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Strategizing from the middle in radical change situations: Transforming roles to enable strategic creativity

Patrick Besson (ESCP Europe, Paris, France)
Christian Mahieu (LEM, Lille Economie & Management – CNRS, IAE, Université des Sciences et Technologies de Lille, Université Catholique de Lille, Lille, France)

International Journal of Organizational Analysis

ISSN: 1934-8835

Article publication date: 26 July 2011




Research has recognized the importance of middle management in the strategy process. Nonetheless, two questions raised by the involvement of middle management remain largely unexplored; they are central to this study. The first question concerns the conditions of this involvement. Before the 1970s, middle managers were subjected to operational processes. During the 1980s and 1990s they often embodied bureaucratic unwieldiness. How, then, has an actor in an organization migrated from a position excluded from the strategy process to a key position in this process? The second question concerns the functioning of the strategy process itself: what are the conditions of strategic creativity in this type of expanded process? This paper aims to address these issues.


The approach taken is that of a longitudinal case study.


On the basis of a seven‐year longitudinal case study of strategy practices in a firm facing radical change, this article pinpoints two research results. The first result shows that becoming a strategist is not the simple result of training in strategy techniques. Involvement in the strategy process goes beyond the cognitive dimension; it entails the construction of new systems of roles and identities, along with development of appropriate dialogue modes. The second result is more interesting, and was largely unpredicted. The observations indicate that to achieve the necessary strategic creativity, the strategizing process itself must be transformed. If strategy is envisioned as an emerging social reality made up of strong situations and interactions between strategists, in a dynamic context structured by role systems, spatial and temporal conditions and discourse, developing a new strategy necessitates transformation of its social fabric.

Practical implications

Understanding the microprocesses at play in the inclusion of middle managers in the strategy process is important to help companies better conceive and apply their policy of including middle managers in the strategy process. This entails the definition of activity content and new skills required, along with career and loyalty building, and of the forms of organization in which middle managers evolve and develop. In this sense, the approach we proposed can be practical for companies and their stakeholders facing these challenges.


The longitudinal and very detailed case study over a long period of middle managers doing strategy during a radical change situation.



Besson, P. and Mahieu, C. (2011), "Strategizing from the middle in radical change situations: Transforming roles to enable strategic creativity", International Journal of Organizational Analysis, Vol. 19 No. 3, pp. 176-201.



Emerald Group Publishing Limited

Copyright © 2011, Emerald Group Publishing Limited

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