Strategy in Action: The Use of Visual Artefacts for Strategic Change

Strategy in Action: The Use of Visual Artefacts for Strategic Change

DOI: 10.4018/978-1-5225-3987-2.ch006

Abstract

Recently performativity has emerged as a new conceptual and methodological tool in management and accounting research. This concept emphasizes the process view of organisational phenomena by drawing attentions to the provisional ontology of managerial practices in complex settings. Building on the performativity turn in accounting, this chapter provides insights in the active role that a special kind of management control tools, strategy maps, plays in exploring new strategic patterns. A qualitative case study of strategy renewal in an Italian professional service firm was undertaken. Preliminary findings confirm that strategy maps enact knowledge production in strategic change processes by figuring concerns, negotiating meaning and discovering new patterns.
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Introduction

In the accounting-strategy research, the concept of performativity has been developed from a relational perspective with the aim to draw attention to the ongoing ontology of accounting (Boedker, 2010). This alternative approach paints a new picture of the accounting and strategy relationship by emphasizing how accounting tools and practice shape strategy and actively contribute to generate new knowledge in sometimes unanticipated ways (Skaerbaek & Tryggestad, 2010).

This research work addresses the performativity of particular kinds of “things” that lie between discourse and matter, because of their representational character: visual artefacts. Visual artefacts are central to the practice of strategy making, although the potential benefits of visualizations for fostering strategizing processes have not yet been analyzed extensively (McGrath, 2010). Adopting a knowing in practice perspective, strategy making is conceived as a knowledge production process, resting on multiple interrelations of socio-material practices, i.e. interdependencies between human actors and strategy maps, where multiple cognitive dynamics emerge simultaneously in discursively and materially mediated practice. These dynamics are performative practice, where strategic decision-making is produced by the arrangement of all these elements. In this perspective, management control tools, in the form of strategy maps, engage human actors in knowledge-generation processes for the creation of a knowledge space where new understandings emerge because of the performative effects that these visual artefacts generate. The purpose of this research work is to explore how visual artefacts enact knowledge within strategizing processes and how the generated knowledge shapes actions and meanings, hence performing strategic change. In this manner, a specific item (tools and methods for explaining causal links) of the model for the design of MCS in complex setting described in chapter 4 is tested and verified in practice. The research work draws on a case study of strategy renewal in an Italian professional service firm, where visual strategy mapping techniques were employed in a collective process of strategic decision making. The visualization techniques developed in the case study emphasize how the complexity of strategy renewal can be revealed rather than reduced and how the practices of strategy-making and control are understood as a bundle of dynamic knowledge processes. In particular, the agency of visual artefacts are investigated by analyzing “what is mattered” (the resulting strategic decisions) and “how” (what visual artefacts do). Preliminary findings hint at the fact that strategy maps enact knowledge production in strategic change processes by figuring concerns (reflexive mechanism), negotiating meaning (interactive mechanism), and discovering new patterns (generative mechanisms). In so doing, visualization plays much more than just a technical representational role, since it also plays a social and epistemic one (Kaplan, 2011), performing the collective knowledge that it apparently represents.

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