Controversy in Strategy and Difficulties of Its Application

Subject: Strategic Management
Pages: 10
Words: 2770
Reading time:
11 min
Study level: PhD


Management being such a wide concept is not devoid of controversies. They range from management controversies, strategy, to the application of the same. This essay focuses on controversies surrounding the application of management strategy in both the private and public sectors.

Defining controversy has not been an easy task for people in academic circles. As Thomas (2003) notes, different authors who have offered definitions of the word have had the same challenges as other authors. Yet, for this essay to be justifiable, it is necessary to define, just what the word controversy means in this essay’s context. Regarding strategy application, this essay defines controversies as the disagreement that occurs on and about the application of identified strategies.

This essay will use three criteria as identified by Thomas (2003) to gauge is management strategy application is controversial or not. They are: The application strategy must be in dispute between different parties; the application strategy must be important to the parties concerned, and the application strategy must be the focus of a debate from different people who seek to use it in management. Overall, it means that the application strategy must be important enough to warrant discussions especially because different parties have opposing views regarding the matter.

Literature review

Thomas (2003) states that the controversy surrounding the application of management strategy lies in “the problematic relationship between knowledge and action, theory and practice, the social sciences and management, and social scientists and managers” (p.75). This boils down to challenges that arise when managers try to actualize theories that have been formulated on paper. To understand the controversies, therefore, one needs to look at the relationship between management practice and social sciences (Drunkman, 2008).

Management was in the past viewed as art (Thomas, 2003). In this regard, management practice was mainly manifest through following set rules, principles, or procedures. Such were delivered from experimental research or thorough theorization processes. Managers who effectively implement strategies set from such rules, principles, or procedures are defined by Thomas (2003) as possessing innate qualities that enable them to attain the necessary results in the workplace. The author however fails to mention what the ‘innate qualities’ are, quipping that they are not only hard to measure, but also difficult to describe.

Pettigrew et al.(2002) hold the argument that controversies are more ‘alive’ in the private sector than they are in the public sector. This, the authors say can be attributed to the fact that public sectors are bound by policies and politics that often make engaging in active debates on issues a guarded issue for the managers in public institutions. Some of the identified factors identified as contributors to the low participation of public managers in controversial debates include low political profiles, the presence of focused tasks, and the presence of weak professional groups when compared to groups in the private sector.

Pettiigrew et al.(2002) also suggest that the subjective sphere of management theory may hold the answer to the reason why controversies are so widespread. Specifically, the authors raise the issue that the emergence of strong business programs offered in high-ranking business schools as well as MBA could very well be the genesis of a new school of thought, which not only scrutinizes existing theories but has also raised a new generation of management thinkers. Since such schools and programs train people to be thinkers as opposed to implementers, the presence of controversies is therefore an expected thing since most will have different opinions on what needs to be done.

Cultural differences

Pettigrew et al (2002) also hold the opinion that cultural differences could also explain some of the controversies that arise in strategy application in management. To explain this, the authors argue that management theorists who come up with specific management strategies are naturally inclined to base their thoughts on what they already know. Oftentimes, this means that their theories and strategies suffer influences from their cultures. Once the strategies are in the public domain, other managers especially those who do not understand or submit to the cultural elements in the strategy fail to comprehend the same. This then becomes the basis of their controversies.

Unlike controversies in management theories, controversies in strategy implementation mean that the different parties agree that the strategy needs to be implemented. The contention however arises on how the strategy should be implemented. Health management is especially an area that comes into focus when such controversies arise. Many health experts agree that certain diseases need management. However, they fail to agree on the best way to manage the same. In this regard, this essay seeks to point out two controversial management areas in health namely childbirth and weight management, and the roles of healthcare managers in the same.

Examples in Health management

Paterson-Brown (1998) identifies the main controversy in the management of childbirth, most specifically regarding the use of elective cesarean section. The big debate seems to focus on “Should doctors perform an elective caesarean section on request?” (p.462). in health management, it is clearly understood that a doctor performs a surgical procedure when it is clinically justified. More to this, the surgical procedure must be performed within acceptable medical practice guidelines.

Yet, the debate on whether an elective c-section where complications at child-birth are absent ranges on. On one side of the divide is a school of thought that holds that a mother should be granted her wishes for a Caesarean section should she asks, while the other divide believes that unnecessary Caesarean section poses a danger to the unborn child and should not, therefore, be a choice that is left to the woman.

According to Patterson-Brown (1998), the belief that vagina births are better both for the baby and the mother can now be challenged. With an analysis of the benefits and disadvantages of normal (vaginal) deliveries as opposed to caesarian section births, the authors conclude that there is no evidence suggesting that either is harmful than the other. As such, they conclude that health care managers need to recognize the right of the delivering mother to actively decide on how her child will be born.

According to Patterson-Brown (1998) however, health care managers need to inform women under their care of the consequences they may have to experience for choosing prophylactic cesarean section over normal delivery. This does not give the health care officials the green light to dictate to patients what they need to do.

Another controversy in health management as discussed by Wooley & Garner (1994) regards the management of obesity using diets. Notably, the controversy on this subject revolves around whether dietary treatments are effective as a treatment for obesity.

One school of thought is a firm believer that diets are effective in reducing weight, because after all, “a person is what he or she eats”. The other divide of the debate argues that there is scientific evidence that indicates that diets are half-truths that only offer false hope to obese people. According to Wooley & Garner (1994), those opposed to the use of diets as a treatment for obesity argue that food intake is not the sole cause of obesity in people. Rather, other issues such as “hereditability of obesity, biology of weight regulation and the physiology of energy metabolism” (p.655) should be considered.

The debate on the effectiveness of diets has no signs of subsiding yet. While some medics argue that it’s ineffective, others argue that it has been proven as an effective treatment tool, but only on people who are dedicated to the treatment. This, therefore, means that most of the responsibility for the success or lack of the same lies with the patient. Opponents of this thought believe that doctors who offer diet treatments fear acknowledging that their treatments do not work, because that would push them out of work.

Inadequate evidence

According to Kairamkonda & Khashu (2008), the presence of inadequate evidence to convince people in a unified direction is also among the key reasons why there are so many controversies, especially in the medical field. Giving an example of hyperglycemia treatment in newborn children, the two authors argue that there had only been two case studies on the subject in India by the time they were publishing their work, while literature reviewed when compiling their article had revealed only 7 case series.


West(2001) also argues that there is a conflict between technology-savvy managers and the old, managers who are yet to embrace technology and are hence still wrapped in the old manual ways of handling affairs. Most notably, managers who have not yet embraced technology expect their businesses to subscribe to control mechanisms that intend to directly administrate the respective businesses (Poole & Garner, 2006). In this case, such companies value upholding the status quo as opposed to embracing changes. When such is the case where there are new graduates from business schools, controversy is bound to arise especially because the new generation of managers know the benefits of technology only too well, while the old brand of managers does not seem to care much about the possibilities presented by the same.

Power and interest are also considerations that Eden & Ackerman (1998) think are worth consideration. This means that managers or professionals embroidered in a controversy usually have different power levels of interest. When such is the case, each takes a stand that not only justifies his position of power but also serves their interests well. When such positions are not shared by other professionals, controversy is bound to arise.

The players with the most controlling power influences decision-making in the end, and therefore, people with less powerful positions regardless of how valid or genuine their arguments are always end up submitting to the like and whims of the powerful. This however is not to mean that the discussions die off. On the contrary, the less powerful people who feel they have a point to express usually mobilize the support of their ideals relentlessly most often looking for evidence to support the same.

Løwendahl (2005) on the other hand argues that traditional strategic management is misleading in the contemporary world and should therefore be put aside and managers should willingly adopt new strategy application methods. Yet as earlier discovered in this essay, not all managers have the same eagerness to adopting new technology involved in the implementation of strategy in their respective places of work.

According to Løwendahl (2005) however, such reluctance not only breeds losses in terms of revenue loss and human resource dissatisfaction but is also a major cause of quality issues especially in a competitive environment where other players in the industry have embraced new ways of doing things. To this end, it is recommended that managers gauge the cost of their opinions based on the extent of the profitability that the same costs their organizations.

Most notably, however, managers in service provision firms need to take a different approach from firms that deal with manufacturing (Løwendahl, 2005). This applies in both the selection of concepts to apply, the models to follow, and the techniques to use. The firm or organization should be able to convince the clients that its promise of service is credible (Joyce & Woods 2001). After this, the organization must be able to deliver the service, which should meet quality expectations, perceptions and should be delivered efficiently. The third and final process for service provision firms should be learning from the experiences they had delivering services to the client.

Because different clients present with different needs, the learning experiences may be different for different companies thus compounding controversies in the sector. The solution in such a case is for the different organizations to adopt processes and strategies that serve their interest well without unfairly disadvantaging other players in the same field.

Risk perception

Hill and Dinsdale (2001) hold the opinion that different people perceive risk differently and hence the controversies in strategy application in many organizations. In their argument, they state that before a strategy is implemented, managers evaluate the amount of risk that is involved. This then determines the level of risk they are willing to take to attain set goals and objectives. Risk management takes two dimensions:

  1. process dimension; and
  2. personal dimension.

In the process dimension, the managers are involved in a systematic process that involves decision-making processes to solve existing problems. While a rational approach is always more appropriate in such cases, there is no way of guaranteeing that managers can be rational in their use of logic during such processes. The personal dimension involves the manager’s competencies, knowledge levels, skills, values, beliefs, and culture. Differences in these factors always affect the individual manager’s ability to assess the risk associated with the application of a specific strategy (Ining & Weimer 2006).

The complexity of a debate and the resources involved are also major sources of controversy. In water management, for example, managers have to consider the economic, political, and social implications of their decisions and actions (Medalye, 2008). In cases where the customers have been empowered to make decisions regarding a resource, the controversies in such seem to be even deeper because managers and other powerful stakeholders can always influence the public through persuasion and elections. This however does not always mean that their point of view is right.

Poland (1977) notes that the discrepancies that occur between cultures and new technological advances cause more controversies in the management application. Citing the example of marine fishery development in western and eastern countries, the author notes that culture plays a vital role in how marine fisheries are managed in different regions. According to the author, the two regions believe that the ocean resources are inexhaustible.

However, this belief is being challenged by modern scientists who believe that over-exploitation of the sea resources will eventually lead to the extinction of specific fish species. Traditional opinion-makers who hold the opinion that nature will always find a way of rejuvenating itself hold a different opinion (Druckman 2008). The trick in managing the sea resources in the different areas lay in striking a balance between the opinions voiced by the scientists and the opinions held by the traditional opinion makers.

In the private sector, the desire to attain a competitive advantage over other players is also seen as a genesis for some of the controversies rocking the business environment. According to Campbell et al (2002), strategy application in the private sector depends on an organization’s ability to develop competencies that are hard to replicate by the competitors. This is especially the case where the business environment is turbulent.

Organizations that spend huge amounts of time and money on innovation would oftentimes like the government to guard their innovation through policies (West, 2001). Other players in the sector may however claim that the one organization is benefitting from unfair policies, which guard them against the competition. In such a case, the government has to take the prerogative of ensuring that the views of all players are taken into consideration and the right ruling delivered.

When dealing with the end-user, the managers need to consider the theoretical controversies that arise regarding consumer behavior or the setting of prices. As Aidan & Weimer (2001) notes, there is controversy among theorists about what exactly affects a consumer’s willingness to pay, how opportunity costs are interpreted by the consumers, and how they maximize utilities. Oftentimes, the application of strategy is based on existing assumptions and therefore differs among companies.


According to Heath (2009), hostilities in management can be resolved through issues management. According to the author’s argument, re-crafting the different disciplines involved in management theory may end the differences that exist between theorists and managers thus ratifying ethics and honesty in all business undertakings. Effective communication would be centric to any solution to the controversies surrounding the application of specific management strategies (Reinard, 2002).

However, as observed herein, there are many more issues to contend with if lasting agreements are to be attained regarding strategy application. Strategy formulators may for example consider that their strategies will be used in other social contexts away from their cultural contexts. This would enable them to consider developing more accommodating strategies to embrace people from different cultures who may find their strategies helpful (Prasad, 2006).

In public institutions, Peterson & Franks (2006) recommends that conflict resolution can be attained through incorporating and balancing the views of the different stakeholders involved in the process. Overall, the controversies in strategy application boil down to the need for a just environment that is sustainable in the long run. This then calls for the joint construction of policies by all stakeholders.


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