Strategy as a Practice in Africa?


Strategy has become a critical component of management in the 21st century, faced with an ever changing environment attributable to changing socio-economic structures and technological dynamics; it is critically essential. Strategy could be defined as the holistic plan coordinating an organisations vision, objectives, implementation and leadership. Bruce Henderson however highlights in a 1989 Harvard Review that evolution defines the innate behaviour of the natural species to compete, therefore competition has shaped evolution. Explicitly stating in the absence of strategy, natural species have been competing since the beginning of time. Does the hype of strategy overplay in organisational spheres or is it entirely misunderstood? Strategy as a Practice is relatively a new field that seeks to formalise the process of strategy as well articulated and clear set of steps of achieving organisation objectives.

The key challenge with Strategy as Practice subscribers is narrowing down the broad classification of strategy into a set of actionable activities. There are different themes bridged between business policy, filtered through strategic analysis and the development into strategy as practice. Despite the consensus that the definition holds a broad auspice, this however brews the confusion of what strategy as practice (SaP) really is amongst the practitioners of this young field of study. Seems to be confusion amongst authors and practitioners around the distinction between the elements of process and practice.

A key formulation to this background is the basic questions that SaP stakeholders would ask including this position article, – What is strategy, Who is the strategist and what do they really do in their field of work, What constitutes strategic analysis and can current social and organisational forms inform SaP analysis.  Generally the tug-of-war on the definitional status of SaP is tracked by Carter et al. in 2008 between the orthodoxist and contemporary view of strategy; the orthodox view is centred on the Resource Based View (RBV) whereas the contemporary view on Strategy-as-Practice. The RBV approach clearly based on the micro-foundations of economics as articulated by Henry Mintzberg as the strategic organisation based on the skillful returns from a firms resource mix. So the key question for some would be so what is SaP can is it clearly differentiable. As an observation contribution to contemporary view of strategy William Starbuck discovered a differential between the discursive commitments of managers and the implemented outcome at the end of the day.

Practice or Process? Huh!!

The different dichotomies around strategy could be viewed as a contamination to the earlier attribution of what Strategy has been naturally viewed as, that is, natural and instinctive like the association of strategy with military operations. Strategy as a general discipline holds Sun Tzu’s writings in high regard because they account for a humanised and instinctive element of strategy which we attribute to a non-quantifiable, qualitative dynamic. Henderson expresses this natural behaviour of strategy as innate and needing no further explanation, just like natural reflexive defense instincts in every earthly creature. Recalling the aforementioned, the attribution of strategy to military tactics which are founded on strict protocols and codes can be linked with the discussion of what the practice involves although the literature overshadows what could be easily defined as a simply practice.

Resulting from key a discovery, strategy has been dubbed the instance of practice in the tactical resolution of emergent circumstances.  This is obviously the resolution brought about by the interaction of micro components and macro components of society which are instigated by a series of events. From the general consensus middle managers view themselves as practitioners of strategy in the corporate organisation and regard themselves as instrumental implementers of firm level strategy. The greater confusion is in the overarching definitions of when comparisons of practice are attributed to process analysis areas of strategy research. The strategy elements of the process school come from the realisation of the need for strategic change within a particular process. The key contribution of process research has been classifying the returns of achieving a particular process on economic returns or critical decision making. The insights provided by the process concepts include the tools of process paths which contributed effective decision making science.

The Human Touch

The strategy practice is not commonly attributable to everyone and there are different unique elements because of the human touch. As Bruce Henderson attributed an innate natural instinct to compete prior to strategy, we can relate this to the charismatic effect of historical leaders like Kwame Nkrumah. During the African road to independence, Kwame Nkrumah fulfilled a mandate beyond the cadre as a beacon of hope to the ordinary folk, which contributed to the Pan African ideology and way of life. Therefore the human element contributing to successful strategies cannot be replicated to another individual. This is the defined as the praxis in the literature, intuitively expressed as the innate character of society within its competitive nature and these are viewed as woven practice actions of actors in micro foundations of Strategy as a Practice.

This article affirms Bruce Henderson’s view that an innate natural instinct are present in human actors before strategy was defined in literature; this is because of natural competitive behaviour. Further inquiry from the body of knowledge included questions on the possibility of non-human actors to contribute to strategy, probably as applied technology advances this question and many more can be answered in the near future, well are already being answered with advances in artificial intelligence, cognitive processes and meta data sciences.

Compiled by Positivity Global (Africa)