Strategic management is like a map that guides organisations towards long-term success. This guide will help you understand the different theories behind strategic decision-making, giving you the power to create effective strategies that drive growth.

What is Strategic Management?

Strategic management is the process by which organisations define their long-term direction. It’s a comprehensive approach that encompasses planning, decision-making, and continuous adaptation.

At the heart of strategic management lies the establishment of a clear mission and vision. This involves understanding the organisation’s purpose, its unique value proposition, and its aspirations.

Effective strategic management requires a thorough analysis of both the internal and external environments. Internally, organisations assess their resources, capabilities, strengths, and weaknesses. Externally, they analyse market trends, competitor behaviour, and industry dynamics to identify opportunities and threats.

Strategic management is not a static process; it’s an ongoing commitment to adaptation and improvement. This dynamic approach ensures that the organisation remains aligned with its objectives and can swiftly seize emerging opportunities and navigate challenges.

What are the Main Strategic Management Theories?

The Classical Approach

The classical approach to strategic management emphasises rational planning and systematic analysis. It views strategy as a deliberate, top-down process, where decisions are based on comprehensive market analysis and predictive modelling. This approach is characterised by long-term planning, resource allocation, and alignment with predefined objectives.

Key Characteristics:

  • Structured and methodical decision-making
  • Long-term focus, often with 5-year or 10-year plans
  • Emphasis on resource allocation and goal alignment

The Evolutionary Perspective

In contrast to the classical approach, the evolutionary perspective views the market as a dynamic and unpredictable environment. It suggests that businesses should adapt and respond to market changes quickly rather than relying on rigid long-term plans. This approach emphasises adaptability, flexibility, and the ability to learn from experience.

Key Characteristics:

  • Emphasis on market dynamism and adaptation
  • Focus on incremental improvements and continuous learning
  • Less emphasis on detailed long-term planning

The Processual Approach

The processual approach takes a more informal and emergent view of strategy development. It argues that strategies often emerge from day-to-day activities and interactions within an organisation rather than being explicitly planned. This approach emphasises the importance of organisational culture, communication, and employee empowerment.

Key Characteristics:

  • Strategy emerges from ongoing organisational activities
  • Emphasis on incremental adjustments and learning from experience
  • Less emphasis on formal planning and top-down decision-making

The Systemic Perspective

The systemic perspective views strategy as a product of the broader context in which an organisation operates. It considers the social, cultural, political, and economic factors that influence the business environment. This approach emphasises the need to understand the external context and tailor strategies accordingly.

Key Characteristics:

  • Strategy is embedded in the broader organisational context
  • Consideration of external factors such as industry dynamics, national culture, and stakeholder expectations
  • Emphasis on understanding the unique environment of the business

The Configurational Perspective

The configurational perspective integrates elements of the previous approaches, suggesting that the most effective strategy depends on the specific circumstances of the business. It recognises that different strategies may be more suitable for different organisations based on factors such as lifecycle stage, market conditions, and internal capabilities.

Key Characteristics:

  • Strategy is not one-size-fits-all but depends on the business context
  • Tailored approach to strategy development based on specific circumstances
  • Emphasis on situational analysis and contingency thinking

Profit-Maximising and Competition-Based Theory

This theory, also known as the industrial organisation (I/O) perspective, focuses on achieving long-term profitability and gaining a sustainable competitive advantage over rivals. It emphasises the importance of strategic positioning within the industry structure.

Key Characteristics:

  • Emphasis on maximising long-term profits
  • Identification of competitive opportunities and threats
  • Strategic positioning to gain a competitive advantage

Resource-Based Theory

Resource-based theory argues that a company’s competitive advantage stems from its unique internal resources, capabilities, and competencies. It highlights the importance of developing and leveraging these internal strengths to differentiate from competitors.

Key Characteristics:

  • Focus on internal resources and capabilities as a source of competitive advantage
  • Identification and development of distinctive competencies
  • Strategic exploitation of internal strengths

Survival-Based Theory

Survival-based theory emphasises the importance of continuous adaptation and resilience in the face of dynamic market conditions. It advocates for flexibility and responsiveness to maintain organisational viability.

Key Characteristics:

  • Emphasis on adaptability and responsiveness to market changes
  • Continuous learning and improvement to ensure survival
  • Emphasis on agility and innovation

Human Resource-Based Theory

Human resource-based theory underscores the critical role of human capital in strategic management. It highlights the importance of attracting, developing, and motivating talented employees to support strategic objectives.

Key Characteristics:

  • Emphasis on the strategic role of human resources
  • Importance of employee skills, knowledge, and engagement
  • Alignment of human capital with strategic goals

Agency Theory

Agency theory is a framework that examines the relationship between principals (shareholders or owners) and agents (managers or employees) who act on behalf of principals. It focuses on the potential for conflicts of interest between these parties and the mechanisms to align their incentives and ensure that agents act in the best interests of the principal.

Key Characteristics:

  • Focus on the principal-agent relationship between shareholders and managers
  • Identification of potential conflicts of interest between principals and agents
  • Emphasis on aligning incentives and monitoring agents to ensure effective strategic management

What is the Strategic Management Process?

The strategic management process is a systematic approach that organisations use to plan and execute their long-term strategies. It involves a series of steps that guide a business from the initial stage of vision setting to the implementation and evaluation of strategies. This process helps organisations align their resources and actions with their mission, vision, and set goals. The key stages of the strategic management process are:

1. Setting the Vision and Mission

The process begins with defining the organisation’s vision and mission. The vision statement describes the desired future position of the company, while the mission statement outlines the organisation’s core purpose and values. These statements provide direction and a sense of purpose for the entire strategic process.

2. External and Internal Analysis

The next step involves conducting a comprehensive analysis of the external and internal environments. Externally, this includes examining market trends, competitive landscape, and economic conditions. Internally, it involves assessing the organisation’s resources, capabilities, and weaknesses. Tools like SWOT analysis (Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, Threats) are commonly used in this stage.

3. Strategy Formulation

Based on the insights gained from the analysis, the next phase is formulating the strategy. This involves deciding on the best course of action to achieve the organisation’s objectives. It encompasses defining long-term goals, identifying potential courses of action, and deciding on the allocation of resources.

4. Strategy Implementation

After formulation, the focus shifts to putting the strategy into action. This involves developing detailed plans, allocating resources, and ensuring that the organisation is aligned to support the strategy. Effective implementation requires strong leadership, clear communication, and the involvement of all levels of the organisation.

5. Evaluation and Control

The final stage is the ongoing evaluation and control of the strategic plan. This step ensures that the organisation’s strategic actions are in line with the set objectives and adjusts the strategy as needed based on performance and changes in the external environment. Key performance indicators (KPIs) are often used to measure success and guide adjustments. The strategic management process is not linear but cyclical. It requires continuous reassessment and adaptation as the business environment and organisational needs change. This dynamic process ensures that the organisation remains focused and agile in achieving its long-term objectives.

Why is Strategic Management Important?

Here’s why strategic management is essential for any business seeking to thrive in the long term:

Provides Direction and Focus

In the absence of strategic guidance, organisations often find themselves aimlessly wandering, lacking a clear sense of purpose. Strategic management fills this void by establishing a shared vision and aligning all activities towards achieving common goals.

Enhances Market Responsiveness

The business landscape is constantly evolving, with new competitors emerging, customer preferences shifting, and technological advancements transforming industries. Strategic management equips organisations to anticipate and adapt to these dynamic market conditions.

Facilitates Decision Making

Strategic management provides a framework for sound decision-making, transforming uncertainty into informed choices. With a clear understanding of the organisation’s goals and objectives, leaders can evaluate options and make decisions based on data-driven insights.

Drives Performance

Strategic management is the driving force behind organisational performance improvement. By setting clear objectives and tracking progress, businesses can measure their effectiveness and identify areas for improvement.

Fosters Proactive Management

By anticipating future challenges and opportunities, businesses can take preemptive measures to capitalise on advantageous scenarios and mitigate potential risks. This proactive mindset positions organisations for success, allowing them to seize opportunities and navigate challenges effectively.

Builds Sustainable Competitive Advantage

The ultimate goal of strategic management is to establish and maintain a sustainable competitive advantage. By continuously analysing the market, identifying unique strengths, and adapting strategies accordingly, businesses can differentiate themselves from competitors and secure a lasting position in their industry.


The most important part of strategic management is choosing an approach that fits your business and adapting it to your needs. It’s about staying flexible, learning from experiences, and being ready to adjust as the market changes. Use this knowledge to steer your organisation in the right direction and achieve long-term success.

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