Strategy is an increasingly universal matter

Changes in organisations and their environment should make us reconsider what we mean by strategic management, according to Professor Eero Vaara.
A good researcher has a lot of ideas but must also have a critical mindset, says Eero Vaara.

What is your area of research and why?

I’m the professor of organisation and management, but my identity is firmly in social sciences and organisational research. Those are the perspective that I use to look at strategy issues, practices and processes. In layman's terms, my work is the research of strategic management – the analysis of decision making and its results from different points of view.

I have a special interest in language, as that is what is needed to construct our reality. Language has a core role in the birth, actions and the identity of organisations, and strategy work wouldn't even exist without words, sentences, slogans and metaphors.

In the minds of the people and the media, decision-making is still an overly rational process, in which things happen as a result of decisions made at the top. This may have been true in the age of large, hierarchic industrial companies, whose workforce consisted of, in addition to management and supervisors, thousands of operative employees. Today, things are different: more and more companies only have a handful of employees, which means that everyone’s actions and decisions affect the company’s performance. This, if anything, emphasises the importance of strategy – it becomes more and more universal.

How did you become a researcher?

I've always wanted to observe and ponder on things and discover something new. This allows me to do just that. I have a strong background at Aalto: I graduated both from HUT’s Department of Industrial Engineering and Management and the School of Economics, where I also got my doctoral degree. This is where I returned to, after more than ten years.

Although becoming a researcher was a natural choice for me, you never know where research leads you to. You could have ten interesting things going on, then one of them ends up being more promising than the others and that’s what you go with.

What are the highlights of your career?

In my everyday work, publishing is always the highlight. It is the practice that gives rhythm to the days, weeks and months. Out of the bigger things, my doctoral defence and preparing for it, obviously, as well as the freedom to focus on the things that I want to research. Realising the importance of language in the social construction of reality during my doctoral studies was ground-breaking for my work: it reinforced my social science identity and encouraged me to observe management issues from a new perspective.

What is the most important quality for a researcher?

A good researcher has a lot of ideas but must also have a critical mindset. And by criticality, I don’t mean being contrarian. I'm talking about a desire to challenge existing beliefs – and perhaps trying to make the world a better place.

Having a network of supportive people can help you move forward in your career. Luck is sometimes required, as well as persistence, because research processes can take years.

What do you expect from the future?

I want to progress in my research on strategic processes and practices, both within Aalto and with my colleagues elsewhere. One of the most important themes is participation, that is, focusing on the strategic role of those beyond top management ranks. When a strategy is laid out by top management, there is a danger that no one feels engaged – thereby not committing to it.

Another interesting theme relates to the mediatisation of the operating environment of organisations. Thanks to social media, organisations have the opportunity, a requirement, even, to communicate in a new way that gives even more weight to language, and this is not always easy for organisations.

Read more on Eero Vaara at Aalto People.

Eero Vaara and the other recently tenured professors at Aalto University will present their research in the multidisciplinary afternoon on 19 January at 2 p.m. Welcome! Further information
on the event here.

 

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