Year

2014

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy

Department

School of Management, Operations and Marketing

Abstract

The notion of strategic alignment has assumed considerable importance in the discourse on business strategy. Strategic alignment is commonly acknowledged as a key determinant of business performance. Given this, a precise formulation of the conceptual underpinnings of causal analyses of business performance is essential, yet the discourse on strategic alignment tends to be ad hoc, involving abstract (and sometimes vague) formulations of the problem.

This research addresses a precise formulation - the problem of determining whether a given set of strategies is aligned. This research addresses a critical gap in the literature on strategic alignment – the absence of crisp, actionable definitions of alignment. This dissertation develops and validates a conceptual framework for strategic alignment. This framework could be leveraged for prediction (identifying situations where strategies might be misaligned), explanation (providing an account of why strategic decisions led to specific outcomes) and achieving alignment (appropriately modifying a set of strategies in situations where they might be misaligned).

This dissertation contributes to scholarship of strategy and strategic alignment in several important ways. It systematizes a diversity of distinct conceptions of strategy by offering a simple, yet general, scheme for documenting strategies. It also systematizes a diversity of alternative conceptions of strategic alignment, by offering a uniform formulation of the problem as one of alignment between a set of strategies. While this formulation does not subsume all of the other conceptions that exist in the literature, it is general enough to subsume several. It develops a specific definition of alignment between a set of strategies. It offers a mechanism for using this definition to analyse whether a set of strategies are aligned. Finally, it validates the scheme for documenting strategies (the vocabulary), the definition of alignment and the mechanism for analysing alignment using a detailed case study.

From the perspective of practitioners (such as managers charged with formulating and implementing strategies, or consultants) a key challenge is devising a standard means of documenting and describing strategies, both for the purposes of effectively communicating these to key stakeholders and also for enabling the analysis of alignment between strategies. The first contribution to practice of this dissertation is in offering a simple, yet practical, vocabulary for documenting strategies. Another challenge for practitioners is being able to analyse alignment using a structured and principled mechanism, as opposed to leveraging experience or largely tacit knowledge, as is often currently the case. A structured alignment analysis technique also makes it easy for practitioners to explain their analysis to other stakeholders. The second contribution to practice of this research is to make such a technique available to practitioners. Identifying what needs to be done to “fix” misalignment is another challenge for practitioners (who, once again, typically take recourse to experience and tacit knowledge). The third contribution to practice of this research is to support the process of identifying strategic “fixes” – these naturally emerge from the vocabulary for alignment analysis presented here.

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