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Choosing a Strategic Approach: Prescriptive vs. Descriptive Strategic Management

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  1. Overview of prescriptive vs. descriptive approaches to strategy formulation 
  2. Prescriptive vs. descriptive approach: core differences of strategic management process 
    1. Strategic decision-making
    2. Process of strategy formulation vs. its content 
    3. Premeditation vs. spontaneity
    4. Desired outcomes
  3. Henry Mintzberg’s ten schools of thought on strategic management
    1. Prescriptive schools of strategy
    2. Descriptive strategy schools
  4. Whichever strategic planning approach you adopt…
  5. Bottom line on Prescriptive vs. Descriptive Strategic Management

The success of a company is often determined by the effective strategic planning and management. This is quite self-explanatory. The strategy has a long-term perspective, it helps you stay on track to your most important goals, which is what makes or breaks your business in the long run. 

How to develop a business strategy? What is the right strategic planning process? How to perform effective strategic management? The answers to these questions may be tricky. Especially seeing how wildly the strategic approaches vary. Practitioners and scholars agree there is no one simple or best approach to formulate strategy. 

How should a business do its strategy development then? What practices to apply? The best way to go would be to consider possible options and choose the course of action that suits your business most. Roadmap Planner team is here to help you figure this out! To provide a better understanding of the topic, we have summarized two major approaches to formulating strategy: prescriptive and descriptive. Check them out and choose your own perfect approach to strategic decision making!

Hand of a businessman that wins chess game symbolizing the business strategy for win and success

Overview of prescriptive vs. descriptive approaches to strategy formulation 

The prescriptive and descriptive approaches represent two different perspectives to strategy formulation. The prescriptive approach places emphasis on planned and logical thought processes. It proposes the best way to develop and implement business strategies. 

The descriptive approach focuses on the need for organizations to examine the real-life realization of its strategies. According to this approach, it is important to understand how the strategy is put into practice by real companies in the real world of business.    

Prescriptive vs. descriptive approach: core differences of strategic management process 

Strategic decision-making 

In the prescriptive school of strategic management, most strategic decisions are made by the upper echelon of a company. Ordinary employees have no influence on decision-making processes and just follow the dictate of their superiors. 

The descriptive school, on the other hand, values the contribution of the lower level employees. In descriptive strategic management, the decision making process begins from the bottom and moves upward. 

A focused businessman engaged in strategic decision making process

Process of strategy formulation vs. its content 

The way the two schools formulate strategy differs as well. The primary focus of companies that use a prescriptive style lies in the process of strategy formulation

Conversely, the descriptive approach to strategic management pays more attention to the content of the strategy. Managers of such companies focus on the decisions themselves rather than how they reach these decisions.

Premeditation vs. spontaneity 

The two schools also do not agree on when the strategic planning process should take place. Managers that pursue the prescriptive strategic approach believe that strategy should be planned well in advance. However, in this case the changing business conditions are disregarded. 

Managers of the descriptive school accept the fact that the business landscape can be unpredictable. They prefer to be flexible and make spontaneous decisions depending on the situation, rather than stick to a fixed, unchanging plan.

Road with the sign Change just ahead - symbolizing changes in the business environment

Desired outcomes

The desired outcome of descriptive and prescriptive strategic management turns out to be different as well. The goal of prescriptive strategic managers is to create a strategy that boosts performance. 

For descriptive strategic managers enhanced efficiency also plays an important role, but not the exclusive one. What is more important is that the strategy is feasible and the company can execute it in real life and survive on the market.

Henry Mintzberg’s ten schools of thought on strategic management

Henry Mintzberg’s 10 schools of strategy are an important milestone in the debate on prescriptive vs. descriptive approaches. Henry Mintzberg is an internationally renowned academician and author on business and management topics. Among his famous theories is the 5 P’s of Strategy, a powerful model that takes a complex approach to strategy definition. The Ten Schools of Thought by Henry Mintzberg is a framework that categorizes the field of strategic management. 

Henry Mintzberg divides the ten schools into two groups, based on the prescriptive and descriptive perspectives. Here they are: 

Prescriptive schools of strategy

  1. Design school views the formation of strategy as a process of conception. According to this school, strategy formulation is a deliberate, conscious process that requires both external and internal research. So SWOT analysis is the tool which is often used here.
  2. Planning school sees strategy formation as a formal process. Planning school of strategy praises the advantages of formal strategic planning and comes equipped with formal procedures.
  3. Positioning school views strategy formulation as an analytical process. It is influenced by Michael Porter’s idea that strategy depends on the way the organization is positioned in the industry and the market.

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Descriptive strategy schools

  1. Entrepreneurial school sees the strategy formulation as a visionary process. This approach to strategy development emphasizes the leader’s central role as the one who carries out the visionary process and creates a strategy. The entire organization then follows this strategy. 
  2. Cognitive school sees strategy creation as a mental task. Cognitive school of strategy analyzes how people process information and perceive patterns and what happens in the mind of a strategist. 
  3. Learning school views strategy formation as an emergent process. Developing a strategic plan, the management pays close attention to the past experience and incorporates the lessons learned in the future action plan.   
  4. Cultural school sees strategy development as a collective process. This school of strategy implies that various groups and departments of the company should be involved in the process. This results in the strategy developed as a reflection of the corporate culture of the company.Working in team to formulate strategy and achieve business success.
  5. Power school considers developing a strategic plan as a process of negotiation. In this case, strategy results from the negotiation between different power holders both within and outside the organization, for example between the company and its shareholders. 
  6. Environmental school views strategy formation as a reactive process. According to this approach, a company’s strategy depends on the external events and how the organization reacts to them.  
  7. Configuration school sees the development of strategy as a process of transformation. This school of descriptive strategy believes that strategy is a process that transforms the organization. 

Whichever strategic planning approach you adopt…

Be sure to use the right tool to visualize your strategy and successfully implement it. Roadmap Planner is a perfect solution for this! Its functionality lets you implement your strategic decisions in the most convenient way, craft an efficient strategic plan, easily monitor the progress, and generally see if you are on the right track. 

To craft a well-thought-out strategic plan, Roadmap Planner offers such features as: 

  • unlimited projects
  • scopes
  • milestones
  • task dependencies
  • Gantt chart view, and much more. 

Roadmap Planner - tool for successful strategy formulation and strategic management process

Whatever changes occur in the business environment, with the big picture view that Roadmap Planner provides you, you can easily course-correct and adapt to the new conditions.

Bottom line on Prescriptive vs. Descriptive Strategic Management

Strategy is a complex matter, with no single best method to approach it, especially given the diverse nature of business. Prescriptive and descriptive approaches are just some of the ways to consider strategy formulation. 

Now that you’ve learned what they are, and broadened your overview of strategic management field, you’re ready to craft and execute your own strategies. Let the advanced strategic planning and management tool, Roadmap Planner, help you with that!

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