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Study Notes

Planned Versus Emergent Strategy


Last updated 21 Mar 2021

A distinction can be made between "planned strategy" (the intended strategy which is determined by a formal strategic planning process) and "emergent strategy" (the strategy that actually happens as a business responds to changes in its external environment).

If only business strategy was as easy as writing a business plan and then implementing it in order to achieve the strategic objectives. If all strategy could be carefully planned, then surely all businesses would succeed.

Of course, strategic success is not easy. It is messy. Often the most successful strategies emerge from a series of management decisions in response to a changing environment rather than by slavishly following the original planned strategy.

What is Planned Strategy?

Much of your studies of business management and strategy focus on the models, tools and theories of classic planned business strategy.

Planned strategy is based around a formal process of setting corporate objectives and developing a coherent business strategy designed to achieve those objectives with the resources available.

Planned strategy is, therefore, the formal business planning process that is outlined in all the business textbooks.

To summarise; Planned Strategy is:

  • The intended strategy
  • Influenced by specific corporate objectives
  • Based around a formal strategy planning process
  • Supported by traditional planning tools and methods (e.g. SWOT Analysis, PESTLE framework, Porter’s Five Forces)
  • Described in formal business plan

What is Emergent Strategy?

That is the concept behind "emergent strategy", a term initially used by Professor Henry Mintzberg to describe:

"a pattern of action that develops over time in an organisation in the absence of a specific mission and goals, or despite a mission and goals."

Mintzberg argued that "strategy emerges over time as intentions collide with and accommodate a changing reality."

To summarise; Emergent Strategy:

  • Is the strategy that actually happens
  • Responds to events as they arise (e.g. changes in external environment)
  • Often involves strategic and tactical changes
  • Is not restricted by formal planning tools and methods

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