Business Strategy/The Psychology of Business Management
Several psychologists have conducted studies to determine the psychological patterns involved in strategic management. Typically senior managers have been asked how they go about making strategic decisions. A 1938 treatise by Chester Barnard, that was based on his own experience as a business executive, sees the process as informal, intuitive, non-routinized, and involving primarily oral, 2-way communications. Bernard says “The process is the sensing of the organization as a whole and the total situation relevant to it. It transcends the capacity of merely intellectual methods, and the techniques of discriminating the factors of the situation. The terms pertinent to it are “feeling”, “judgement”, “sense”, “proportion”, “balance”, “appropriateness”. It is a matter of art rather than science.”
In 1973, Henry Mintzberg found that senior managers typically deal with unpredictable situations so they strategize in ad hoc, flexible, dynamic, and implicit ways. He says, “The job breeds adaptive information-manipulators who prefer the live concrete situation. The manager works in an environment of stimulous-response, and he develops in his work a clear preference for live action.”
In 1982, John Kotter studied the daily activities of 15 executives and concluded that they spent most of their time developing and working a network of relationships from which they gained general insights and specific details to be used in making strategic decisions. They tended to use “mental road maps” rather than systematic planning techniques.
Daniel Isenberg's 1984 study of senior managers found that their decisions were highly intuitive. Executives often sensed what they were going to do before they could explain why. He claimed in 1986 that one of the reasons for this is the complexity of strategic decisions and the resultant information uncertainty.
Shoshana Zuboff (1988) claims that information technology is widening the divide between senior managers (who typically make strategic decisions) and operational level managers (who typically make routine decisions). She claims that prior to the widespread use of computer systems, managers, even at the most senior level, engaged in both strategic decisions and routine administration, but as computers facilitated (She called it “deskilled”) routine processes, these activities were moved further down the hierarchy, leaving senior management free for strategic decision making.
In 1977, Abraham Zaleznik identified a difference between leaders and managers. He describes leaders as visionaries who inspire. They care about substance. Whereas managers are claimed to care about process, plans, and form. He also claimed in 1989 that the rise of the manager was the main factor that caused the decline of American business in the 1970s and 80s. Lack of leadership is most damaging at the level of strategic management where it can paralyze an entire organization.
According to Corner, Kinichi, and Keats, strategic decision making in organizations occurs at two levels: individual and aggregate. They have developed a model of parallel strategic decision making. The model identifies two parallel processes both of which involve getting attention, encoding information, storage and retrieval of information, strategic choice, strategic outcome, and feedback. The individual and organizational processes are not independent however. They interact at each stage of the process.
- Barnard, Chester The function of the executive, Harvard University Press, Cambridge Mass, 1938, page 235.
- Mintzberg, Henry The Nature of Managerial Work, Harper and Roe, New York, 1973, page 38.
- Kotter, John The general manager, Free Press, New York, 1982.
- Isenberg, Daniel “How managers think”, Harvard Business Review, November–December 1984.
- Isenberg, Daniel Strategic Opportunism: Managing under uncertainty, Harvard Graduate School of Business, Working paper 9-786-020, Boston, January 1986.
- Zaleznik, Abraham “Managers and Leaders: Are they different?”, Harvard Business Review, May–June, 1977.
- Zaleznik, Abraham The Managerial Mistique, Harper and Row, New York, 1989.
- Corner, P. Kinicki, A. and Keats, B. “Integrating organizational and individual information processing perspectives on choice”, Organizational Science, vol. 3, 1994.