Strategy Work as Dialogue: Reflections on Institutional Voices in a City Organization

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https://helda.helsinki.fi/dhanken/handle/123456789/169707
Title: Strategy Work as Dialogue: Reflections on Institutional Voices in a City Organization
Author: Jalonen, Kari
Contributor: Svenska handelshögskolan, institutionen för företagsledning och organisation, företagsledning och organisation
Hanken School of Economics, Department of Management and Organisation, Management and Organisation
Belongs to series: Economics and Society – 317
ISSN: 0424-7256 (printed)
2242-699X (PDF)
ISBN: 978-952-232-352-1 (printed)
978-952-232-353-8 (PDF)
Abstract: The concept ‘strategy’ has become a ubiquitous part of the Western worldview; it has taken over spheres of life far from its original homes in war and business, and is used to manage a variety of collectives, including churches, the Red Cross, and the Boy Scouts. The rational and apparently simple language of strategic plans as a ‘common direction’ or a ‘shared understanding’ seeks to cut through the complexity of organizational life and the different, often competing perspectives people take as they go about their business. However, such sharedness remains elusive: many or most organizations operate in environments defined by multiple objectives and diffuse power, and the formulations of the management are reinterpreted, challenged and appropriated by a polyphony of other voices. Even in such environments where the maintenance of a shared understanding of goals and direction appears impossible, people find ways of acting as if they were in agreement; they manage to coordinate their actions and understanding of strategic priorities. Building on a strategy-as-practice approach, this study investigates how people achieve such coordination despite unavoidable differences in views and ambiguity of meaning. I draw on a 19-year study of strategy work in a Finnish city organization to study how participants introduced broader institutional perspectives to the strategy work as related but different perspectives on the city and its future and used them as institutional voices in dialogue. This study focuses on the ways in which these institutional voices were used in tandem to craft a collective strategy and how this resultant strategy was interpreted and reinterpreted according to situational needs. My findings describe how participants in the strategy work in Bay City related the pluralist institutions with each other and used them in context, and how participants weaved these institutions into partially shared, flexible practices and meanings, ultimately creating a strategy text which was used to coordinate organizational action in a variety of ways, without complete agreement of its meanings. I describe this meeting of perspectives as an ideational dialogue between locally relevant institutional voices, which enabled the creation of a collective strategy. This account makes three contributions to our understanding of the practice of strategy. First, it elucidates the institutional nature of strategy work by describing the role of local enactments of societal and field-level institutions in strategy work. Second, it introduces the notion of institutional dialogue and institutional voices to advance the conversation on institutional complexity, demonstrating the constructive aspects of institutional complexity for strategy work. Third, it provides a polyphonic account of how a collective strategy is formulated in an ongoing process balancing diverging interests.
URI: https://helda.helsinki.fi/dhanken/handle/123456789/169707
Date: 2017-10-25
Subject: strategy as practice
collective strategy
dialogue
discourse analysis
institutional complexity


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