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How emergent strategy influences institution: a qualitative study of a private firm in China

Jing Zhao (School of Business, Renmin University of China, Beijing, China)
Ming Wang (School of Business, Renmin University of China, Beijing, China)
LiMin Zhu (School of Business, Renmin University of China, Beijing, China)

Chinese Management Studies

ISSN: 1750-614X

Article publication date: 5 June 2017




Institutional work mainly focused on the purposive action of rational actors. However, the evolution of institution is not only affected by deliberate actions but also by emergent strategic patterns. Through a qualitative study of emergent aggression strategy in a Chinese leading private firm, Gome, this paper aims to explore the role of emergent strategy in institutional work. The paper finds that emergent strategy influences the normative and cognitive institution unconsciously and offers actors specialized identities. The present analysis also suggests that the emergent strategy-based institution needs a supporting and repairing system for maintenance.


This study primarily considers the micro aspect of emergent strategy and institutional work. It calls for detailed observation, interviews and archival materials which can make up a comprehensive in-depth picture. The authors remain skeptical to what people claim and try to get multiple sources of information. Also, the topic the authors deal with is relatively under-researched, and it is valuable to get explorative richness. Therefore, an interpretive qualitative approach is adopted to investigate actual events from “the native’s” perspective.


We found that an emergent strategy, which is realized but without previous plans, can also construct a “proto-type institution”, only in an unconscious way. The precondition is that the strategic resources of the focal firm are abundant enough for it to set the criteria of inter-organizational sanctions and rewards. In addition, the authors believe that supportive system and repairing system underpin the maintenance of established institutions.


First, by combining the research on emergent strategy to institutional work, the authors extend the scope of the latter by adding unconscious institutional work. Even if the agent-based view is adopted, rational actors can still influence the institution. Second, the authors explored the institutional outcome of emergent strategy, which fills the paucity of strategy process research. Third, aggression, the specific emergent strategy in this paper, can be turned into “plans for the future”. Its prevalence in the emerging market will attract more academic attention.



This paper has been accepted and presented at the 75th Annual Meeting of Academy of Management. It is No. 15513.


Zhao, J., Wang, M. and Zhu, L. (2017), "How emergent strategy influences institution: a qualitative study of a private firm in China", Chinese Management Studies, Vol. 11 No. 2, pp. 303-321.



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