Strategy wayfinding: Backstage rehearsal for frontstage enactment
Paper in proceedings, 2019
In mainstream literature, strategy is conceptually viewed as future-oriented; top management responds to prevailing external factors by cognitively constructing an abstract means-end representation of a perfect future. This representation is encapsulated in predefined mission, goals, master plan and (sometimes) actions. Simultaneously, much of the literature reports multiple organisational failures to transform this strategy representation into operational performance. What is it that goes wrong in the communication process between strategy formulation and strategy implementation?
In this conference paper we seek answers to this question. Informed by a strategy-as-practice (SaP) perspective, we study the unfolding of an institutionalised strategic practice, away-days (aka strategy workshops), in real time in three construction companies. We draw on three frames: the notion of strategic episodes (Henry and Seidl 2003); Turners’s (1980) theory of ritualization, and Goffman’s (1990) conception of backstage and frontstage performances. Using an ethnographic approach, we seek to understand the dynamics at play in the uptake and/or resistance to proposed strategies. We see strategising as wayfinding that unfolds in time and space, and in which past and present action-based, intersubjective and contextually interdependent practices, human sensitivities and predispositions (habitus) as well as technical and semiotic elements are mutually constitutive
Studying the unfolding of an institutional practice at micro level can help us understand how an organisation’s “forelife” (Räisänen et al 2011) and the anticipated outcomes or the “afterlife” (Pearce 2007) of the practice influence the enactment of that practice in the present. In other words, what impacts do an organisation’s past history and its strategic future-oriented vision and goals have on the present planning and implementation of an event such as strategy away- days. Observing strategy-in-the-making in real time with subsequent deep interviews with strategists and participants have enabled us to trace actions that may or may not result in strategic outcomes both backward (preconditions) and forwards (consequences).
In this extended graphical abstract, we provide a brief summary of the theoretical framing. We then illustrate the three away-day sites pictorially to give the reader a feel of the affordances and/or constraints that each site offers. We hope these illustrations in large part speak for themselves. We present our empirical findings in table form, ordered according to Henry and Seidl’s (2003) strategy episodes; however, we have conflated initiation and conduct, and added what we see as two very important framing episodes: forelife and afterlife.
strategy as practice