Prescriptive vs. Descriptive Strategic Management: Which Approach to Choose in 2024?


It is 2024 and everywhere you see in the organizational paradigm, the success, and failure of a company, business, or team depends on the strategic approach that they are using to deal with the problems and the overall project development process that helps them to achieve their goals.

This is quite obvious at this point because this strategic approach is what makes or breaks a business or a company nowadays.

But how to make one? How can you be sure that the strategic planning process that you are using is the right one? And how can you be positive that the strategic management process you are using will be effective for you and the company?

These are all good questions and the right answer to these is dependent on you and your company because there is no one simple way to formulate a strategy, you need to choose it wisely.

Suppose you are in a similar predicament and want to know about the best strategic processes to use for your service, company, or business. In that case, you are in luck, because we will discuss the prescriptive and descriptive approach to strategy formulation that can help you choose the one that is best for you.

Let’s begin with a brief overview of the prescriptive and descriptive approach to strategy formulation. 

Prescriptive Approach

When we talk about the prescriptive approach, we talk about the specifically planned and logical thought process based on facts and figures, not hearsay. This approach is the best way to develop and implement business strategies using hard numbers and generating tangible results.

Descriptive Approach

The descriptive approach is completely different from the prescriptive approach. Of course, it is used to generate results too but this approach focuses on the need for businesses to examine the real-life realization of their strategies and not how they look on paper in the form of numbers and figures.

According to this strategic approach, the company or business must choose a strategy that has been tried and tested by real companies in the real world of business and has generated tangible results.

Core Differences of the Strategic Management Process (Descriptive vs. Prescriptive Approach)


1. Strategic Decision Making

When we talk about the prescriptive school of strategic management and how it works, we know that all of the strategic decisions that will shape the company policies or overall are made by the upper echelon of the upper management of the company.

This means that the ordinary employees of the company have no say in shaping the company and its processes, and have to blindly follow all of the instructions and dictations that they receive from their superiors.

When we talk about the descriptive school of strategic management and how it works, we see that the company and its upper management value the contribution and input of the lower-level employees.

This is because, in this type of strategic management, the decision-making process for shaping the company and its policies starts from the bottom and moves upwards towards the upper management.

2. Strategy Formulation Content vs. Strategy Formulation Process

One thing you should know is that these two schools formulate strategies quite differently as well. The primary focus of different companies in the organizational paradigm that use a prescriptive style is always the strategy formulation process and how they will enforce that strategy.

On the other hand, when we talk about the companies that use the descriptive approach to strategy creation, they focus more on the content of the strategy and how it will impact the overall company and its processes.

The managers in such companies focus on the decisions themselves rather than how they got to those decisions in the first place.

3. Spontaneity vs. Premeditation

The timing is another thing both of these schools don’t agree on. When should the strategic planning process take place?

It all has to be straightforward. The managers using the prescriptive strategic approach believe that all of the strategic measures should be planned well in advance. But the problem is that there is no room for changing business conditions.

On the other hand, the managers accustomed to the descriptive tool accept that the business paradigm is an ever-changing predicament. Completely unpredictable.

So, they have to make sure that the strategy they devise is flexible and open to changes or spontaneous decisions depending on the situation the company faces, rather than sticking to an unchanging plan.

4. Desired Outcomes

When it comes to desired outcomes, the goal of the managers who use the prescriptive strategic process is to create a plan or a strategy that will boost overall productivity.

For descriptive managers, enhanced efficiency or productivity is not the most important goal in mind, because they want to make sure that the strategy is effective and feasible enough that the company can easily execute it in real life and survive in today’s cut-throat market.

Henry Mintzberg’s 10 Schools of Strategic Management


Henry Mintzberg has a very unique thought process about strategic management. He divided those thoughts into 10 different schools of strategic management. These schools are an important milestone in the overall debate on the descriptive vs. prescriptive strategic approach.

Before you get all fidgety about who Mintzberg is, let’s just say that these 10 schools of his are a rich framework that defined and categorized the field of strategic management.

These 10 schools have been divided into two different groups based on the descriptive and prescriptive standpoints.

Descriptive Strategy Schools

1. The Entrepreneurial School

The entrepreneurial school of strategic management sees the entire strategy formulation as a visionary and innovative process.

One thing to note here is that this approach to strategy development properly highlights the leader’s pivotal role as the one who has to carry out the visionary process and create a strategy from scratch.

When the strategy has been created and transferred to the company’s employees, everyone has to follow it no matter what.

2. The Learning School

The learning school of strategic management views the strategy formation in question as an emergent process.

In this school, when the team is developing a strategic plan, the upper management pays close attention to all of the team’s experience and incorporates all of the lessons learned in the future action plan.

3. The Cognitive School

The cognitive school of strategic management views strategy formation and creation as a mental task.

This school of strategy properly analyzes and highlights how all the people involved in the overall company process information, perceive patterns, and what exactly happens in the mind of a professional strategist.

4. The Cultural School

This school of strategic management views the strategy formation process as a collective process. Which means that the organization that follows this school involves all of the groups and departments of the company in the strategy formation process.

This results in the strategy being developed, becoming a reflection of the company’s corporate culture.

5. The Environmental School

The environmental school of strategic management views the strategy formation process as quite a reactive process for all involved parties.

According to the environmental approach, a company’s strategy depends on all the different events happening outside the company and how the business reacts to them.

6. The Power School

This school of strategic management considers developing a strategic plan as a complete negotiation process. In this school, the strategy is formulated from the negotiation between two parties.

These two parties are the power holders situated inside and outside the organization, e.g., the company management and the stakeholders associated with the company.

7. The Configuration School

This school of strategic management sees the development process of the strategy as a complete process of transformation for the company. According to this school, the strategy being developed is a thorough process that transforms the organization for the better.

Prescriptive Schools of Strategy

8. The Planning School

This school of strategy management sees the entire process of formulating a strategy as a formal process with a lot of key players involved. This school of strategy highlights and praises the overall advantages of formal strategic planning and comes heavily equipped with formal procedures.

9. The Design School

The Design School views the strategy formation process as a process of conception. According to this school, strategy formation is a conscious process based on internal and external research by the people in charge.

10. The Positioning School

This school of strategy formation views the entire process as an analytical one. It highlights the concept that strategy depends on the way a business or an organization is positioned in the overall market and the industry it resides in. 



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