Sense of the strategy

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The empirical research of Pettigrew and Whipp
In a series of research studies between 1985 and 1990, the UK-based researchers Pettigrew
and Whipp analysed how strategic change occurred in four sectors of UK industry.7 Their
evidence did not extend beyond the UK but their conclusions are likely to be applicable to
other geographic areas. They suggested that strategic change can most usefully be seen as a
continuous process, rather than one with distinct stages, such as the formulation of strategy
and then its implementation. In this sense, they argued that strategy was not a linear movement
with discrete stages but an experimental, iterative process where the outcomes of each
stage were uncertain. A first small step might be actioned and then the strategy itself
adjusted, depending on the outcome of the actions.
Bounded rationality and minimum intervention
In exploring how managers develop their implementation plans, the strategists Hrebiniak
and Joyce8 have suggested that the implementation process is governed by two principles:
bounded rationality and minimum intervention.
● Bounded rationality derives from the work of researchers Cyert and March (see Chapters 2
and 7). They showed that managers in practice have difficulty in considering every conceivable
option. They therefore reduce their logical choices to a more limited, ‘bounded’
choice. Arguing in a similar way, Hrebiniak and Joyce suggest that implementation is also
likely to be limited: managers will act in a rational way but will reduce the overall task
to a series of small steps in order to make it more manageable. Thus the strategic goals
and implementation are likely to be split into a series of smaller tasks that can be more
easily handled but may not be optimal.
● Minimum intervention has been summarised by the authors as follows:
In implementing strategy, managers should change only what is necessary and sufficient to
produce an enduring solution to the strategic problem being addressed.
Practising managers might recognise this principle as the rather more basic sentence: ‘If
it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.’ The implication here is that implementation may be constrained
by the need to consider the impact on the strategy itself.

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