The doctoral dissertations of the former Helsinki University of Technology (TKK) and Aalto University Schools of Technology (CHEM, ELEC, ENG, SCI) published in electronic format are available in the electronic publications archive of Aalto University - Aaltodoc.

Consuming Strategy: The Art and Practice of Managers' Everyday Strategy Usage

Kimmo Suominen

Dissertation for the degree of Doctor of Science in Technology to be presented with due permission of the Faculty of Information and Natural Sciences for public examination and debate in Auditorium TU1 at Helsinki University of Technology (Espoo, Finland) on the 4th of December, 2009, at 12 noon.

Dissertation in PDF format (ISBN 978-952-248-223-5)   [1264 KB]
Dissertation is also available in print (ISBN 978-952-248-222-8)


Strategy seems to have penetrated almost every organization nowadays, from global corporations to small businesses and public organizations. As a result, managers are obligated to follow and submit themselves to the principles of strategic management, a discourse which has become an industry. This empirical research is part of a growing interest in understanding how strategy is practiced in organizations. Particularly, this work studies how managers, as central strategy practitioners, consume strategy.

By drawing on the work of the late Michel de Certeau, the term consumption is adopted as a theoretical framework to explain and describe managers' strategy usage. Consumption is an everyday activity that uses and applies strategy subtly, quietly and opportunistically for the users' own purposes and ends, which may not comply with the original purpose of strategy. This is the art of using strategy.

The research data were produced in three case organizations during 2003-2008. The first case organization is a global industrial organization (Industrial), the second a Finnish polytechnic (Polytechnic), and the third a Finnish insurance company (Insurance). Discourse analytic methods were used to analyze the data.

The results show that the strategy consumption process consists of three overlapping and simultaneous elements. Firstly, five macro-discourses of strategy, militarism, mechanism, humanism, pragmatism and spirituality are used as resources in strategy consumption. Secondly, managers (re)produce strategy by bringing it into being at the societal and organizational level. Here, strategy appears to managers rather unanimously as a way or means to reach the intended vision. Thirdly, managers make something out of strategy by using it originally and creatively for their own purposes through three different usage tactics.

The instrumental tactic applies strategy as an instrument to legitimize and justify managers' activities, solve problems, and lead their subordinates, among others. The playful tactic uses strategy through irony and humor. Here managers use strategy playfully to cope and entertain themselves, as a manifestation of cynicism and resistance. The intimate tactic takes strategy personally by constructing managers' identity and subjectivity in relation to it. Managers may use strategy to glorify themselves as strategic leaders, submit themselves to it, or dis-identify themselves from it.

The results capture the reciprocal dynamics between the micro and macro-levels of strategy practice. They shed light on the practice-oriented strategy research by showing how managers use and poach strategy – being unable to escape it – for their own intentions, with ways that depart from the conventional ideals of strategy. The findings also show how strategy consumption is an artful discursive activity.

As a practical contribution, the work discusses a number of ways in which individual managers can use and apply strategy in their work. The study also brings out factors that should be taken into account when constructing strategy processes and managing strategy work at organizations.

Keywords: strategy, consumption, discourse, manager

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Last update 2011-05-26