Strategy and the Strategist: How it Matters Who Develops the Strategy

32 Pages Posted: 25 Jan 2014 Last revised: 19 Jul 2016

See all articles by Eric Van den Steen

Eric Van den Steen

Harvard Business School - Strategy Unit

Date Written: July 2, 2016

Abstract

This paper addresses primarily two questions. First, when or why should a company’s strategy be developed by its CEO versus by some outside analyst or other insider? Second, how does strategy, properly defined, interact with vision (in the sense of a strong belief) about various decisions? In the process, the paper also identifies three new criteria that make a decision strategic and derives two new explanations why strategies often reflect the background of the strategist. The paper studies these questions using a (new) functional definition of strategy as ‘the smallest set of choices to optimally guide the other choices.’ With regard to the first question – when or why should a company’s strategy be developed by its CEO – the paper shows that strategy formulation by the CEO (or by a strategist with control over the right decisions) leads to both a better strategy and better execution when the strategic decision is controversial. With regard to the second question, the paper shows that a strategist’s vision (as a strong belief) may improve implementation, but only if two conditions are met: the strong belief must be about a strategic decision and that decision must be controlled by the strategist. Vision about non-strategic decisions may in fact hurt the strategy’s implementation.

Suggested Citation

van den Steen, Eric, Strategy and the Strategist: How it Matters Who Develops the Strategy (July 2, 2016). Harvard Business School Strategy Unit Working Paper No. 17-002. Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=2383972 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.2383972

Eric Van den Steen (Contact Author)

Harvard Business School - Strategy Unit ( email )

Harvard Business School
Soldiers Field Road
Boston, MA 02163
United States

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