From planning to unexpected outcomes. A process-relational practice approach to understanding the emergence of strategy

Thesis event information

Date and time of the thesis defence

Place of the thesis defence

Linnanmaa campus, Oulu Business School, lecture hall TA105

Topic of the dissertation

From planning to unexpected outcomes. A process-relational practice approach to understanding the emergence of strategy

Doctoral candidate

M.Sc. (Econ. & Bus. Adm.) Hanna Okkonen

Faculty and unit

University of Oulu Graduate School, Oulu Business School, Marketing, management, and international business

Subject of study

International business


Associate Professor Katja Maria Hydle, University of Oslo


Professor Vesa Puhakka, University of Oulu Business School

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From strategic planning through unintended actions to unexpected outcomes

Strategy and the planning related to it has a significant role in organizations, and it is often treated as the basis for success. Strategy is seen as a predesigned plan for the anticipated future and its main objective is to help avoid and overcome unforeseen obstacles and includes trendy values. A strategic plan is powerful: it has the means to convince financiers and other stakeholders.

However, often strategies fail. Constantly changing world and unexpected situations have changed how managers and researchers view strategic planning: the conventional perspective toward strategy does not fully grasp the complexity of the everyday life of organizations, nor the uncertain and ever-changing world practitioners face. When strategy work is done after six months, the situation has already changed. In strategy literature, there has been a notion that what may be a significant consequence for the firm's competitive advantage may not be an outcome of strategic planning but may emerge from practical coping across an organization. However, if the socially acquired ways of acting shape an organization's strategic trajectory, what role does strategic planning have in modern organizations?

There is a lack of more profound understanding of how these two forms of strategy, planned and emergent, connect to create new models for strategy work suitable for a hectic and constantly changing world where strategy is understood as a continuous process and a social accomplishment. Thus, in the core of this dissertation is to contribute to the practice-based strategy literature by examining how these two forms of strategy connect and with what results. Bearing this goal in mind, this study follows a Finnish software company with ethnographically oriented methods for one and half years. The focus is on strategic planning and mundane everyday life within the case organization.

The dissertation presents an empirically grounded model of how practices shape strategy in three ways beyond management's control: during strategic planning, the socio-cultural background acts as an initial premise that sets the directions for strategic themes, the practices across the organization and its context set the possibilities and boundaries for strategic activities, and socially acquired way of acting shapes the strategic activities and, by extension, the organizational outcomes. These unexpected outcomes give a new meaning to strategizing. Instead of focusing on the future, the managers should focus on these unexpected moments as they reveal parts of the silent ways of acting that have the power to shape the whole strategic direction of the organization without the managers' intention. In light of this study, strategic planning makes living in constant change possible, but at the same time, it should be noted that strategy lives in mundane, everyday practices. The findings of this study emphasize the processual nature of strategy, where the focus should be on unexpected occurrences and on how organizational life is produced and upheld. It is only after recognizing these aspects of paying attention to unexpected outcomes that managers can reorganize organizational life intentionally and, by extension, the organization's strategic direction
Last updated: 23.1.2024