Antecedents of strategic flexibility: management cognition, firm resources and strategic options

Ian A. Combe, John M. Rudd, Peter S.H. Leeflang, Gordon E. Greenley

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Purpose: Current conceptualisations of strategic flexibility and its antecedents are theory-driven, which has resulted in a lack of consensus. To summarise this domain the paper aims to develop and present an a priori conceptual model of the antecedents and outcomes of strategic flexibility. Discussion and insights into the conceptual model, and the relationships specified, are made through a novel qualitative empirical approach. The implications for further research and a framework for further theoretical development are presented. Design/methodology/approach: An exploratory qualitative research design is used applying multiple data collection techniques in a branch network of a large regional retailer in the UK. The development of strategic options and the complex relationship to strategic flexibility is investigated. Findings: The number and type of strategic options developed by managers impact on the degree of strategic flexibility and also on the ability of the firm to achieve competitive differentiation. Additionally, the type of strategic option implemented by managers is dependent on the competitive situation faced at a local level. Evidence of managers' limited perception of competition was identified based on their spatial embeddedness. Research limitations/implications: A single, in-depth case study was used. The data gathered is rich and appropriate for the exploratory approach adopted here. However, generalisability of the findings is limited. Practical implications: Strategic flexibility is rooted in the ability of front-line mangers to develop and implement strategic options; this in turn facilitates competitive differentiation. Originality/value: The research presented is unique in this domain on two accounts. First, theory is developed by presenting an a priori conceptual model, and testing through in-depth qualitative data gathering. Second, insights into strategic flexibility are presented through an examination of managerial cognition, resources and strategic option generation using cognitive mapping and laddering technique. © Emerald Group Publishing Limited.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1320-1339
Number of pages20
JournalEuropean Journal of Marketing
Issue number10
Early online date14 Aug 2012
Publication statusPublished - Sept 2012

Bibliographical note

This article is © Emerald Group Publishing and permission has been granted for this version to appear here Emerald does not grant permission for this article to be further copied/distributed or hosted elsewhere without the express permission from Emerald Group Publishing Limited.


  • strategic options
  • strategic flexibility
  • competitive differentiation
  • belief systems
  • cognitive content
  • spatially distributed retail firms


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