– Thoughts on Strategy and Management

The impact of language on strategy formation

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. 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 (2000) confirms this in terms of strategy, since he argues “They are abstract concepts, in the mind of people”.

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, i.e. coalitions, predominant corporate doctrine. KNIGHTS and MORGAN (1991) highlights also 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.

VON KROGH and ROOS (1995) 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. VON KROGH and ROOS (1995) argue that due the dominance of operational conversations companies have to learn strategic conversations. STRONG (2005) sees discussions as one tool to ensure creative thinking.

In summary it can be argued that strategic conversations and strategic discourses represent important vehicles in terms of strategy formation in ambiguous situations.

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