Academic journal article Journal of Business Strategies

An Interpretive Perspective on the Role of Strategic Control in Triggering Strategic Change

Academic journal article Journal of Business Strategies

An Interpretive Perspective on the Role of Strategic Control in Triggering Strategic Change

Article excerpt


Rapidly changing environments press organizations to respond in an appropriate and timely fashion. Strategic control plays an important role in this adaptation process through its identification and interpretation of "change triggers"--critical events in the external environment that mandate an organization's response. We argue that giving more prominent place to data interpretation in the strategic control process facilitates the identification of factors that trigger change. We build a conceptual model around a three-step process of scanning/monitoring, data interpretation, and response combined with three different levels of strategic control (strategic surveillance, premise monitoring, and implementation control). The model assists managers by highlighting the factors that can cause Type II errors (not changing when change is required) and provides researchers with directions f or future inquiry.


Business leaders face an unprecedented level of market turmoil and dynamism. The globalization of markets, the liberalization of the former East-bloc economies, the increasing diversity of the workforce, and the rising ubiquity of the Internet are only a few of the factors driving rapid change. Such changes mandate responses on the part of individual businesses but this begs several questions of managers: do we need to respond, when should we respond, and what should be the nature of our response? While managers have faced similar questions in the past, there is growing agreement that the pace of change has quickened: managers have less time to respond to change.

Change triggers are events in the external environment of such importance and magnitude that they mandate an organization's response (Napster had no choice but to respond to court rulings that it had violated copyright protection). These change triggers play an important role in strategic control. Rajagopalan and Spreitzer (1997) identified triggering strategic change as a "key unresolved issue" in the academic literature (p. 72), and called for more research into this important area. Strategic changes are adjustments an organization makes to better align itself with its environment, improving the likelihood of successful strategy implementation. One reason triggering change remains unresolved is that the literature cited by these authors has generally not employed frameworks or concepts from research on strategic control. The strategic control literature has more directly addressed this issue of triggering change (Muralidharan, 1997; Picken & Dess, 1997; Preble, 1992). For example, Schreyogg and Steinmann (1987) identified three different ways in which the need for strategic changes can be identified: tracking performance indicators: challenging the validity of crucial assumptions underlying a particular strategy; and identifying emerging issues through macro-environmental scanning.

We assert that the value of strategic control research in addressing the triggering of change can be enhanced by more fully integrating data interpretation into models of strategic control. While Rajagopalan and Spreitzer (1997) incorporated managerial cognition and data interpretation into their multi-lens framework of strategic change, these concepts have generally been overlooked in strategic control studies (Fiegener, 1994, 1997; and Lorange, et al., 1986 are notable exceptions). Currently, no research has systematically applied cognitive and interpretive concepts to strategic control, nor has it attempted to present strategic control as essentially a data interpretation activity. We, therefore, consider strategic control from an interpretation perspective and then apply this interpretive framework to the issue of the timely triggering of strategic change.

Model of the Strategic Control Process

Strategic control involves the monitoring and evaluation of plans, activities, and results with a view toward future action (Goold & Quinn, 1990; Preble. …

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