Mintzberg’s Criticisms of Strategic Planning

Henry Mintzberg (The Strategy Process) looked at how the word ‘strategy’ has been used by people who have written about the subject.

  1. Plan
  2. Ploy
  3. Pattern
  4. Position
  5. Perspective

Strategic planning has fallen from popularity and has been criticized. Many businesses have been successful through the actions of their founders or chief executives rather than through formal strategic planning.

Henry Mintzberg criticizes it as a failure in practical and of dubious validity as an explanation of what does and should happen. Mintzberg’s critique below is amongst the most insightful.

Mintzberg’s Criticisms of Strategic Planning

Mintzberg argues that planning doesn’t work out in practice. According to his criticism it has some problems and Comments

Practical failure: Empirical studies have not proved that formal planning processes contribute to success.

Routine and regular: Strategic planning often occurs as an annual cycle, but a firm cannot allow itself to wait every year for the month of February to address its problems.

Reduces initiative: Formal planning discourages strategic thinking. Once a plan is locked in place, people are unwilling to question it. Obsession with particular performance indicators means that managers focus on fulfilling the plan rather than concentrating on developments in the environment.

Internal politics: The assumption of ‘objectivity’ in evaluation ignores political battles between different managers and departments. The model doesn’t describe reality therefore.

Exaggerates power: Managers face limits to the extent to which they can control the behaviour of the organisation. The plans may be ignored by subordinates.

Impractical: The hierarchy of objectives, budgets, strategies and programmes does not reflect the reality of most organisations who prefer simple, more easy to apply programmes such as capital budgeting.

Secondly Mintzberg claims the concept is flawed in principle on the following grounds.

Formalisation: We have no evidence that any of the strategic planning systems – no matter how elaborate – succeeded in capturing (let alone improving on) the messy informal processes by which strategies really do get developed.

Detachment: divorcing planning from operations
This implies that the managers not involved in planning do not really need day-today knowledge of the product or market to do their jobs. But strategic thinking is necessary to detect the strategic messages within the nitty-gritty of operations.

Formulation precedes implementation: A strategy is planned – then it is implemented. But defining strengths and weaknesses is actually very difficult in advance of testing them. Discovering strengths and weaknesses is a learning process. Implementing a strategy is necessary for learning – to see if it works.

Predetermination: Planning assumes that the environment can be forecast, and that its future behaviours can be controlled, by a strategy planned in advanced and delivered on schedule. In conditions of stability, forecasting and extrapolation make sense.

However, forecasting cannot cope with high uncertainty and discontinuities (e.g., publishers and other media owners find it hard at present because they cannot predict the form and platforms we will be using to access media in five years’ time. Permanent on line through wi-fi enabled readers? Hand-held page screens? Modified spectacles? In ear via text-to-voice converters?

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