“Doing Strategy” – A practice-based study of small- and large-scale phenomena in SMEs.

Eccleston, Helen (2021) “Doing Strategy” – A practice-based study of small- and large-scale phenomena in SMEs. Doctoral thesis, University of Central Lancashire.

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Digital ID: http://doi.org/10.17030/uclan.thesis.00047750


This research presents an in-depth analysis of strategy activities and practices that take place within small and medium size enterprises (SMEs) in the North West of England. Using components of Schatzki’s social practice theory the research explores how and why SME’s practise strategy. The research considers current practice-based strategy research and challenges to create a conceptual framework that applies a social practice theory to propose a perspective of strategising that emphasizes how local purposive action, guided by components of practice, can actually result in the unexpected emergence of a coherent and plausible strategy. This has been completed with a set of empirical longitudinal observations and supplementary interviews within nine SMEs, to provide an acutely attuned representation of the variety of ways in which predispositions of practice are acquired and expressed in different situations and time frames. The findings provide an account of four different ways of practising strategy in SMEs; Firm Frugality, Meaningful Relationships, Renowned Reputation and Guided Compliance. It shows how the owner-manager’s understanding of strategy informs and organises; the concerns that orient their work, the everyday practical coping actions taken, and the ongoing improvisations and adjustments made, by analysing them in relation to the mental organising principles of practice; rules, understandings and teleoaffective structures. It demonstrates there is an entwining between the activities and understandings which informs the practice of strategy. Finally, the findings show how strategy, as a consistent pattern of actions, emerge serendipitously from the synergistic interweaving of such local coping actions, the practice predispositions that underpin them and the positive unintended consequences that unexpectedly ensued. Thus, the research contributes to strategy research by proposing how unintended consequences of practical coping leads to strategy emergence that considers the actors' social embeddedness and reveal the dynamics of how this actually happens in practice. By using practice theory to investigate how SMEs “do” strategy this research has two main contributions to knowledge. First, it documents how the multitude of coping actions solidify inadvertently over time into a set of practice understandings that provides the basis for strategising, without deliberate intent. Secondly, it details how seemingly inconsequential micro actions taken in situ are guided by practice propagated predispositions that provide the patterned consistency which makes the inadvertent emergence of a coherent strategy possible. By demonstrating how the “doing” of strategy can produce tangible organisational outcomes, this research offers insight into reconciling the troublesome micro/macro distinction implied in strategy research.

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