
Management, 26(S1), 2015.
Papers: Jarzabkowski, P. and Spee, A. P. (2009) Strategy-as-practice: a review and future direc-
tions for the field. International Journal of Management Reviews, 11, 69–95; and Vaara, E. and
Whittington, R. (2012) Strategy-as-practice: taking social practices seriously. Academy of
Management Annals, 6(1), 285–336. Two comprehensive reviews of the strategy-as-practice area of
research that provide classifications of papers employing the particular approach and avenues for
Website: For the latest announcements (for instance, for calls for special issues of journals, calls
for conference papers, workshops and jobs advertisements), discussion forums, and journal pub-
lications about the strategy-as-practice area, you can register at the SAP-IN (Strategy as Practice
International Network) at http://www.s-as-p.org
Website: In order to find out more details about the aims, activities, and conferences offered by
academic communities associated with the strategy-as-practice perspective you can visit: the
Strategizing, Activities and Practices (SAP) interest group of the Academy of Management at http://
sap.aomonline.org; the Strategy Practice interest group at the Strategic Management Society at
http://practiceig.pbworks.com; and the Strategy-as-Practice special interest group at the British
Academy of Management at http://www.bam.ac.uk/sigs-strategy-practice.
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