Strategy Approaches: Content and Process

Finding an accurate definition of strategy that addresses all its multiple aspects is no easy task. On the one hand, strategy is defined as the integration of strategic objectives with plans to achieve those objectives. This suggests a rational and systematic approach involving formalized procedures that integrate decision-making throughout the company to achieve the expected results. Strategy’s role involves articulating strategies “and formulating deliberate policies to achieve these strategies” (Mintzberg 1994:24), a process that results in strategic positioning (Porter 1985).

On the other hand, strategy can be identified as a pattern of behavior that develops over time, based on a perspective or understanding of a way of doing things (Jelinek 1979). This definition recognizes that strategy is a process in which ideas surface in an “unintentional” way that involves incremental processes (Quinn 1980; Mintzberg 1994:25).

In sum, seen from one perspective strategy is deliberate, while from the other, strategy is emergent.

Strategy is, therefore, an initiative that executives develop to achieve the company’s strategic objectives. The strategy can also be understood as an established direction for the company and its various components to achieve a desired future state.

A strategy consists of integrating various business activities into a coherent whole and allocating the resources available within the business environment, deployed based on the vision of the future, in order to achieve the strategic objectives.

Developing effective and sustainable business strategies remains one of the main challenges facing companies worldwide.

A good strategy is shaped by two inseparable approaches, content and process, as illustrated in Figure 1.

It can be said that content comprises a set of ideas and their interrelations, while process includes the dynamics involved in conception and implementation (Gonçalves et al. 2006). Making a distinction between formal rational approaches and informal incremental approaches is the first step towards explicating the difference between the content and process approaches (Fahey and Christensen 1986; Leong et al.1990).

Content approaches tend to be primarily concerned with the final product of the strategy development process, aiming to identify which the strategy will best leverage business performance. It involves building the company’s competitive positioning. The underlying premise is that individuals behave rationally, and that particular strategies can be identified as appropriate for specific situations. The strategy follows a logical and linear process of formulation, analysis, and implementation.

Process approaches are also concerned with the content of strategies, but the focus is on how the process influences the content of strategies, and vice-versa, i.e., how content influences process (Van de Vem 1995). What are the relationships between strategic position, resources, and results? How is / should strategy be developed? Who is involved in the strategy process, and how do the individuals and their different perceptions affect it? What causes the strategy to be changed, and what is involved in this change process? Given the identification of a desired strategy, how and in which ways does the process impact the strategy? Process approaches focus on incremental strategic processes with an interconnection between the formulation and implementation of a strategy, with unintended ideas emerging during implementation. Similarly, this approach demonstrates that the inherent resistance derived from business and behavioral obstacles may create obstacles that obstruct strategic transformation itself.

Finally, content and process approaches can be applied to the understanding of strategy developed at various levels: corporate, business unit, functional, and network. Although strategies have effects on all levels within the company, the nature of the issues each deals with differs. At the corporate level, strategy involves issues surrounding the nature of the business, e.g., the main sectors in which the company operates. At the business unit level, strategy involves more specific issues related to products and technologies. At the functional level, strategy is concerned with manufacturing, marketing, and other functions. Network strategies recognize that many strategies involve relationships with other companies that are more collaborative and cooperative than competitive and involve the realization of strategic alliances and joint ventures.

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