Strategy process in practice : practices and logics of action of middle managers in strategy implementation

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Helsinki University of Technology, Laboratory of Work Psychology and Leadership doctoral dissertation series, 2005/1
The study focuses on strategy process in practice from the viewpoint of middle managers and practices in strategy implementation. The strategy process of an organization creates and implements strategy. Although this process influences the activities of many members of the organization, strategy research has only recently started to become interested in the activities of practitioners and practices in strategizing. In addition to organizational actions, micro-level activities have thus become a relevant focus of research. Middle managers, acting both as subordinates and superiors, represent a group of actors whose role in the strategy process is still not understood to a significant extent. Although the literature has to some extent noticed their significance, their activities related to practices remain unexplored. Current literature is not informative about the routines, tools and ways of working of middle managers in putting the intended strategy into action. The purpose of this study is to explore the experiences of middle managers in strategy implementation and describe the practices and strategy process in practice. In this constructivist study, the strategy process is treated as a social system, in which knowledgeable purposive agents create the structures, while, at the same time, these same structures constrain and enable their choices. The activities of middle managers are studied through their logics of action, relating to a cognitive framework in a social exchange relationship binding the actors' means and ends. In the qualitative design of this study, semi-structured interviews with fifty-four middle managers in eight service-sector organizations constitute the primary data. Additional data consists of documentation of the official strategy processes of the organizations. It is acknowledged that structural properties appear differently in practices and make them different from each other. For describing practices-in-use, a framework is created. The framework differentiates four types of practices: Institutionalized and loosely-coupled; Established and recurrent; Individualized and stochastic; and Individualized and systemic practices. However, it is the practitioners who, by the actual use of practices, define the meaning of the practices. An inductive analysis of the experiences of the middle managers identifies four logics of action for practices, Executing, Facilitating, Empowering and Reflecting, the characteristics of which are described. It is noticed that the logics of action strive not only for strategy implementation, but also strategic renewal. The relations of the logics of action and different types of practices are described in general and also across the eight organizations. Based on analyses of the experienced and intended strategy processes, four types of strategy processes in practice (Sustainable, Self-directed, Unbalanced and Weak strategy process) are described. By showing how middle managers use practices, the study adds to our understanding of their activities in strategy implementation and their influence on strategic renewal. The study suggests that, for strategic renewal to emerge, both the extent to which the practices-in-use are coherent and the degree to which middle managers have enabling experiences of practices are significant. The study provides strategy research with a new understanding of what strategy process is in practice. Instead of a homogenous entity, strategy process is seen as a repertoire of practices. Describing practices, and exploring the experiences that middle managers have of practices-in-use, shows the relevance of various practices, including those that are not part of the official strategy process.
strategy process, practices, logic of action, middle manager, strategy implementation, structuration theory
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