What is 'Strategic Management'

Strategic management is the management of an organization’s resources to achieve its goals and objectives. Strategic management involves setting objectives, analyzing the competitive environment, analyzing the internal organization, evaluating strategies and ensuring that management rolls out the strategies across the organization. At its heart, strategic management involves identifying how the organization stacks up compared to its competitors and recognizing opportunities and threats facing an organization, whether they come from within the organization or from competitors.

BREAKING DOWN 'Strategic Management'

Strategic management is divided into several schools of thought. A prescriptive approach to strategic management outlines how strategies should be developed, while a descriptive approach focuses on how strategies should be put into practice. These schools differ over whether strategies are developed through an analytic process in which all threats and opportunities are accounted for, or are more like general guiding principles to be applied.

Business culture, the skills and competencies of employees, and organizational structure are important factors that influence how an organization can achieve its stated objectives. Inflexible companies may find it difficult to succeed in a changing business environment. Creating a barrier between the development of strategies and their implementation can make it difficult for managers to determine whether objectives were efficiently met.

While an organization’s upper management is ultimately responsible for its strategy, the strategies themselves are often sparked by actions and ideas from lower-level managers and employees. An organization may have several employees devoted to strategy rather than relying on the chief executive officer (CEO) for guidance. Because of this reality, organization leaders focus on learning from past strategies and examining the environment at large. The collective knowledge is then used to develop future strategies and to guide the behavior of employees to ensure that the entire organization is moving forward. For these reasons, effective strategic management requires both an inward and outward perspective.

Strategic Management in Practice

Making companies able to compete is the purpose of strategic management. To that end, putting strategic management plans into practice is the most important aspect of the planning itself. Plans in practice involve identifying benchmarks, realigning resources – financial and human – and putting leadership resources in place to oversee the creation, sale, and deployment of products and services. Strategic management extends to internal and external communication practices as well as tracking to ensure that the company meets goals as defined in its strategic management plan.

For example, a for-profit technical college wishes to increase enrollment of new students and graduation of enrolled students over the next three years. The purpose is to make the college known as the best buy for a student's money among five for-profit technical colleges in the region, with a goal of increasing revenue. In this case, strategic management means ensuring that the school has funds to create high-tech classrooms and hire the most qualified instructors. The college also invests in marketing and recruitment and implements student retention strategies. The college’s leadership assesses whether its goals have been achieved on a periodic basis.

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