The ongoing debate on the concept and definition of strategy is as interesting as the process of making the strategy itself. This discussion happens probably because different organisations (business entity, non-profit, governments, non-government, military, etc.) interpret strategy differently, one organisations might see it as a CEO’s personal mission while other perceives it as a tool to achieve the organisation’s collectively decided goals. One organisation sees it as a game plan while other defines it as a set of pattern in a stream of not planned actions. Hofer and Schendel tried to give a comparison of some of the notable strategy definition’s formulation as shown in Table 1. It can be clearly see that although slightly different from one another, there is some consistency as well in it. In addition, one think to note is the way an organisation defines the concept of a strategy will affects the way they formulate their strategies and the strategies resulted (Evered, 1983, p.60). Coming from this situation, this essay will try to identify the concept of strategy using the war analogy to offer another perspective on what strategy is and the implications of the said perception.
Figure 1. Hofer and Schendel comparison of various author’s concepts of strategy and the strategy formulation process in the business management field (Everend, 1983, p. 60)
The Art of War
In this essay, I will use the same approach as James Brian Quinn (1996, pp.5-6), by using the history of the Kingdom of Macedon to illustrate the essence of strategy from my point of view.
Figure 2. The Kingdom of Macedon, from Wikipedia, Map Macedonia 336 BC-en, (2009)
Philip II and Alexander III of Macedon had very clear goals. They wanted to established their supremacy by conquer the other city-states in Ancient Greek area and put them under the Kingdom of Macedon. Moreover, they also need Athens’ troops to be in their alliance to defeat Persian Empire. When the city of Amphissa did a sacred land violation, the Macedonians used it as an opportunity to interfere. On their way to punish Amphissa, they made a detour in Elatea and built a defence base. Following this, Philip sent a peace offer to Thebes and Athens which got rejected by both parties and led to resort to battle. The Macedonians then made a scheme to prepare themselves in winning the battle using their specific strengths in the new spear technology, their strong phalanx’s formation, as well as the powerful cavalry. However, they knew that they were outnumbered and will face the best ground soldiers in the world.
Therefore, they decided to attack Thebes and Athens from Chaeronea which is lightly armed using their strongest units. They also split their force, Philip engaged the full force phalanxes to the right wing and Alexander commanded the cavalry to the left wing. After fought hard Philip deliberately withdrew his troops. The Athenians on the left followed which made them breaking their army lines. After the enemy’s unity broke, Alexander attacked from the left side (the Theban lines). At the same time, Philip’s army then pressed forward and quickly scatter and defeat the enemy. After the victory at Chaeronea, Philip and Alexander then occupied the other city-states unchallenged and declared it as a Hellenic Alliance. Later on the Hellenic Alliance will try to expand its authority to the Persian Empire.
From the illustration above, several apparent points could be pointed out. The king’s and his successor’s grand strategy was to establish its dominance throughout the Greek land. In order to achieve it, they arranged a strategy which was to conquer all city-states and put them under the Kingdom of Macedon’s wing, either using peace offers or battles. Should the battles arise, they need to made tactics on the spot to win the battles, like the one they made in Chaeronea.
So in this military context, the word “strategy” can be described as “the actual direction of military force” to achieve the policy’s (king’s) objectives (Evered, 1983, p.63). This aligns with the literal meaning of the word itself, stratos (army) and ago (leading) (Evered, 1983, p.58). Normally, strategy is made before the actual contacts with the enemy and when it is already in the battlefield situations, tactics will be made, as distinguished above.
Grand Strategy, Strategy, and Tactics
Similar approach can also be applied to examine the concept of strategy in the management field. In my opinion, any organisation will need to have a grand strategy, strategy, and tactics which will be describe below.
As an organisation tries to define the intention of their existence, they will have to consider several questions, such as: Why are they here? What the key objectives are? Where is it going? What the organisation want to be in the future? What are their values? The answers to these questions will set the tone to their organisation’s quest. It will lead them to determine their grand strategy, or in this case I would refer it as the organisation’s mission, vision, and core values.
According to Raynor (1998, p. 371), mission is a statement of the organisation’s core competencies and values that will give the organisation characteristics that will allow it to perform successfully in a particular area. While vision is the state in the future that the organisation wants to achieve within the area defined already in the mission. This includes setting up their objectives and goals. These components also famous to be categorized as “strategic intent” (Campbell & Yeung, 1991, p.146; Phillips, 2011, p.928).
Although some organisation might not have a specific explicit statement of their mission and vision (Ireland & Hitt, 1992, p.36), the similarity of values and interest of the people within an organisation could accidently set an implicit mission and vision, which still could be considered as a grand strategy, like what happen in Lonely Planet company (Hubbard, et.al, 1996, pp.215-235).
After an organisation becomes clear with who they are and the intention of their existence(mission), they know what their state of position in the future (vision), they have set their objectives and goals, now it is time for them to determine their strategy to achieve it. Using the war analogy, the way I see a strategy is to treat it as a long term blueprint of an organisation that breaks down the big picture of grand strategy into smaller tangible milestones by understanding the organisation’s position at the time the strategy was made.
A clear comprehension of the organisation’s internal strengths and weakness as well as the external opportunities and threats will help the organisation decide the ideal respond to take and the best way of recognising it is by using Porter’s SWOT (Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunity, and Threats) analysis (Phillips, 2011, p.928). Once the active responses are determine, it will hopefully achieve competitive advantage. According to Arnoldo Hax, the linkage between external and internal conditions and competitive advantage is very close in the strategy concept, he even put those together in one dimension in his redefinition of strategy concept (Hax, 1990, pp.35-36) whereas before he put those in two separate dimensions (Hax & Majluf, 1988, pp.100-101).
The benefit of having a strategy is to give the organisation a sense of unity, direction, and purpose, especially when it comes to the resources allocation as it will be more direct and clear. The other benefit is to give the organisation the ability to have a logical system for differentiating managerial tasks in an organisation, especially the one that has many layered of organisational structure (Hax, 1990, p.36). From this perspective, it is clear that in the “grand strategy” and “strategy” parts, the information processing and knowledge ordering use a top-down approach.
Once the strategy is being declared, the organisation then have to set the tactics to match the strategy or in this case I would also like to refer it as a set of programmes or courses of actions. Tactics defines the details of strategy especially the resources allocations part and it is more of a short-term plan compares to strategy which makes it more adjustable than strategy to facilitate the necessary changes that come in the future. Since the creation of tactics occurs in a more daily basis with more dynamic activities, the information processing and knowledge ordering in this segment ideally use a mixture of top-down and bottom-up approach. The reason why I think the mix approach is ideal was because same as what happens in normal battlefields, the frontline soldiers sometime know the situation on the field better than the general.
That way the input from them is valuable to decide the next tactics. Same as in an organisation, when it comes to daily running, the operational staff would have a better and detail insight then the Chief Executive Officer. Once the programmes are implemented, the organisation will have to see the result and compare it to the strategy and then again to the grand strategy. The similar cycle (mission, objectives, goals, strategies, plans, operations, results) also suggested by LD Phillips (2011, p.928).
Combining these three elements together, I think the suitable kind of strategy to this point of view is the Process Strategy which can be define as “the leadership controls the process aspects of strategy, leaving the actual content of strategy to others; strategies are again partly deliberate (concerning process) and partly emergent (concerning content), and deliberately emergent (Mintzberg & Quinn, 1996, p.13). By using this type of strategy, I think I position myself in between the two strategy mainstreams: Porter and Mintzberg. Porter with his deliberate strategy concept is in line with my point of view of formulating a strategy. It has to be carefully crafted because it will control all critical variables and activities in an organisation in a long run.
However, as it is widely known, Porter’s concept on strategy has a flaw as well. It is accused to be too rigid, taking a long period of time to define, and not flexible for today’s environment where the boundaries between industries are more fluid and the environment becomes less stable. Therefore, to accommodate this issue, I add the tactics element to it to give an option to the organisation to be more flexible. As already stated above, tactics are made to tackle the issue in the daily basis implementation and are more easily modified. Furthermore, I think it is appropriate to say that strategy, with the addition of tactics, is a living system rather than a static formula to be applied (Evered, 1983, p.61).
Strategy as Plan (and Ploy)
Coming from the illustration above, it is clear that my point of view about strategy aligns with Mintzberg’s definition of strategy as plan. It has the two essential characteristics of “plan” which are: “made in advance of the actions to which they apply, and they are developed consciously and purposefully” (Mintzberg, 1987, p.11; Mintzberg & Quinn, 1996, p.10). Unlike the “pattern” definition that sees strategy as sporadic actions that are not intended but somehow consistent in behaviour, the way I set the strategy framework is to treat it as a clear and intended plan that is made to deal with a situation from the beginning (Mintzberg, 1987, pp.11-13; Mintzberg & Quinn, 1996, pp.10-12). The interlock between strategy and tactics was noted by Mintzberg who stated that “as a plan, a strategy can be a ploy too” (Mintzberg & Quinn, 1996, p.11).
Similar thing also expressed by Rumelt in 1979 who stated that one person’s or one department’s strategy can be a tactic to another division depending on “where” and “when” you sit (Mintzberg & Quinn, 1996, p.13). The other thing that I would like to point out is Mintzberg’s definition of strategy as “perspective” which he describes as “an ingrained way of perceiving the world” (Mintzberg, 1987, p. 16). This means strategy as a “perspective” could also be seen as an ideology or a collective mind in an organisation that can be an umbrella for the other definitions of strategy (plan, pattern, and position). Although this interrelating connection is acceptable, I personally would consider “perspective” as a part of a mission rather than a strategy.
One might argue that having a strategy is unnecessary and outdated for an organisation as it will restrain the organisation from being adaptive and flexible in a turbulent environment. To answer this question, I would like to use the Japanese competition style and practice in the 1970s and 1980s as illustrated by Michael Porter in one of his discussions (Porter, 1996, p.63). During this period of time, most of the Japanese companies did not develop a rigid mission, vision, or a distinctive strategy. They did not have a certain plan and did not position themselves in a certain market. Most of them copied and follow each other’s new development and being responsive to the market’s demand by becoming all things to all customers. At first this style successfully made the operational process became effective as they did not need to spend time to formulate the strategy. However, over time it was destructive for the organisation itself. As the organisation did not have a clear direction of their quest, it had to constantly change its orientations.
As a result, not only the resources allocation needed to be repeatedly revised, it was also confusing the stakeholders. From the illustration above, it is clear that any kind of organisation will need to have a strategy to “set direction for themselves and to outsmart competitors, or at least enable themselves to manoeuvre through threatening environment” (Mintzberg(a), 1987, p.25). Even if it refuse to have a strategy, an organisation has to have a grand strategy at the very least as quoted here by Chandler, one of the men who was behind the success of Sears Roebuck. He stated “business is like a war in one respect- if its grand strategy is correct… any number of tactical errors can be made and yet the enterprise proves successful” (Mintzberg(a), 1987, p.25). The importance of strategy is also to help the organisation to be focus on its effort and coordination as well as providing consistency.
Using the war analogy and different range of viewpoints from several authors, I have drawn a conclusion of my own definition of strategy. A strategy is a set of guidelines that forge the resource allocations, other critical activities, and a set of tactics in an organisation intended to achieve its objectives and goals. By adding the element of tactics there, it becomes the advantage for the organisation that afraid of having a strategy because it can be too long-term vision and cannot facilitate the rapid growing and changes of the environment. This definition is versatile as it can be used in any types of organisation and can always be re-used and re-apply should one objective or goal has been achieved.
However, the definition can be too broad for some organisation that again can cause confusion in understanding the concept of strategy. If this happen then I would like to address the statement in the beginning of essay that there is no certain and specific definition of strategy. It is very subjective and depends on one’s knowledge and interpretation which I personally think is the art of strategy.
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