The Language and Actors of Strategic Planning Systems: Empirical Evidence on Utilized Instruments and Consultants from Large Finnish Corporations

Article excerpt

ABSTRACT

This paper describes the key results of an empirical study carried out in Finland. The aim of this study was to draw a general picture of the current situation of strategic planning of major corporations and the effects of consultants on these processes. The picture provided by the research is clear: the planning systems still work, even in today's business environment.

It was discovered that a typical Finnish corporation formulates its strategy once a year in an explicit planning process that takes 1-3 months and proceeds up and down in the organization. However, it could also be seen that the stages of this process are not rigid, but phases of analysis and specification overlap. In addition, the study showed that Finnish corporations use a combination of several different analysis techniques and approaches in their strategic planning processes. The more techniques a corporation used, the more approaches they used, and vice versa. It was also revealed that the number of techniques and approaches is higher in cases where outside experts or consultants have been used in the construction of the process.

Therefore, the main conclusion of this paper is that the planning machine still runs smoothly--despite all the criticisms that have been expressed. Furthermore, the research revealed that consultants may have essential roles in the construction and maintenance of strategic planning systems. They can act as cultivators bringing analytical techniques and explicit language into the processes. In addition, they can be discipliners, increasing the number of people attending the planning processes and helping to create reward and control systems connected with planning.

INTRODUCTION

The prevalent model of strategic planning was created some thirty years ago, by Ansoff (1965) and Andrews (1971) among others. Later, in the 1980s, this model came to serve as the first major phase of a typical strategic management framework. The course and elements of this strategic planning model--in its current form--are well presented in the United States in, for example, the work by Thompson and Strickland (1999) and in Europe in the textbook of Johnson and Scholes (1999). There has been much analysis and many critiques of this model, the most sophisticated obviously coming from Mintzberg (1994a). In recent years more and more criticism has been presented especially concerning the way this model disconnects planning and formulation from the implementation of strategy. An increasing number of researchers are nowadays suggesting that this process should be continuous or perpetual (see e.g.; Kaplan & Norton, 2001; Tyson, 1998; Kippenberger, 1998; Feurer & Chaharbaghi, 1995; Nicholls, 1994), and rather than being created, strategies emerge and evolve (see e.g.; Mintzberg & Lampel, 1999; Mintzberg, 1994b). Continuous strategy processes of this kind have also been successfully put to use in some real-life companies (see e.g.; Feurer, Chaharbaghi & Wargin, 1995).

Even so, strategic planning has not faded away. It still exists as a part of the everyday reality of corporations (see e.g.; Heracleous, 2000; Corboy & O'Corrbui, 1999; Taylor, 1997; Finnie, 1997) and, naturally, governmental organizations (see e.g.; Strategic Planning Advisory Committee, 1998). Strategic planning is also alive and well in Finnish corporations as our research will later show.

This paper describes the key results of an empirical study carried out in Finland. The aim of this study was to draw a general picture of both the current situation of strategic planning in major corporations as well as consultants' role in these processes. Thus; by "language" in our title we refer to utilized instruments (techniques, approaches, theories) in strategic planning processes and by "actors" and "consultants" we refer to the special roles of external experts in these very processes.

The primary target group of the study consisted of the biggest companies in Finland, starting with Nokia and ending with the 600th largest company. …