This paper aims to engage in a critical debate and discussion of two different schools of strategic thought, namely the deliberate/intended school and the emergent school. The area of business strategy has attracted significant academic and researcher interest, which in turn has resulted in important contributions by various experts and the development of different schools of strategic thought, as well as models and policies on different areas of strategy (McGee et al., 2005, p42). De Wit and Meyer (1999, p79) stated that the area of organisational strategy has not only evoked very significant academic and researcher interest but also resulted in the formation of numerous and frequently dissimilar and contrasting opinions on various issues of strategic importance. Michael Porter (1980, p12), a widely acclaimed strategic expert has constantly perpetuated the need for the adoption of a clear, deliberate and consistent strategy for the conducting of businesses. Henry Mintzberg (1987, p259) on the other hand supported the use of emergent strategy, wherein strategy can be considered to be essentially consistent patterns of organisational work, as well as business actions and reactions that emerge spontaneously over time in response to the organisational need for navigating within an operating situation. Deliberate and emergent strategies thus exist at the two ends of the deliberate-emergent continuum and represent dissimilar fundamental behaviour associated with the strategic process (Johnson et al., 2017, p36).
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Deliberate strategy, as propounded by Michael Porter and emergent strategy, as developed by Henry Mintzbergis positioned at two ends of the strategy continuum. Mintzberg and Waters (1985, p27) categorised organisational strategy as deliberate or emergent, even though some strategies have dual features of both deliberate and emergent strategies. A strategy can be considered to be deliberate in cases where an organisation’s collective vision, intention and target, as decided by its leadership is articulated in substantial detail and communicated to various employees, especially those responsible and accountable within an organisation(Vaara& Whittington, 2012, p286). Muralidharan (1997, p65) stated that deliberate strategy was essentially centralised and top-down in nature. It was similar to strategic planning and useful for coordinating action in various organisational situations. It was important for managements to address various critical details for the strategy to accomplish its targets and objectives (Noda &Bower, 1996, p160). People responsible for strategy implementation have to be aware and knowledgeable about these details (Mintzberg & Waters, 1985, p31). The management in such circumstances has to emphasise selective action and ensure the alignment of action of people in order to ensure suitable and consistent outcomes (De Wit & Meyer, 1999, p87). Organisational managements, however, have to keep in mind that some influences may not be completely anticipated, especially those arising from the market, political and technological developments (McGee et al., 2005, p45).
Muralidharan (1997, p67) stated that at least three specific conditions have to be satisfied for a strategy to be specifically deliberate. There should first be clear and precise intention within an organisation, articulated in comparatively concrete extent of detail so that doubts do not exist about what was desired before the taking of actions (Mintzberg, 1990, p172). Secondly, with organisations implying joint action, strategies must be common to virtually every actor in order to remove any type of doubt or apprehension on whether his or her intentions were essentially organisational or not; they should essentially be common to practically all the employees, either accepted from leaders or shared, as if they were their own (Meissner, 2014, p109). Collective intention should finally be realised as intended, which implies absence of interference from any sort of market force (Band & Scanlan, 1995, p103). The environment should be benign and predictable.
An emergent strategy, on the other hand, is concerned with lack of intention. It comprises interlinked and consistent actions that are taken without existing prior intention as this represents a swift response to frontline challenges(Mintzberg, 1990, p172). Emergent strategy constitutes the process of identification of unanticipated outcomes from the execution of corporate strategy and thereafter integrating such outcomes into suitable corporate plans (Noda & Bower, 1996, p163). It has been defined as a set of specific and consistent actions that create a pattern that was not anticipated or intended in the initial planning phase (Meissner, 2014, p112). Chari et al., (2014, p148) stated that the adoption of an emergent strategy can assist a business in adapting with greater flexibility to the practicalities of altering market conditions. Vaara and Whittington (2012, p289) added that an emergent strategy constitutes a pattern of action that is formed over time in an organisational setting, regardless of the presence or absence of particular mission and goals. Mintzberg (1987, p58) argues that strategy essentially develops over time, as intentions come into contact and collide with each other in order to accommodate and alter reality. An emergent strategy is formed when an organisational management decides to take actions that over time develop into consistent behavioural patterns (Goold& Quinn, 1990, p44). Whilst deliberate strategies provideorganisations with purposeful direction, emergent strategy ensures that organisations learn what is actually effective in practice (Mintzberg, 1990, p176).
It is important to keep in mind that Michael Porter and Henry Mintzberg diverged significantly on the conceptualisation of strategy. Porter (1980, p21) takes a deliberate approach to strategy whilst Mintzberg (1987 p58) stresses on emergent strategy. Deliberate strategy, as elaborated earlier focuses on the various advantages and benefits of intentional action (Band & Scanlan, 1995, p104). Johnson et al., (2017, p 44) stated that a deliberate strategy is carefully planned and controlled by an organisation. Traditional strategies are deliberate in nature and begin with the conceptualisation of an idea. This is followed by the development and subsequent communication of a plan and finally by some type of action. It is the approach of the planning school (Goold& Quinn, 1990, p50). One very important example of deliberate strategy is the strategic approach adopted by Aldi and Lidl to enter and become successful in the UK supermarket sector. These two organisations have developed a clear and deliberate no-frills strategy that appealed to consumers in the UK after the global economic crisis (Gill, 2010, n.p). The two organisations have adopted a clear and firm strategy, wherein they offer a limited range of own branded and other branded products at extremely competitive prices (Shadbolt, 2015, n.p).
Gill (2010, n.p) stated that the success of these two organisations was driven by the high-quality strategic alignment between their supply chain and commercial strategies, which allowed them to carefully and productively balance demand and supply. The development of a predictable and stable demand pattern eliminated lack of certainty in the supply chain and enabled the organisation to work very closely with suppliers for minimisation of supply-chain problems in order to ensure genuinely low prices to consumers (Fronda, 2015, n.p). The entry of Honda Motorcycles into the US market was deliberate because the firm created an American subsidiary that was located in Los Angeles, an area where there was a growing population and a climate that was appropriate for motorcycles (Richardson, 2011, n.p). The organisation’s initial plan was to market 250 and 350 CC motorcycles in a deliberate way (Yu, 2018, n.p). The company carefully followed a deliberate strategy of developing the American market region by region (Richardson, 2011, n.p).
Zara represents another example of the application of deliberate strategy. The organisation has developed a fast fashion strategy that focuses on reduction of time from design to retail outlet, rapid turnover of fashion designs, introduction of new designs in accordance with market needs as soon as possible, efficient supply chain management, acceptable quality and reasonably economical pricing (Bau, 2017, p20). The organisation formulated this strategy more than a decade ago and has consistently followed it till now, even in 2018, without wavering from it in any marked manner (Martin Roll Company, 2018, n.p). The adoption of this strategy has enabled the organisation to increase its sales, enhance its market share and improve its profitability. Zara continues, even today to be one of the most important examples of the formulation and application of deliberate strategy (Sulisetiasihet al., 2013, n.p).
With regard to intended strategy, numerous examples of such strategy are available in the past and even today. Revisiting the case of Honda’s entry into the US market, the organisation adopted an emergent strategy of selling 50 cc cub motorcycles in response to demand from undergraduates (Richardson, 2011, n.p). The organisation was able to increase its sales of cub motorcycles substantially and was thus able to combine deliberate and emergent strategy (Pan, 2018, n.p). Noda and Bower (1996, p163) stated that emergent strategies can be used to solve problems, as well as for capitalising on unanticipated marketing benefits. One of the benefits of adopting an emergent strategy stems from the fact that it could be something that was discovered by an organisation before the competition (Muralidharan, 1997, p71). An important example of an emergent strategy with an unexpected benefit was the development of Buffalo wings. Bellissimo, who is officially credited with the creation of the first Buffalo wings in New York, apparently received a consignment of wings in place of the required backs and necks used for improving the taste of his pasta sauce (Stromberg, 2013, n.p). Bellissimo,instead of throwing away the wings, deep fried them and offered them to his customers, with great success (Kryza& Sumpter, 2017, n.p). The emergent strategy involved the development of a strategy for the use of chicken parts that would otherwise have been thrown away (Stromberg, 2013, n.p). The implementation of this strategy resulted in the creation of the Buffalo wings, which in turn added to the success of the establishment.
Band and Scanlan (1995, p109) stated that the adoption of an emergent strategy was critical for the advancement of the technology on offer in the market. Modern organisations, in the course of the refinement and development of products and services, search for new features that help in differentiating their offerings from competing ones (Meissner, 2014, p113). Organisations thus try to employ emergent strategies to capture product development that can help them in developing technological and market leadership (Vaara& Whittington, 2012, p287). Amazon, for example, commenced its operations with the online sale of books and other publications. Its adoption of an emergent strategy led to the creation of the Kindle, an electronic reader that could hold thousands of books in electronic form (Grundy, 2015, n.p). Sainsbury’s has, in response to its declining performance in the supermarket sector, recently focused upon the development of an emergent strategy for reduction of costs (Vizard, 2014, n.p). The adoption of such a strategy has resulted in a number of developments, including a merger with Asda and the closure of several of its retail outlets(Vizard, 2014, n.p).
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Examined in totality it can be seen that whilst the adoption of both deliberate and emergent strategies have resulted in significant business successes, the continuously altering and dynamic current environment appears to be unsuitable for the adoption of a rigid deliberate strategy. An emergent strategy helps enormously in organisational flexibility and is far more relevant for the unpredictable and volatile current business environment (Meissner, 2014, p113).
This paper engaged in the examination of deliberate and emergent strategies from various perspectives with the help of real-life examples. Deliberate strategies are formed when organisational vision, intent and objectives are clearly expressed, communicated to responsible and accountable employees and taken up for implementation in a clear and steady manner. Emergent strategies are generated on the other hand through consistent and interlinked measures that are adopted without prior intent as a swift response to frontline challenges. It was seen that whilst these two forms of strategy were situated at two ends of the strategic continuum, both have been used with success by a variety of modern organisations. It is, however, important to keep in mind that the adoption of a deliberate strategy could result in organisational rigidity and lack of flexibility. Whilst the adoption of a deliberate strategy may have been advisable in a predictable and stable business environment, it can be unsuitable for the extremely volatile contemporary business environment.
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