Strategic Response to Predicted Events: The Case of the Banning of CFCs

Debbie Harrison, 1998

The field of strategy has grown rapidly in the last twenty years, reflecting increased levels of academic interest in the subject. Numerous research studies have focused on topics as varied as managing strategic change, the structural analysis of industries, or effective strategic planning. The strategy process literature is concerned with the nature of the formation of strategy to environmental change. However, the view of a single organisation as the strategic actor is common. The 'markets as networks' perspective emphasises the embeddedness of an actor within a series of exchange relationships with other actors. In this view co-operative relationships are considered as the norm as exchanges and adaptations take place over time. A key theme in the industrial networks field is that of stability-change. This thesis is the output of doctoral research that aims to explore further this theme by studying the dynamics of strategic response in the situation of a single, predictable, yet discontinuous, environmental change. The empirical context for the research project is provided by the situation of the banning of Chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs), one group of the chemicals responsible for the depletion of the stratospheric ozone layer. The methodology used to study the UK industrial sectors affected has involved a longitudinal, historical, comparative, embedded case study approach, informed by a critical realist epistemology. The unit of case analysis is the focal net, i.e. the network of relationships surrounding a former CFC producer or industrial user organisation. Ten cases were selected, which resulted in examples of focal nets from all five of the relevant affected sectors. The cases are examples of patterns of strategic response to an event which required parallel adaptations where the timing and resource concerned were held in common.

In combining a strategy process and 'markets as networks' perspectives, the thesis is centred around the question of how and why organisations and networks adapt to predictable, yet discontinuous, change in their environments. A variety of patterns of transmission and transformation reveal the differing location of the dynamics of change within the nets studied. Some relationships between the different schools of strategic thought have been found. In the thesis the role of different configurations of contexts and mechanisms provides an explanation of differences in the observed response outcomes of multiple industrial nets.