In a former post I discussed whether companies have a strategy or not. So, we found out that there are some options that strategies might not exist in your organization and that for a very specific reason the absence of strategy could help the organization during a certain intermediate step. I have to stress “very specific reasons”, since I prefer to argue that the absence of strategy will leave most organizations rudderless in a world of environmental dynamics. Today I would like to address a sub topic for strategy formation: The language.
If one wants to review, to change or even to form a strategy, one has to take care for the right language in the organization. So, let’s look at the reasons.
Strategy formation can be understood as a communicative process or at least as a process that is attended by communication. In particular in ambiguous situations with justification of decisions and demands for legitimacy, communication can play a major role. Sometimes we can observe situations in which “the best” arguments stopped an excellent strategy or promoted it for implementation. Communication tactics, role playing as well as coordination skills have an impact, too.
One fundamental aspect that we should have in mind when we develop a strategy is the human perception of reality. Various sources in the academic literature have the assumption in common that human reality is a linguistic designed phenomenon which is radically different from an objective environment presentation. MINTZBERG confirms this in terms of strategy, since he argues “They are abstract concepts, in the mind of people”.
Another aspect is the contact between different groups in the organization. WESTLEY (1990) focuses on the linguistic contact between different management groupings. He introduces the term strategic conversation and defines it as “verbal interactions within superior-subordinate dyads focusing on strategic generalities”. A distinction is made between three dimensions: Firstly the dynamic to involve or to exclude subordinates in conversations with strategic content, secondly the dynamics of dominance and submission and thirdly the relationships between strategic conversations and the role of contextual factors, e.g. coalitions, predominant corporate doctrine.
KNIGHTS and MORGAN (1991) also highlight the importance of language and recommend understanding strategies as “corporate strategy as a set of discourses and practices which transform managers and employees alike into subjects who secure their sense of purpose and reality by formulating, evaluating and conducting strategy”. Social practice and strategic relevant discourses create a process for social construction of reality, offering the chance to achieve a lock-in of participants. Due to this lock-in organizations are able to achieve the strengths to meet demands. (Note: These strategic discourses constitute not only implementers of strategy and strategists; it “constitutes the problems for which it claims to be a solution” (Knights and Morgan (1991))
Furthermore we should also make a distinction between operative conversation and strategic conversation. Operational conversations deal with day-to-day business operations in a standardized approach and have a limited scope. Opposite to this strategic conversations have the objective to shape the corporate future. Hence a creative language is required that quests existing borderlines and which enables to manage a variety of topics. Since suggestiveness and dialogic discussions are attributes of this conversation, this kind of language requires different rules of conversation.
In summary it can be argued that strategic conversations and strategic discourses represent important vehicles in terms of strategy formation in ambiguous situations. Due the dominance of operational conversations companies have to learn strategic conversations. Hence it can be recommended that top manager should prepare their senior managers to shift between operational discussions and strategic discussions.