strategic phenomena

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Strategic phenomena -- (Stacey, 2003, pp 2-6, 12-13)
Understanding the phenomena of interest to a pursuit is the first step in critically understanding recommendations for dealing with that phenomena -- explaining what strategy is and how organizations change. If one is going to prescribe, one should be able to describe first. There are bona fide conflicting accounts of strategy and organizational change -- it behooves management to understand this controversy to improve strategic thinking and decision making. Theories of strategy and organizational change are distinguished from one another by how they deal with various phenomena (Stacey, 2003, 3).

Two fundamental questions to ask to avoid blindly following a prescriptive approach --

  • What are the phenomena that are being talked about when the terms 'strategy' and 'organizational change' are used?
  • How do human beings make sense of phenomena?

Fundamental purpose in understanding phenomena related to understanding strategy and organizational dynamics (Stacey, 2003, 9) --

  • Any view you take of the nature of strategy and change in organizations immediately implies a view on the nature of human knowing.
  • Simply going along with today's dominant views on strategy, without questioning of the foundations upon which they are built, amounts to shutting one's eyes to other possibilities, which might make more sense of one's experience.

What follows formulates a set of questions for critical examination of approaches to strategy --

  • the phenomena of interest related to strategy and organizational change,
  • factors of consideration to make sense of the phenomena, and
  • the synthesis and distillation of these into the relevant questions that expose the assumptions and reasoning processes behind the theories of strategy and organizational dynamics.

Phenomena of interest to strategy and organizational change --
Organizations have phenomenological aspects pertinent to strategy. Approaches to strategy and organization evolution depend on understanding these phenomena. What follows is Stacey's classification of the phenomena of interest related to strategy and organizational dynamics --

  • populations of organizations -- Populations of organizations is the primary phenomena of interest to strategists. Over a period of time, thousands of new organizations are set up and thousands are dissolved. In each period, there are a large number of small organizational dissolutions and a small number of large organizational dissolutions. Organizational populations are dynamic...
    • some organizations last for one hundred years or more
    • the average life span of a commercial organization is about 40 years
    • over the years, surviving organizations change their structures and their direction, and in the process threaten, or create opportunities, for others
    • market niches are created
    • whole industries disappear

  • dynamic phenomenon
    • a distinguishing feature of the theories of strategy and organizational dynamics is how they regard change, the movement of the organization
    • dynamics means movement
    • concern with dynamics is concern with how phenomena move, unfold, or evolve over time
    • dynamic phenomena are ones that display patterns of change over time
    • a study of dynamics is concerned with what generates these patterns and what properties of stability and instability, predictability and unpredictability they display

  • paradoxical phenomenon
    • a distinguishing feature of the theories of strategy and organizational dynamics is whether conflict is seen as an essential attribute of an organization or conflict requires resolution in order to be successful
    • The theories of organizational change one develops depends greatly on how conflict is understood -- as resolvable or paradoxical
    • Conflicting movements in organizational change is either viewed as a lack of understanding, where the conflict can be resolved through further understanding, or a paradox
    • Paradox -- the genuine, simultaneous coexistence of two contradictory movements
      • change displayed over time is paradoxical
      • stability and instability at the same time
      • predictability and unpredictability at the same time
      • creation and destruction at the same time

  • emotion -- a differentiating factor of theories is how much account they take of the emotion involved in organizational evolution

  • interaction and interconnection
    • a distinguishing feature of theories of strategy and organizational change is the manner in which interaction and interconnection are understood
    • the distinction between systemic and process theories provides the principle way of distinguishing between different theories of strategy and organizational change
    • systems -- systemic perspective
      • most theorists think of interaction as constituting a network or a system
      • levels of systems
        • individual minds are thought of as a system consisting of, say, interacting concepts
        • a group is thought of as a systems consisting of, say, interacting individuals
        • an organization might then be thought of as a system consisting of interacting groups
        • an industry is a supra system consisting of interacting organizations
        • interaction is always interaction between systems producing yet another system, all of them nesting hierarchically in each other at different levels
      • different theories of strategy and organizational change are built on different theories of systems and how these underpin different theories of organizational evolution
      • most theories of strategy and organizational change are couched in systematic terms
    • process -- process perspective
      • an alternative to thinking of interactions as constituting a network or system is to think of interaction as processes of direct communicating and relating between human bodies
      • the process alternative yield process theories of strategy and organizational change

  • degree of detail
    • a distinguishing feature of the theories of strategy and organizational dynamics is the level of detail of inquiry, explanation, and understanding
    • macro or micro level --
      • some theories focus on the macro level, some the micro level, some at both levels
      • more significant, is how one thinks about the 'levels'
      • macro level -- level of the large, 'whole' organizations interacting 'within' a whole population as if they were individual entities
      • micro level -- level of the small, the entities that make up the whole
      • individuals, human beings, are understood from some psychological perspective
      • a group of human beings having its own properties
      • the organization consisting of groups of individuals to be understood in terms of organizational principles
      • organizational phenomena are wholes classified at different ontological levels
    • levels are not thought of as distinct levels of reality, but as different degrees of examination
      • individuals, groups , and organizations are not wholes at different ontological levels but are simply aspects of the same processes of human interaction
    • at the micro level, each organization is itself a population of interacting groupings of individual people

  • objective observer and participant enquirer
    • a distinguishing feature of the theories of strategy and organizational dynamics is the extent to which the theory is offered form the position of the objective observer as opposed to the enquiring participant.
    • phenomena of interest has to do with life in organizations, and this is not some interaction between abstract entities
    • objective observer --
      • one who stands outside the phenomena of interest and offers explanations of their behavior
      • this type of observation may be effective at the macro level but is not at the micro level
    • participant enquirer --
      • required for understanding the micro level, the interactions between people that directly affect the meaning of their lives.
      • explanation and understanding from the micro perspective relies much more on one's personal experience
      • understanding this level requires being a participant in organizational life.

Factors of consideration to make sense of the phenomena --

  • Dynamics -- How dynamics is understood
  • Paradox -- How conflict is handled.
  • Degree of descriptive detail -- The degree of descriptive detail focused upon
  • Emotion -- Role of emotion in explaining phenomena
  • Conceptualization of the interactive/relational nature of the phenomena --
  • Causality -- How causality is understood.
  • Reality assumptions -- Pre-given or constructed reality
  • Method of developing understanding -- Developing understanding as an objective observer or the reflexive, participative inquirer
  • Theory of knowing and behaving -- The theory of knowing and behaving, particularly how it deals with the relationships between individuals and groups