A strategic group is defined as a set of firms within an industry pursuing a similar strategy. The strategic group concept emerged with much promise over 40 years ago. Research on strategic groups over time in a broad variety of settings has sought to clarify their theoretical and empirical properties. These research findings are gradually being translated into practical managerial guidance, so that the strategic group concept can be understood, operationalized, and used productively by managers. Two main approaches exist for identifying strategic groups—a ground-up approach, using disaggregated data, and a top-down, using cognition. Once identified, managerial insights can be derived from clarifying a strategic group’s profile. Firm membership in a group helps to uncover immediate and more distant types of competitors. Group profitability differences reveal the more rewarding and less attractive areas within an industry, as well as identify the lower-return groups from where firm exits are likely to occur. Group dynamics reflect competitive and cooperative behavior within and between groups. Several promising areas for future research on strategic groups to improve understanding and practice of strategy.
Briance Mascarenhas and Megan Mascarenhas
Kathryn Rudie Harrigan
Concerns regarding strategic flexibility arose from companies’ need to survive excess capacity and flagging sales in the face of previously unforeseen competitive conditions. Strategic flexibility became an organizational mandate for coping with changing competitive conditions and managers learned to plan for inevitable restructurings. They learned to reposition assets and capabilities to suit their firms’ new strategic aspirations by overcoming barriers to change. Core rigidities flared up in the form of legacy costs, regulatory constraints, political animosity, and social resistance to adjusting firms’ strategic postures; managers learned that their firms’ past strategic choices could later become barriers to adapting corporate strategy. Managerial insights concerning how to modify firms’ resources changed the way in which they were subsequently regarded. Enterprises saw assets lose their relative productivity and value as mastery of specific knowledge become less germane to success. Managers recognized that their firms’ capabilities were mismatched to market or value-chain relationships. They struggled to adapt by overcoming barriers to change. Flexibility problems were inevitable. Even if competitive conditions were not impacted by exogenous change forces, sustaining advantage in a steady-state competitive arena became difficult; sustaining advantage in dynamic arenas became nearly impossible. Confronted with the difficulties of changing strategic postures, market orientations, and overall cost competitiveness, managers embraced the need to combat organizational rigidity in all aspects of their firms’ operations. Strategic flexibility affected enterprise assets, capabilities, and potential relationships with other parties within firms’ value-creating ecosystems; the need for strategic flexibility influenced investment choices made to escape organizational rigidity, capability traps and other forms of previously unrecognized resource inflexibility. Where entry barriers once protected a firm’s strategic posture, flexibility issues arose when the need for endogenous changes occurred. The temporary protection afforded by imitation barriers slowed an organization’s responsiveness to changing its strategy imperatives—making the firm rigid when adaptiveness was needed instead. A firm’s own inertia to change sometimes created mobility barriers that had to be overcome when hypercompetitive conditions arose in their traditional market arenas and forced firms to change how they competed. Where exogenous changes drove competitive conditions to become more volatile, attainment of strategic flexibility mandated the need to downsize the scope of a firm’s activities, shut down facilities, prune product lines, reduce headcount, and eliminate redundancies—as typically occurred during an organizational turnaround—while simultaneously increasing the scope of external activities performed by an enterprise’s value-adding network of suppliers, distributors, value-added resellers, complementors, and alliance partners, among others. Such structural value-chain changes typically exacerbated pressures on the firm’s internal organization to search more broadly for value-adding innovations to renew products and processes to keep up with the accelerated pace of industry change. Exploratory processes of self-renewal forced confrontations with mobility or exit barriers that were long tolerated by firms in order to avoid coping with the painful process of their ultimate elimination. The sometimes surprising efforts by firms to avoid inflexibility included changes in the nature of firms’ asset investments, value-chain relationships, and human-resource practices. Strategic flexibility concerns often trumped the traditional strengths accorded to resource-based strategies.
Rodrigo B. DeMello
Firms deploy value-based strategies to achieve competitive advantage in the marketplace. However, processes of value creation and appropriation do not happen in a vacuum but are structured by a set of formal market institutions that define, among other things, policies and regulations on standards, privacy, safety, trade, and access to resources. Corporate political strategies are the ways firms use to shape these policies and regulations in favorable ways that help them achieve competitive advantage. The political activities include lobbying, participation in hearings, campaign contributions, the use of revolving-door personnel, advocacy, grass-roots mobilization, and nurturing and exploiting political ties. Firms interact with government officeholders in different government arenas, such as national and local legislatures, government agencies, and the judiciary branch. For most corporations, being able to deploy effective political strategies is, therefore, necessary for achieving sustainable competitive advantage. The research into corporate political strategies has tried to explain why firms engage in political strategy, when, and which political activity would yield the best results. The usual theoretical framings draw from Resource Dependence Theory, Institutional Theory, Resource-Based View, Agency Theory, and Stakeholder Theory. While the strategic logic underlying each theoretical approach varies, they are better seen as complementary to each other. The fact that the phenomenon of political strategies is complex, dynamic, and an important part of daily business of several corporations favors the integration of different theoretical approaches. Although the literature on corporate political strategies has considerably advanced, there are still areas that could benefit from future research: the integration of market and political strategies, especially the use of market actions as political influence; the integration of social and political strategies; the role that individual and managerial aspects play in choice of political strategies; and multicountry comparative studies, especially focusing on ideological turnarounds and state capitalism.
Ray Noorda, the former CEO of Novell Inc., first coined the term “coopetition” in 1992 to describe a common phenomenon in the computer industry: cooperation between competitors. This phenomenon is inconsistent with classical economic and business theory going as far back as Adam Smith, who viewed the production system as based on a separation between suppliers and buyers. Micro-economists have traditionally viewed the firm as buying raw materials and components from suppliers, producing finished goods, and selling those goods in competition with other firms to a different set of firms or consumers. However, starting in the 1990s, research on forms of cooperative relationships between competitors became very common. The most common types are (a) competing firms engaging in horizontal alliances along the same level of the value chain and (b) vertical cooperation along different levels of the value chain between suppliers and firms in the focal industry or between customers and firms. In the last 25 years, there has been a great increase in research on coopetition. In a systematic literature review conducted in 2014, one researcher found over 130 academic articles in more than 80 academic publications published since 1996. The majority of the research to date has been qualitative, with many cases studied conducted. A number of special issues in academic journals have been devoted to the topic in general or to special topics concerning coopetition. The Strategic Management Journal organized a special issue in 2018 on the interplay of competition and cooperation, and a number of workshops have been held on coopetition strategy and innovation.
Nydia MacGregor and Tammy L. Madsen
Regulatory shocks, either by imposing regulations or easing them (deregulation), yield abrupt and fundamental changes to the institutional rules governing competition and, in turn, the opportunity sets available to firms. Formally, a regulatory shock occurs when jurisdictions replace one regulatory system for another. General forms of regulation include economic and social regulation but recent work offers a more fine-grained classification based on the content of regulations: regulation for competition, regulation of cap and trade, regulation by information, and soft law or experimental governance. These categories shed light on the types of rules and policies that change at the moment of a regulatory shock. As a result, they advance our understanding of the nature, scope, magnitude, and consequences of transformative shifts in rules systems governing industries. In addition to differences in the content of reforms, the assorted forms of regulatory change vary in the extent to which they disrupt an industry’s state of equilibrium or semi-equilibrium. These differences contribute to diverse temporal patterns or dynamics, an area ripe for further study. For example, a regulatory shock to an industry may be followed by rapid adjustment and, in turn, a new equilibrium state. Alternatively, the effects of a regulatory shock may be more enduring, contributing to ongoing dynamics and prolonging an industry’s convergence to new equilibrium state. As such, regulatory shocks can both stimulate ongoing heterogeneity or promote coherence within and among industries, sectors, organizational fields, and nation states. It follows that examining the content, scope, and magnitude of regulatory shocks is key to understanding their impact. Since conforming to industry regulation (deregulation) increases economic returns, firms attempt to align their policies and behaviors with the institutional rules governing an industry. Thus, regulatory shocks stimulate the evaluation of strategic choices and, in turn, impact the competitive positions of firms and the composition of industries. Following a shock, at least two generic cohorts of firms emerge: incumbents, which are firms that operated in the industry before the change, and entrants, which start up after the change. To sustain a position, entrants must build capabilities from scratch whereas incumbents must replace or modify the practices they developed in the prior regulatory era. Not surprisingly, the ensuing competitive dynamics strongly influence the distribution of profits observed in an industry and the duration of firms’ profit advantages. Our review highlights some of the prominent areas of research inquiry regarding regulatory shocks but many areas remain underexplored. Future work may benefit by considering regulatory shocks as embedded in a self-reinforcing system rather than simply an exogenous inflection in an industry’s evolutionary trajectory. Opportunities also exist for studying how the interplay of industry actors with actors external to an industry (political, social) affects the temporal and competitive consequences of regulatory shocks.
Bill Wooldridge and Birton Cowden
Scholarly interest in how managers make strategic decisions dates from the inception of the strategic management field and continues in the present. Although such decision-making was originally conceived as a completely rational, top-management process, contemporary thinking recognizes that strategies from across multiple organizational levels change within social and political contexts. Within this broad domain, multiple research streams address a wide variety of topics and issues. Prominent among these are, (1) the extent to which strategic decisions are formed through comprehensive analysis versus piecemeal decision-making, (2) how characteristics of top managers and the composition of top management teams affect strategic decision-making, (3) the role of politics, conflict, and consensus in strategy making, (4) how cognitive biases and heuristics influence the process, (5) when and how intuitive judgments can form the basis for effective decision-making, and (6) how managers at various organizational levels participate in the process. Research across these streams is both descriptive and normative, with a focus on contextual contingencies and relationships to firm performance. Taken as a whole this literature has significantly enhanced understanding of how strategies form within organizations. Contemporary work continues to provide new insights and demonstrates the continued value of this productive area of study.
John Bryson and Lauren Hamilton Edwards
Strategic planning has become a fairly routine and common practice at all levels of government in the United States and elsewhere. It can be part of the broader practice of strategic management that links planning with implementation. Strategic planning can be applied to organizations, collaborations, functions (e.g., transportation or health), and to places ranging from local to national to transnational. Research results are somewhat mixed, but they generally show a positive relationship between strategic planning and improved organizational performance. Much has been learned about public-sector strategic planning over the past several decades but there is much that is not known. There are a variety of approaches to strategic planning. Some are comprehensive process-oriented approaches (i.e., public-sector variants of the Harvard Policy Model, logical incrementalism, stakeholder management, and strategic management systems). Others are more narrowly focused process approaches that are in effect strategies (i.e., strategic negotiations, strategic issues management, and strategic planning as a framework for innovation). Finally, there are content-oriented approaches (i.e., portfolio analyses and competitive forces analysis). The research on public-sector strategic planning has pursued a number of themes. The first concerns what strategic planning “is” theoretically and practically. The approaches mentioned above may be thought of as generic—their ostensive aspect—but they must be applied contingently and sensitively in practice—their performative aspect. Scholars vary in whether they conceptualize strategic planning in a generic or performative way. A second theme concerns attempts to understand whether and how strategic planning “works.” Not surprisingly, how strategic planning is conceptualized and operationalized affects the answers. A third theme focuses on outcomes of strategic planning. The outcomes studied typically have been performance-related, such as efficiency and effectiveness, but some studies focus on intermediate outcomes, such as participation and learning, and a small number focus on a broader range of public values, such as transparency or equity. A final theme looks at what contributes to strategic planning success. Factors related to success include effective leadership, organizational capacity and resources, and participation, among others. A substantial research agenda remains. Public-sector strategic planning is not a single thing, but many things, and can be conceptualized in a variety of ways. Useful findings have come from each of these different conceptualizations through use of a variety of methodologies. This more open approach to research should continue. Given the increasing ubiquity of strategic planning across the globe, the additional insights this research approach can yield into exactly what works best, in which situations, and why, is likely to be helpful for advancing public purposes.