Working Paper | HBS Working Paper Series | 2013

Strategy and the Strategist: How it Matters Who Develops the Strategy

by Eric Van den Steen


This paper studies how strategy—formally defined as "the smallest set of (core) choices to optimally guide the other choices"—relates to the strategist, for example, whether an optimal strategy should depend on who is CEO. The paper first studies why different people may systematically consider different decisions "strategic"—with marketing people developing a marketing-centric strategy and favoring the marketing side of business—and derives two rational mechanisms for this outcome, one confidence-based and the other implementation-based. It then studies why it matters that it is the CEO and important decision makers (rather than an outsider) who formulate the strategy and shows that outsider-strategists often face a tradeoff between the quality of a strategy and its likelihood of implementation, whereas the CEO's involvement helps implementation because it generates commitment, thus linking strategy formulation and implementation. In some sense, the paper explains why strategy is the quintessential responsibility of the CEO. Moreover, it shows that the optimal strategy should depend on who is CEO. It then turns that question around and studies strategy as a tool for exerting leadership, asking when the set of strategic decisions are exactly the decisions a CEO should control to give effective guidance. It finally shows how a CEO's vision, in the sense of a strong belief, about strategic decisions makes it more likely that the CEO will propose a strategy and that this strategy will be implemented. But strong vision about the wrong decisions, such as subordinate or others' decisions, may be detrimental to strategy and its implementation.

Keywords: Strategic Planning; Business Strategy;


Van den Steen, Eric. "Strategy and the Strategist: How it Matters Who Develops the Strategy." Harvard Business School Working Paper, No. 14-057, December 2013.